How I Am Learning To Love Myself

steve-halama-558233-unsplash+(1).jpg

I spoke at a seminar this past weekend. When asked what I would be talking about the first thing that came to mind was self-love. Instantly I began spiraling in self doubt of what do I know about self-love when it is something I struggle with daily? So I was honest. And honesty is what people crave. I wanted to share with you warriors some of the things that I shared with women this weekend.

Inspired by a book I bought for $0.99 a year ago, I decided it was time to start actually loving myself.

And not just in the superficial sense of self-love, like exercising regularly and watching less TV.  It was time to really, fully and wholly love myself–top to bottom, inside and out.

To love myself to the point of waking up every morning with a heart overflowing with gratitude for all I was blessed with in life.  To love myself unconditionally–quirks, flaws, occasional potty mouth and all.  To love myself the way I loved other people. Fiercely, and unafraid to show it.

But this story didn’t start a year ago; it’s been a long time in the making.

Well before I stumbled upon this little $0.99 book, maybe two years prior, another pivotal moment in my self-love journey had taken place with a dear friend.  A moment whose weight I didn’t fully comprehend until much later.

It was a brisk summer night; I was in the midst of a heart-to-heart with a close friend. We were diving deep into the meaning and purpose of life, tears were shed and vulnerability was commonplace.

I don’t quite remember how it escalated to this, but I distinctly remember crying.

We were talking about relationships and why mine–past and present–never seemed to go so well.  I had trust issues, hated the person I had become because I didn't really know who I was.

And then a rather unexpected question was posed to me, a question that left me speechless for all the wrong reasons. 

“Are you happy with who you are?”

I couldn’t find the words to respond.  Not because I didn’t know the answer, but rather because I knew it instantly.

After a few suffocating moments of silence, the best I could do was shake my head “no” as more tears, now double the size, rolled down my face.

I didn’t like who I was or who I had been.  I most certainly didn’t love myself.  And it was in that moment I came to the crushing realization that it was all my fault.

It wasn’t for lack of trying.  I wanted to love myself–desperately, even.  But what I eventually came to understand was this:

When you’re making poor choices, choices that defy what you know in your heart to be right, you never will know self-love.

The months leading up to that moment had been particularly difficult for me.  I reached a truly low point in terms of my self-esteem. I felt as though I was living a lie, as if everyone saw someone that wasn't actually me. I did not reflect the kind of person I wanted to be.

And in that moment, those poor choices came rushing back to me all at once, swallowing me up in a tidal wave of shame and regret.  Sure, I might have cried first for my failed and failing relationships that night, but in the end, I cried hardest for the person I never allowed myself to become.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but a series of subconscious choices had just been made.

To start living up to my own potential.  To start making myself proud.  To start living my truth.

First Came Choices

Every day, we are choosing.  We may not choose our circumstances, but we choose how we react.  In fact, the only thing truly within our control is ourselves and our choices.  It’s all we have.

So even when other people hurt us, when our pain is the direct result of someone else’s choices, the choice is still ours whether we let that pain suffocate us, or if we let it go.  Move on.  Forgive.

For far too long, I felt the pain and emotional bruising from distant moments I should have long-since forgiven as sharply as if they had just happened yesterday.  For far too long, I held onto resentment, blaming others for my choices.

The choice to numb the pain by ignoring it.  The choice to keep moving and doing when my body screamed to slow down.  The choice to spend undue time and emotional energy on relationships that weren’t meant for me.

I was all too aware of my faults, and for far too long, I had done nothing to correct them.  I was avoiding responsibility for the crappy outcomes of my poor choices which, as one of my favorite authors points out, wasn’t doing me any favors.

We all love to take responsibility for success and happiness…But taking responsibility for our problems is far more important, because that’s where real learning comes from.  That’s where real-life improvement comes from.  To simply blame others is only to hurt yourself.  -Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F***

So I made the choice, over and over again, to put what I needed ahead of what I thought I should be doing.

Funnily enough, I still found plenty of time to enjoy myself, too.  But the best part of it all was the sense of pride that arose from finally making choices that aligned with what I wanted in my heart–for loving myself to become a reality.

I started listening to myself, not others. Started listening to my body. To filling my cup in order to overflow into others. The positive changes that came out of that summer were all the reassurance I needed to know that I was on the right path, that I was inching ever closer to living my truth, to knowing myself, and ultimately loving myself.

Then Came Growth

As time wore on, personal development became my addiction.  I dedicated late nights and early mornings to finding balance between self acceptance and self growth.  In my leisure time, I read self-help books.

Much like the early lessons, the new lessons I was learning didn’t always register right away.  I had to chew on them for awhile to release the subtleties, the nuances, the complexities.

But all the while, I could feel myself changing.  I could feel myself growing more aware of who I was, how I acted, even what my heart wanted (some might call that “intuition”)–and that awareness allowed me to make better choices and know when to alter my course.

This summer, I bought that little $0.99 book.  I read it every night as I laid in bed.

That book was called Choose Yourself, and it was written by a man named James Altucher.

You may not have heard of ol’ James, but he has founded many companies and made millions.  Some self-help guru, right?

But of course, as it always goes, there’s much more to this story.  James also lost millions.  Sunk businesses.  Destroyed relationships.  Lost his home.  Went through a divorce.

Of the 20 companies he founded, 18 of them were failures.  In 2008, at his lowest of lows and in the midst of the worst economic depression since the 1930s–with no job, no friends, and no money–he nearly lost the will to live.

His life insurance policy worth $4 million suddenly seemed like the best chance for his kids to have a decent life.

Feeling someone else’s pain, even through the vast distances of space and time, always helps put our own pain into perspective.  It doesn’t diminish it or make it any less real, but it helps us to realize that if someone can be pushed to such extremes and still find the power to choose themselves, well, so can we.

James developed what he referred to as “The Daily Practice” which centered around taking care of himself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  He was putting himself first, choosing himself in every way.

I took James’s words to heart and began choosing myself in every way.

I put myself to bed early and woke up early.  I practiced daily devotions, prayer, exercise, eating healthy into my routine.  I practiced gratitude daily.

I found my way back to yoga, which has been perhaps the most transformative practice of all.

The very first intention I set on that very first day was the very thing that drew me back to the mat in the first place: to know myself.

One major difference between this new undertaking and my casual yoga habit of days past is that I no longer regarded it as a fitness tool.  Breaking free from that old assumption (and the desire to look good in yoga pants) allowed me to see yoga for what it really was: a powerful vehicle for self-exploration.

For me, it is the ultimate display of self-love, showing up on my mat for a moment of mindfulness. 

And my god, it felt so good to choose myself for once.  And self-care?  It’s been extended indefinitely.

Good choices beget good choices, as it turns out, and what started as a painful personal challenge when my friend asked that question many years ago has now become something of a habit.

That’s not to say that life is fine and dandy as a result or that I don’t still experience deep pain.  I endure bouts of crushing self-doubt on a near-daily basis.  I torment myself with “what ifs” that have no right to take up headspace.  I still sometimes wonder–and maybe I always will–what if this all comes crashing down tomorrow?

But self-love is a process, one that will never be truly complete.  There will always be more I could improve, more I can learn, more kindness I can show to myself and others.

And in the vein of extending that kindness to myself, I constantly need reminding that yes, I am deeply flawed in many ways, but that is what makes me human, and I deserve love anyway.

I am still on the path to loving myself and to knowing and living my truth.  I can say in all honesty that I love myself now more than ever, and I know I will come to love myself more deeply in the future.

What’s most important, however, no matter where I am in the process of self-love is to remember…

I am enough.

And so are you friend.