One of the toughest lessons to learn in life is that you are worthy of love. I was fully on the board with the message that we need to love others and that others are worthy of love. I was dedicated to social justice and putting my love for others into action. Even when I was in a dark place, it was part of my core belief system that others deserve love. Everyone has inherent worth and dignity.

But I didn’t.

I knew my own flaws. I knew that the darkness I found myself surrounded by was my own doing. I had messed up in life, and since I messed up, I didn’t deserve love. Because who could love someone who had gotten themselves into the darkness all on their own? I thought it wasn’t fair – not that it wasn’t fair I felt alone, I felt it would be unfair to my friends and the greater universe to bring them into my own personal hell. I was at fault – I had earned my scarlet letter and didn’t expect any sympathy.

Wouldn’t it be great here to say “And then I woke up and realized that I deserved love too?” But that’d be a lie. I finally reached out for help when I could see no other options left, when it was almost too late. And I still felt like it was pity, and that I was doing an injustice to my friends and community by needing their love, support, and help.

So where does this innate feeling of unworthiness come from? I think in large part we’re taught early on in life that we have to make our own way and fix our own problems. Needing help in school is seen as a failure. Feeling depressed is cause for scorn, and the assumption is our mind doesn’t work right (and therefore, we don’t work right.) There are others who are worse off than we are, so we ought to be thankful we aren’t worse off and just accept that we’re all flawed, unworthy of love.

What utter and complete bullshit.

I can’t count how many times growing up I was told “hate the sin, love the sinner.” But if the “sin” is part of who I am, then isn’t it just a fancy way of telling me I’m unworthy of being loved? Weren’t people just saying that horrid catchphrase as a way of saying “I actually despite who you are and what you’ve done, but I’m supposed to love you, so I’ll make myself feel better by making you feel worse?” Even if that wasn’t the intention of those countless numbers of peers, it certainly was the message received.

Voices of condemnation are amplified by our media, by our religions, and by our politicians. It feels like a scene out of 1984 – who are we to hate on this week? Gays? Muslims? Women? Teenagers? A different generation? Immigrants? Every week there’s a new push for us to hate a new group. And it’s our job to combat that message with overpowering love.

It’s up to us to counteract messages of hate with love.

It’s up to us to teach the message that every single person is loved for who they are.

It’s up to us to realize we are worthy of love, even in our worst times.