I tell clients that we are hardest on ourselves. I remind them to be kind to themselves, and it sounds easy enough: stay fed, warm, watered and sheltered. To remember that others don’t see what they see in the mirror. That they do deserve to be well and loved.
It sounds so simple, but deprivation is a form of self harm. It’s more common than is often understood; you tell someone you self harm and they assume you’re cutting or burning yourself. But it doesn’t have to be. It can be taking away the things that make life nice: food, sleep, HRT, friends. Anything that might feel like a punishment for a perceived transgression.
I self harm in this way. Sometimes it’s small, like I won’t do my makeup because I don’t feel I deserve to take that time for myself. Sometimes it’s bigger or harder to contain, like not eating. Self deprivation is a systemic form of punishment that perpetuates itself once the the pattern is established. I found an entry in my old blog about the discovery that I self harmed, and the revelation that self deprivation was a kind of self harm. That was the immediate observation from the piece: once the thing starts, it’s difficult to stop. It becomes normal, which means it stops being punishment. I have to find something else at that point.
"BEYOND THE IMMEDIATE RISKS OF DEPRIVING ONESELF TO THE POINT THAT THERE IS NOTHING LEFT TO TAKE, ESCALATING THAT BEHAVIOUR BECOMES INCREASINGLY DANGEROUS."
Beyond the immediate risks of depriving oneself to the point that there is nothing left to take, escalating that behaviour becomes increasingly dangerous. Plus the systems are in place, so self deprivation isn’t work anymore. If I don’t buy food, eventually it runs out and I just don’t eat because there isn’t anything.
It’s not as though this stuff is invisible or friends somehow don’t notice. They absolutely see. And they worry. I worry a lot of people. Sometimes, I scare them. They tell me they hope I’m eating, and my brain doesn’t read it as they mean it. They’re working from a place of love, but to me I only hear that I’ve failed. That actually, I’ve caused upset in the people I love and that is, for me, one of the worst things I can do. And I get worse.
The funny thing is, I now understand that I’ve always been this way even if I only really understand it since coming out and transitioning. Repressing my gender was self deprivation and I was harming myself for doing it. I had to reach a breaking point to give myself this ultimate kindness: to transition and live. Being honest with myself, living as I must, created the most exquisite release in the face of the destruction it wrought to everything else in my life.
Despite that new freedom, my self hatred remains. My anger continues to be internalised; I continue to punish myself. I just do it with creature comforts and food. I wrote to my support worker shortly after coming out that all my coping mechanisms forced me into an unacceptable shape. Everything I did to keep my feelings at bay were wrapped up in trying to be male. Well. Now I understand: I’ve been self harming most of my life, and now that I’ve decided to not do it with gender, I’m doing it in other ways.
So what do I do? How do I forgive myself? I have no answers, and I am surrounded by loving and supportive people that I know would forgive me without hesitation, if that would work. I know objectively I’m doing nothing wrong. I understand that actually, I’m working very hard and hold myself to very high standards. We can know all the things and still turn on ourselves. This article was supposed to be in the day before the time of this writing and I’m only just allowing that to be OK. It’s an active struggle to not let that transgression result in a punishment. And now that I’ve written that, I remember that I haven’t eaten today. Damn.
"SOMEWHERE IN MYSELF IS THE ABILITY TO FORGIVE ME."
Somewhere in myself is the ability to forgive me. I was able to forgive me enough to stop depriving myself of my gender, so I must be able to forgive me enough to stay fed, warm, watered, and sheltered. I have to be able to forgive me enough to enjoy my hobbies and let myself heal after an accident. Somewhere, there is that spark. But I don’t know where it is. I’ll keep looking.
The capacity to forgive me is not something anyone can create for me. It’s a thing I need to find in myself. As loving and caring as the people around me are, they can’t make me forgive me. They can’t reach a hand in my head and stop the anger - I have to do that. They can’t change how I see my various, mostly imaginary, failings. They aren’t able to take that level of responsibility for me. Only I can do that.
I don’t know how to stop. I just know I have to and it stems from this flood of inward anger. It’d be great to not be angry in the first place, but I can at least find forgiveness in myself. I can return to that space where I was able to forgive me and let me live. Maybe that will be enough - I’ll keep looking. Until I find that place, I’ll keep telling myself to forgive me. That I’m trying as hard as I can, working as much as I can, and sometimes I have to let myself stop.
Being kind to ourselves is the most difficult thing. Forgiving ourselves is the ultimate act of kindness: to allow ourselves to falter, to fail. To learn and be OK with that slip, that bout of depression, that missed deadline. To not punish ourselves for these things is the hardest part of the business of being alive. For me, the first step is to remind myself to let it go and forgive me.