Shared Journal Entry #9
April 17, 2018
I remember having really low self-esteem as a kid. I wore glasses that were too big for my face, my clothes were bargain basement because name brand was too expensive and I was chubby as a kid not losing my baby fat until much later. I was an easy target for ridicule and I was picked on often by others.
I remember my first week of kindergarten I was the foreign outsider that sounded different and looked different. I kept to myself for the most part but there was one little boy that just wouldn’t leave me alone. He would take my toys and pull at my hair and one day I had had enough and hit him back. The next day he came up to me and told me “my father said not to play with you because you are dirty and don’t shower that’s why your skin is black.”
When I went home to tell my mom she contacted the school and my teacher gave a speech about how we are all the same. Even now I feel the shame and embarrassment of that moment where I was used to teach little children a complex life lesson. I think that’s where my journey with self-esteem began. There would be other incidents throughout the years: My first grade teacher calling me ugly, my second grade teacher making me read out loud in front of my bullies then putting me in ESL when I failed, my father making me read out loud for hours until he was sure I actually could read. The list goes on when it comes to events as a child that would shape my self-esteem.
It remained low during most of my adolescent years as well, even though I had grown tall and shed my baby fat maturing into a young woman with the figure of an adult. This made me a target for other reasons. When I was grade 9 I was gang raped in my high school bathroom and this changed me forever. My self-worth took a serious hit. I became extremely depressed and anxious looking over my shoulder for those monsters to reappear. I hid it well though, to others I was just happy, bubbly, energetic Onika. Inside I felt low most of the time I felt nothing at all. I would go home after a long exhausting day of pretending and crash in my room often crying myself to sleep, dreading when I would have to do it all over again the next day.
I started questioning why I wasn’t enough. I was a good student but my father expected excellence, I wasn’t enough. The boys at school were frustrated that I kept them at arm’s length but I knew I did it because I believed I was damaged and simply not enough. I was envious of my friends because life seemed to come so naturally to then but for me I couldn’t keep up, I wasn’t enough. These thoughts would play in my mind and I would weigh and measure them against the notion that I wasn’t enough, I was away finding myself coming up short. I had gifts even then but I couldn’t recognize them as special. Instead I hid my light under a bushel and let my self-esteem and self-worth continue to fall and go unchecked.
Even in my 20’s confidence didn’t come easy to me though I was a great pretender after years of practice. Still, I had to work hard to keep up my façade of high self-esteem and unbridled confidence. I fooled a lot of people into believing I was something I completely was not and perhaps it was because their own self-esteems were on rocky grounds.
When I got involved in my first relationship I felt fear. I wanted to be with him but the question once again came, “was I enough?” From the very beginning I realized I was low on my partner’s priorities list. He had a family he took care of, he was in school and he was infatuated with his friends. I should have left as soon as I saw the big picture but I stayed determined to force my way to the top of the list. My low self-esteem had taken control of my relationship and I was making really bad decisions. I had a feeling of constant loss, constantly feeling that I was not good enough and constantly feeling my partner wasn’t doing enough to make me feel good enough. I would realize much later that that was never his responsibility. It took four years of one-sided love and him leaving me to see that I had been in a toxic situation. My self-esteem fell further.
Since I was a little girl my mother always quoted a line from a Whitney Huston song: “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” It took a lot of years but I finally got it. It was a process that started with honesty with myself. I had to ask myself tough questions like:
“What do you like about yourself?”
“What do you love about yourself?”
“Do you always try your best?”
“Why do you believe you are not enough?”
“What makes you feel bad about yourself?”
“What makes you feel good about yourself?”
And on and on it went until I started to have more positive conversations with myself. I changed my inner dialog to reflect reality not my misguided perception of myself. I started to show myself love, I started to care about myself and at first it was little things like getting my hair done or choosing colourful outfits. Then I started to slowly break down the walls I had built around myself and let people in to see a more authentic me whether they liked it or not. I started telling my truth regardless of who it might offend, I started complimenting myself instead of waiting for other’s validation.
I’m not saying years of low self-esteem and little self-worth vanished overnight, it took time and a lot of positive self-talk to get to where I am today. My self-esteem is off the charts I love myself and I’m comfortable in my own skin and that takes work. I’m more confident and open to people and open to myself, my flaws, my mistakes and my failures. I don’t let them define me instead I learn from them and it leads me to my joy, my happiness and my triumphs. I can say I love myself despite all that I have been through, I can say I value myself regardless of what others think and I can say I respect myself for the person I have become and continue to be.
The journey to self-esteem and self-worth is a long and winding road with twists and turns and inevitable obstacles. But if I continue to follow my path and live in my truth fearlessly and with the confidence of knowing I am more than enough then I will hold onto my hard won prize of self-love and continued self-discovery.