Confronting my insecurities to become a better man
We all know the feeling of guilt. That sinking, gnawing feeling deep inside of us that manifests when we lack the courage to stand up for what we believe is right. It is this cruel, all-consuming feeling that pushes us to achieve the forgiveness we desire and make amends for the wrongdoings that we all inevitably commit.
However, when we lack the maturity and support required to swallow our pride and identify our faults, guilt can quickly sour and turn into resentment, insecurity, and hatred.
Throughout my early life, I always held the obscure, unfounded belief that my love for animals made me dominant to my peers. I would yell at my class mates for chasing birds and physically assault other kids for killing insects. After school, I would go home and sit down to a dinner of animal corpses while receiving praise from my parents after regaling them with tales of my heroic feats of defending animals. I truly believed that I was a paragon of compassion and kindness to animals, or at least I did until I had my first encounter with a vegetarian at the age of 11.
Even though this happened 15 years prior to the time of writing this article, I still remember how I felt about this vegetarian. I hated him. I was now sharing a classroom with another compassionate, animal loving person. However, our defining difference was that I ate the flesh of the animals that I claimed to love so much while he abstained. This disparity of ideals led me to express my guilt in the only conceivable way, bullying. My friends and I constantly taunted this poor individual. We would push him over and call him weak. We would tear pieces of meat from our lunches and throw it at him or shove it down his shirt. I remember it all escalated on the last day of school when we stole his USB drive and edited his assignment with pictures of dead animals and meat. When the teacher found out, they simply laughed and told the poor vegetarian that it was not a big deal.
When I started high school my hatred for vegetarians escalated. Suddenly their numbers had grown and more than ever did their existence offend me. Social media was becoming more popular, with its emergence giving me a new platform to continue my abuse. Arguing with these people became almost a nightly ritual for me. I would spout every nonsensical argument against animal rights that I could think of and as soon as I was presented with real evidence and facts, I would instantly act the victim and claim they were forcing their lifestyle on me and acting “preachy”. When I was attending my final year of high school my hatred reached a whole new level when I met my first vegan. I would argue with this person every chance I got. I would gang up on him with my other friends, laughing about bacon and showing him our canine teeth. He was a kind man and showed great restraint and patience when we attacked him. He would calmly present solid, indisputable facts to us about cruelty, the environment and health. This behaviour, however, made me hate him even more and just further intensified the abuse we gave him.
This behaviour went for months and soon high school was ending, and with nothing else to do I joined the army. I soon found myself amongst fellow narrow-minded people within a platoon ripe with toxic masculinity and discrimination. Luckily for me, this career path did not work out and I found myself unemployed, living with my parents with no plans, goals or ambitions. My father, who was a veterinary surgeon, offered me a temporary job as a stand-in nurse at his practice. I had no qualifications, however, the other nurses were happy to train me on the job. I soon grew to love working with all the dogs, cats and the occasional rabbit. My deeply suppressed love for animals was now once again surfacing, and with it came the guilt and insecurity caused by my consumption of their flesh. With plenty of free time behind the computer and a stomach full of wrenching guilt, I took it upon myself to start an online crusade against the vegan menace that dared to highlight my hypocrisy. I scoured Tumblr and other social media sites for vegan activists to argue against and anti-vegan bloggers to stand behind. The long hours spent behind a computer having my petty arguments destroyed were beginning to take an effect on me.
I wasn’t a stupid person, just stubborn, guilty and angry, so after countless failed arguments with the inability to discredit a single aspect of the vegan philosophy my decision was finally beginning to sway.
However, my transition did not begin with small steps. It began with one giant push. The date was the 23rd of March 2012, a date that I would never forget. As I pulled into the carpark to start my morning shift a client was already waiting outside for us to open. He was holding a ragged, bloodstained cardboard box, and inside was a sight that will always haunt me.
Mila, a beautiful and affectionate little cat, was lying in a pool of her own blood. Mila had been the victim of extreme animal abuse. A group of unknown men had abducted Mila the night before. She had been savagely beaten and both of her back legs had been skinned. We quickly took Mila in, gave her pain relief, stopped her bleeding and bandaged her skinless legs.
