I’ve read about self-love for years. I’ve sought out everything I could read on how to love myself. I’m drawn to people who talk about it, write about it and practice it. I think everyone struggles with self-love from time to time but to those of us who have suffered trauma or abuse, loving ourselves often gets set aside for survival. Add in addictive behavior and the choices we make that revictimize ourselves and we’re often left with something that looks a lot more like self-tolerance than self-love.
My Grandma told me before I met my husband that I should marry for money. “After all,” she said, “You can always learn to love him later.” I knew she was joking (she’s been married to my Grandpa for 68 years now) but I think she was hinting at how hard love can be. Not just romantic love but love in all its forms. Sometimes it’s easier to embrace complete strangers than it is to love those closest to us with all their quirks and annoying habits. Imagine how hard it would be to love people if we actually had to hear their thoughts! And we wonder why self-love is difficult sometimes.
My recent experience with life skills coaching with Lisa Neumann at Sober Identity made something very clear to me. I never would’ve admitted before that I didn’t really love myself because that’s just wrong. Of course I love myself. That’s why I stopped drinking. That’s why I work at recovery. That’s why I try to be the best mom I can be. Well…not really. Don’t get me wrong – those are all fantastic endeavors but they were born out of a desire to tolerate myself better, not because I love myself. I know that now because I know what self-love feels like.
I also now know why something is always lacking for me when I read about self-love. You just don’t know until you know and when you do, words fail. Still, I’ll give it my best shot:
Until recently, I mentally divided my life into sections of before and after. I grouped these sections according to traumas, events and lessons. A visualization of my life placed my inner child, teenager, young adult and current me in separate places. I pictured my life like hiking a mountain. When I was on the trail, I couldn’t see how high the mountain was. All I could see were the loose rocks and the looming cliffs I was trying to avoid.
It took climbing the mountain to get to the top and once I was there, all I saw was 360 degrees of me. There were landmarks but they weren’t divided by walls or moats. I saw the entire landscape – the valleys and the peaks. I could see the burnt remains of a forest fire where I lit the match and the dry desert that became a flash flood in the rain. I saw canyons still covered in fog but it was lifting. I saw the lake where I once sat on the edge, my arms stretching out to my reflection like branches drawn through water. Above me was the clear blue sky, so bright I had to shade my eyes. God was everywhere. God had always been there. We are partners in this creation and I am a universe.
I’ve been on a vision quest that has lasted 43 years so far. This is the first time I’ve experienced what it’s like to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and smile, not because my make-up has expertly covered my imperfections but because I see an old friend. Or the experience of calling myself a dummy and sincerely apologizing because it’s so mean. Even these examples can’t capture the tenderness I feel for myself these days.
Love lifts us up where we belong. Cheesy, yes, but don’t blame me. I didn’t write the song. I’m just living it.