I read someone today talking about an ex-partner of theirs, saying, “He was basically the embodiment of how much I hated myself back then.” It occurred to me how apt that was – how much the people we choose to surround ourselves with mirror how we feel about ourselves. When we’re capable of advocating for ourselves, setting boundaries, etc., we form friendships that reinforce our emotional self-sufficiency, bolster our self-esteem, and promote healthy communication and maintaining healthy boundaries. When we feel self-loathing, we form friendships that reflect that loathing back, attach ourselves to people who say out loud what our brainweasels are always telling us: we are broken, we are pathetic, we are worthless. We hear that, it echoes inside us, and we think that means it’s true.
Now, I wouldn’t be so foolish as to claim before you, of all people, to be mentally sound. I’m very much on a journey to mental health, and the further I go on that journey, the more clear to me it becomes that there is no firm destination, that “mental health” is a constantly-shifting goalpost that pathologizes anyone who doesn’t think like a straight white man.
That said, I’m further along on that journey than I was five years ago. Five years ago, I was in a deep fuckin’ hole. I was in the Well. I hated myself, not for anything I’d done, but for everything I couldn’t do, everything I couldn’t be. I drank a lot during those years. A LOT a lot. I got to a point where I was killing a handle of rum in two days. During one of those nights, I met the boy this sonnet is about. He did all the damage to my life and my brain he could possibly manage in the three years I knew him, but it could easily have been much worse. My suicide wore that boy’s face for a little while, and we got to know each other very well.
My death wish came dressed as a boy with curls,
a boy who brought me excuses and wine,
a boy who was awake at the right time
for me and – it turned out – quite a few other girls.
The part of your brain that wants you to jump off –
that part loved how obediently
he parroted all of its hatred of me.
Even years later, it still sometimes borrows his scoff.
He wore three years of my misery
like a fine coat, and twirled to catch my eye.
When he took all my pain I wondered why
till he introduced what he’d made of me:
Here’s a hair shirt that wants you to die.
Here are pants that cut you off at the knees.