23 Things I Wish I'd Known: #12: The Hate Radio in Your Head Has an Off-Switch
At age 22, I started stripping. For the next fifteen years I worked off and on as a dominatrix, porn actress, and escort.
Now I’m 49.
Here are 23 things I know now that I wished I’d known then:
#12: The Hate Radio in your head has an off-switch. (Or at the very least, a volume control.)
One of my favorite authors is Lynda Barry, a cartoonist and graphic novelist. In her book One! Hundred! Demons!, she drew a picture of herself as a little kid, lying in bed saying over and over to herself: “I wish I was dead. I wish I was dead. I wish I was dead.” When I first saw that about a decade ago, a little bomb went off inside my head: that was my exact experience. I don’t know when it started for me, going to sleep every night to a steady chorus of self-hatred, waking up every morning to the same. (I also used to repeat “I hate my body” and “I hate my life.”) But once I noticed it, I couldn’t remember a time when that wasn’t the case.
Those steady, low-level voices of self loathing are what I call “hate radio.” Looking back on it now, I can see how it filled me with a constant low-grade sadness. And while I know I experienced those voices long before I ever became a sex worker, there were times that I used that fact as an excuse to whip myself even harder.
I’d like to say there was an easy fix, but there wasn’t. It was a long, slow process to come out from under that fog of depression. I credit three different therapies, which I undertook more or less simultaneously. First, I countered the hate voices with love-- cognitive therapy, plain and simple. Whenever I’d hear the steady drumbeat of “I hate myself” starting up, I would consciously say, either in my head or out loud: “I love myself. I love my body. I love my life,” drowning the ugly voices out. Second, I invested in talk therapy. It took years, but I finally got to the point where I could face my deepest demons and talk them through.
Finally, I did some things in the world. I took some risks, failed a few times, but scored some big wins, as well. I went back to school and got two Masters degrees, which felt important since I’d been a grad school dropout from years before. I went back to work as a prostitute to dig myself out of six-figure debt, then put away six figures for my retirement. I became a grant writer and got pretty good at it, then tried my hand at writing plays and got pretty good at that, too. I found a partner who really gets me, and friends who do as well. I can’t say that any one success boosted my deep-seated low self-esteem for long, but the cumulative affect over years of effort was powerful.
Now when I think about the phrase: “I hate myself,” the first thing that springs to my mind is: I’m the chick that gets shit done. I do good things, love great people, and great people love me. There’s no place in my head for that message -- I can say the words, but they just don’t stick.
Promise me if you beat yourself up on a regular basis that you look into actively countering those hateful voices. You can learn more about the basics here. An excellent, more advanced book on the subject is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s classic book: Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. I’ve lived with and without hate radio, and let me just tell you – life without it is way better.
I write extensively about managing anger, stress, and other inevitable negative emotions in sex work in Thriving in Sex Work: Heartfelt Advice for Staying Sane in the Sex Industry, now available in paperback and as an ebook.
Until next time, be sweet to yourself.
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