John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, thinking about prejudices and how to overcome them.
I don’t tend to outright condemn racists, homophobes, or misogynists, because those prejudices have sometimes been running around in me a little bit at times in my life.
My racism was never very deep, just a little athletic jealousy. I grew up, and still live, in a white rural area and know few African Americans beyond a superficial level. I was cured of any racism while homeless in the South and being in jail cells with some black men with whom I shared similar struggles, and most were very kind to me.
My homophobia ran a little deeper because I was molested by a man. The nervous system does not respond well to reason. I have gay friends, but until about seven years ago, I found myself anxious around men who were gay, or whom I suspected of being gay.
This is not a proud moment, but before I became a full-on hobo, I lived in my car for a year, paranoid and stressed after a suppressed memory of the molestation had surfaced. I was showering in a campground when an openly gay man came in and chose the shower next to mine. I panicked in a complete way, jumped out of the shower, grabbed all my stuff without even toweling off, and headed for the exit. After I gained my balance a little, I felt like I owed the guy an explanation and an apology. I did the best I could, but I could see he was still a little upset as he was walking off.
When it comes to women, my misogyny is less than apparent. But I have wondered over the last several years if I have a deep-seated hatred of women? Which, like my racism and homophobia, I am working to overcome.
I like being provocative at times and I posted on Facebook one day: “Slowly overcoming my deep-seated hatred of women.” I had several women friends of mine approach me over that next week wondering if I really hated women in general, and also wondering if I secretly hated them.
What follows here is me reflecting on where I think my resentment stems from.
When I was in my late 30s, after a couple of compliments, I decided I was handsome. I have always been charming and humorous, even if it was biting at times. I learned charm early. It comes from having a sad momma whom you want to cheer up so she will consider buying you some ice cream.
After coming home after seven years of street living and isolation, I ain’t going to lie, I was looking to get some hugging and kissing in. I maybe lost a couple of good girlfriends during those years, because I refused to be in exclusive relationships. I was just starting to discover what was in my heart and, at that point, I was listening to other body parts more than my heart.
Eventually, I got into a steady relationship for a couple of years and learned what I didn’t want in relationships: drama. I’ve been on dates since then, but nothing worked out.
I’ve been struggling in my relationships with women as of late. I’ve been struggling with those relationships all my life though too. But now that I know what the struggle is actually about and I am more aware of my emotions and internal reactions, it has become a happy, kind struggle.
My heart is for everyone, is my hope and my goal. But I notice that I am still guarding my heart around women, and especially if I have romantic feelings.
My heart is for everyone, is my hope and my goal. But I notice that I am still guarding my heart around women, and especially if I have romantic feelings. I have had many relationships over the years, but not any more than a divorced man my age. Most have ended without hard feelings, a few ended with my heart feeling like it was punched, and others ended where I was lied to and viciously maligned.
The trick to healing these things is to figure out who is punching your heart and understanding that it is you. People bring themselves to relationships, obviously, and that usually means they’re bringing along their own past hurt, and maybe family and cultural behavioral patterns that you may not understand either.
In general, what I like is curvy, sassy, soft-hearted women. But I am a sucker for any woman who treats me with kindness and isn’t afraid of my tears and my self-doubt.
In the past when I felt rejected or abandoned in relationships, I would respond with some unhealthy family behavioral pattern of my own. I might shrink back into myself, never wanting to see the person again, and avoiding any chance meetings. Or I responded with a vicious, cruel tongue, trying desperately to return the hurt I felt. My third major coping mechanism was the withholding of my love, the cold shoulder, the silent treatment.
Looking back, it wasn’t the rejection or dismissal or abandonment that hurt me. What hurt me was what I told myself about myself when these things happened. I’m not good enough, something must be terribly wrong with me, I’m not worthy of anything good. Now, I understand those things are not true. I know I am a beautiful person, fully deserving of all things good. Perhaps more importantly than that, I have learned to love myself and my foibles in a deep, non-judgmental way. The struggles I have had recently are nothing more than hiccups where I learn to love myself even more deeply.
My heart loves caring for people, even though my head doesn’t always agree. I’ve struggled to see myself in a kind way in the past because I don’t have a conventionally successful life or career. I wish I had discovered the joy in caretaking earlier in my relationship with my mom as she was going through the dying process. I wish I had been more tender much earlier.
I was on a long drive yesterday and looking back at past relationships I’ve often wondered about and, in that moment, I questioned if I had ever truly been loved. I’ll sometimes have thoughts that sound like someone is talking to me. As I was driving home, I heard the thought, He’s successful. And it rang true. Later, I thought, He’s happy, and felt a burst of joy in my heart at the recognition of it.
What I am getting at is I love myself, come what may, and I love you even if you have never loved me or have appeared to reject, curse, and abandon me. Because you have never done those things to me even though you may have tried to or thought you did. I was the one rejecting and abandoning myself.