I’ve heard it before, especially along East Colfax. I’ve said it myself. You may have as well. 

But Larry said it ferociously. Blunt, angry words, relentlessly repeated, his head turned from me, avoiding eye contact. 

“I hate myself!” Pause. Then again, over and over, “I hate myself! I hate myself! I hate myself!”

I felt like I was watching a street fight where one person goes berserk, pummeling their opponent, dishing out devastating damage. But in this fight, his opponent was himself, his own self pummeled. 

I sat there, quiet, waiting for him to stop. I thought of others who’ve said those words. Thought of times I have said them—“I hate myself!”

His story is typical. Mom introduced him to drug culture before the age of ten, a hard environment that included sexual abuse. Fertile soil for addiction. He turned to substances to numb childhood trauma. He said it simply, “I am addicted to everything.” He moved from one addiction to another—alcohol, gambling, drugs, then harder drugs. Currently his struggle is meth. 

He was a dealer, a reality that destroyed his marriage and cost him his daughter.  He had a trade, built a home and family, but quietly paid for it by dealing. When his wife found out, his family disintegrated. The addictions worsened. 

For years, he could control it. Deal drugs, use drugs, get up, go to work, function the next day. He used this sales line: “Control the drugs; don’t let them control you.” Now, he could no longer follow his own advice. Drugs were controlling  him and his life had spiraled, leaving him in a room on Colfax, desolate, destitute and desperate. 

“I hate myself!” I knew what he was saying and why. He hated himself because he was too weak to conquer his addictions, too weak to maintain a functional life, out of control, fearful about returning to jail. He locked eyes with me, now frantic. “I can’t go back there. I CAN’T.”

He wasn’t familiar with Twelve Step programs. I told him about Step One, acknowledging that addiction has made his life unmanageable. “Boy, that’s me,” he said. Earlier, I had connected him with folks who could get him into rehab, a first step. He knew he needed to go but was afraid his name would get flagged and rather than rehab, would end up in jail. 

But always this theme: “I hate myself.”

I told him I understood the feeling, had experienced my own times of disappointment, even disgust with myself and my inability to change a behavior or attitude. Not to his level, but I’d been stuck and no amount of will-power, planning, or even prayer seemed to fix it. Like most of us, I had moments when I found myself saying, “I hate myself.”

I asked questions about his life, his addictions, what was behind it. I call it “listening to addiction.” I do it whenever I can, trying to understand why people end up as addicts, why some escape while others don’t.

His life is a mess and any journey to health will be long. Tonight, I try to nudge him a bit, first to detox and rehab. Their long-term success rates are low, but until he gets his body cleaned out, no progress will happen. 

A second nudge: I tell him that while he may hate himself, God doesn’t hate him, that God meets him where he is, as he is, and loves him. A hard thing to believe when consumed with self-hatred, but I start sowing the seed, knowing that unless he knows the kind heart of God, he has little hope. He will need to hear that truth many times before it sinks in. 

I have another nudge, but tonight seems too early to share it. It is a lesson that Colfax has taught me, watching my friends and facing into my own journey. In his self-hatred he needs to find God’s love, yes. But he also needs to learn how to love himself. We cannot hate ourselves into health. If we believe that God loves us in our brokenness but don’t love ourselves, we can only get so far. Oddly, I have come to believe that the love of God by itself isn’t enough; we also need to love ourself. 

Let me say it again. We cannot hate ourselves into health. We can only hate ourselves into a deeper pit. Larry needs to learn that. So do I. So do you. Henri Nouwen once said that the dark secret most of us struggle with is a deep disgust with ourselves. Until we can extend grace and kindness to ourselves, we will remain forever blocked from the fullness God has for us. I can think of times in my life where I only healed when I extended kindness, love and grace to myself. I knew God loved me, but didn’t love myself. 

We talked more and at some point he asks me—“Why are you here? Why do you do this?”

I give my standard answer: Jesus came to hard corners where people were broken and simply loved them. I follow Jesus and it is my job to do the same. He turns his head away, tears welling up and simply says, “That’s powerful.”

I am driven these days to understand addiction, how it works, what is behind it, how to find healing. Our prayer is that a good portion of our building will be given to the creation of a “Healing Center,” a place to help addicts heal the brokenness behind addiction, the great nightmare here along Colfax.  

I pray before I leave, affirming the Father’s love for him as he is and where he is, asking Jesus to reveal Himself to him. We finish and hug. One conversation in a long journey towards healing. 

Pray for Larry and that journey. It will be hard. Proof of that was the person I met when leaving room, likely coming to buy drugs. Pray for many like him, trapped in out-of-control behaviors, struggling with self-hatred. Pray for all of us who struggle. Pray for the healing of God’s love; pray too for the healing of self-love. 

God loves me. I love me. Two foundational steps to wholeness. 

*Name and some details changed to protect identity.