But there was little else we could do. Over the next two weeks Mila visited us every second day to have her dressings changed. The cost was beginning to stack up, and one morning her guardian said he could no longer afford it and opted to have her euthanised. I had grown far too attached to the precious little girl, and in an impulsive, emotional fit I said that I would take Mila and cover her treatment instead. The client agreed, and I was now Mila’s proud new dad. I began taking Mila home with me every night. We would watch TV together and she would sleep under the covers with me. She could no longer walk, so I carried her from her food to her litter box and everywhere else. Her favourite thing to do was lay in the sun, so I would carry her outside and we would spend hours in the garden sunbathing together. I would change her dressings at home and continue her care as safely and effectively as I could. But the treatment was not working. I took her into the clinic one morning to be properly assessed. The bandages were removed, and what we could see were two rotten, necrotic legs. We had known the whole time that this was going to be the most likely outcome, but hope had pushed us to do whatever we could. The vet stabbed an 18g needle through both her paws to test for sensation, however, there was none. I held Mila close to me as she purred in my ear. I held her right paw forward and kissed her on the head as the vet shaved her arm and inserted the Lethabarb injection into her vein to put her to sleep.
I took Mila’s body home with me that night and buried her in my backyard. I sat by her grave crying for hours before coming inside to sit down to dinner with my family. My dad had cooked lamb shanks. When I stared at the pieces of lamb carcass on my plate, I no longer saw it as food. All I could see were the rotting, necrotic legs of the little cat that I had just buried in the backyard. And then it hit me.
There was no difference between the precious cat that I had loved so much and this poor, innocent lamb.
There was little difference between the monsters that skinned Mila’s legs for fun, and me, who had supported someone to take a lamb away from their family, slit their throat and hack their body into pieces so that I could enjoy eating their flesh. Suddenly my mind was open, and I found complete truth in every argument that I had pathetically resisted. I did not eat dinner that night, and never ate flesh again, and soon cut out all other animal products.
Making the change to veganism was incredibly easy. However, coming to terms with the horrifying way we treat animals was not. I had lived in my own blissfully ignorant world before Mila. I could ignore the suffering of animals and I did not mind paying for it because I was never directly exposed. Mila’s tragedy forced me to come to terms with this cruelty, and with this new acceptance, I also found myself able to come to terms with my own feelings and past immature behaviour. I had to accept that I was a sad, vulnerable male and that this was ok.
Before now I had always believed that a truly great, the masculine man ate red meat, lifted weights, hunted animals and could confidently laugh off a weaker person’s emotions. However now I knew how false this was.
It takes so much more strength and courage to defend the vulnerable and go against society’s expectation of your gender.
The guilt and resentment that had burdened me for so many years was finally gone, and I now felt like I could move forward and be the good person that I always believed myself to be.
If causing harm to another is avoidable, then it is wrong to cause that harm and no argument can justify it. This is the philosophy that I have carried since that day.
So, what is the message of this article? Well, there are two.
The first is a message to people who eat animals, say they love them and choose to fight against vegans. Please, learn from my past behaviour. Don’t let your guilt fester like I did. Act on it and find the support you need to move in a compassionate direction. Don’t wait for a Mila to come into your life before breaking your heart so that you can stop supporting the suffering of innocents. You are better than this, and it is time to swallow your pride and stop supporting the suffering of others for enjoyment.
The second message is to vegans. We all want our family and friends to make the change because we believe they are good people, but we find it so hard to come to terms with their decisions to support such abhorrent practices. Unfortunately, we all have people in our lives that we have simply given up on when it comes to making this change. Please don’t give up. Look at what a spiteful, immature, pathetic, abusive, insecure, guilt-ridden little man I used to be. Look at how I have made the change. Never stop working towards a compassionate future.
Ready to change your behaviours to align with your morals? Below are some links to get you started.
At Veganuary we inspire and support people to try vegan for January and throughout the rest of the year. Visit our…veganuary.com
For the animals: the best way to help animals is to vote with our fork. As consumers, we can choose not to use our…www.challenge22.com
Need to see it for yourself? Watch the following: