One thing about me....I don't sugarcoat.
I talk about self-love a lot. Like, all the time. Sharing stories of my journey and helping people begin their own is one of my greatest passions.
But the thing about loving yourself is that it's not easy. At all. It means going within, staying silent so you can listen, unlearning the ways you were taught to view yourself, and doing the hard things no one likes to do. Things like...
*Being alone in your own head
*Recognizing the dark and cold parts of yourself that block you from your authentic self
*Cutting off the people who aren't aligned with your soul
*And forgiving the people who hurt you the most so that you can release all you still(and you definitely do)hold onto.
I wrote about the Dark Side of Self-Love once before a few years ago, and I still believe in what I said whole-heartedly. But there are so many contrasting levels, I think it's important to talk about it again, only in a different way. You can read my first post here.
Here's my surface: I'm a girl mom, dog mom, boss lady, writer, homeowner, self-love activist, daughter, sister, friend. This is what you may know, for a fact, about me.
The deeper levels get quite a bit messy, frayed at the edges, with a little bit of darkness at the core.
I had a happy childhood, but it doesn't come without its traumas. I'm still unlearning the ways of my upbringing and trying to make sense of who I am by sludging through my memories.
I grew up in a close-knit community, raised Catholic, extremely shy. My mom walked my sister and me down the street to our Catholic school everyday. We went to church every Sunday. I played sports and dolls and drew pictures and created imaginary worlds on paper. Some things never change.
I loved where I grew up. I loved my childhood.
But I didn't understand that when I grew up, I would look back and see everything for what it really was.
My dad was an alcoholic. I'd always known this, and I always had a certain level of uncertainty around him. Not that I feared my father. He was loving and fun and gave me some of the best memories of my life. But when he chose to not show up for himself, he taught me to do the same.
And so I manifested abusive realtionships and such strong self-doubt, I wasn't sure I'd make it out alive.
My first serious relationship was with someone who told me he hated how 'happy' my family was. He didn't want to come around if we were going to be cheerful. Looking back, I kind of have to laugh because of how ludicrous this seems. But I stayed in that relationship for 4 or so years, fighting with him on a weekly basis for the most petty reasons and spending so much precious time in tears. During that relationship is when I heard 'you can't love anyone else until you love yourself' for the first time. I left shortly after, this gem piece of advice forever ingrained in my brain.
That doesn't mean I got smarter right away. I spent the next several years acting like a rebellious, despicable juvenile, never considering what I was doing to my body, mind, and soul. I was partying too much, remembering very little, and hating on myself through every hangover.
I met my ex-husband in the middle of all of this. Coming straight out of a heartbreak and still hell-bent on denying that I needed to process, I fell into a relationship with the only person I've ever known who made me not want to live anymore. It began as subtle manipulations, such as him making me feel grateful that he decided he was okay that we were in a boyfriend-girlfriend realtionship when he 'wasn't really looking for that'.
Very quickly, it turned into him yelling at me about when I 'humiliated' him in front of other people, or how I didn't pay enough attention to him at social gatherings. Then lying about his spending habits and leaving me to borrow money from coworkers just to be able to buy gas to get to and from work. Lying about where he was going. Lying about lying. Telling other people I was crazy so that I would lose my support system. Cheating and then using his friend as a scapegoat to throw me off. I had anxiety attacks when I left the house without him because I knew the second I had my back turned, he would be living his secret life again.
He made me believe my family didn't love me and refused to support my desire to visit them. So I didn't. The gaslighting was constant and unrelenting. I made myself physically ill trying to pretend like I was normal.
He would tell me often that he used to want to hit his ex-wife when she made him mad, but he didn't because he's a 'good guy'. Towards the end of our marriage, he told me he felt the same about me. Instead of hitting me, he would scream so loud my ears would ring, and throw things around the room, slamming drawers and doors to scare me.
I withdrew from everyone, keeping all of this a secret because I didn't want anyone to not like him. I spent my hour long drive to and from work each day imagining how much better things would be if I just didn't have to exist anymore.
When I finally came forward about what had been happening, most people didn't believe me.
Sometimes I questioned whether I had been imagining how he made me feel the whole time. But my imagination had never before contemplated suicide. I knew I wasn't crazy.
The day I sought help, I began to heal. My therapist saw right through me, and handed me a piece of paper that had my entire life typed on it in neat little categories. Words like 'abuse', 'manipulation', 'gaslighting', and 'narcissism' jumped off the page and dug their way into my brain. That evening holds such profound meaning to me still to this day. I remember the session, what I bought after it(a plaque reading 'Today, Begin' that hangs in my bedroom), my dinner(Panera Bread, the first time I had the courage to eat all by myself in public), and the song that broke me down on my drive home.
I credit that counselor every single time I talk about saving my life.
It took a bit of time for me to get the courage to leave, but once I decided I wanted better for myself, I feel like everything shifted in order for that to happen.
The next few years were a struggle, and I spent much of my time hating him and what he did to me. I blamed literally everything bad that happened to me on him and I didn't care that it sounded insane.
It wouldn't be until I had my daughter and had to make another hard choice that I would finally begin to move on from the trauma my ex caused me.
Even more, it wasn't until this year, hell, this past week that I realized I was still holding on to him. I heard a podcast(I'll get into these in a later post!)in which the host, Mark Groves, and his guest, Drew Canole, talked about 'Turning Your Mess Into Your Mission'. I listened as this man recounted his childhood of abuse and how, at the ripe age of 6, he decided to forgive his father for everything he had done to him.
And here I was, with 40 just around the corner, and I was still looking for the narcissist in every man I met.
I spent some time mulling this over before I decided I needed to write it down. I forgave my ex-husband for treating me like I was worthless, and then I thanked him for teaching me the importance of loving myself. One day my child will read those words that I wrote, and I hope she understands how much I meant them. After putting it down on paper, I was surprised by how true my statement was.
I didn't forgive him for him. I forgave him because I needed to release him from holding power over me.
Loving yourself will always have moments of darkness, confusion, and self-doubt. But from those moments blooms a light so radiant, it makes it all worthwhile.
I read all the books, I do the meditations and the journaling and I've never felt so connected to myself in all my life. I love the challenge that is self-love because I know that it's worth it. So many years later, and I've switched from the extroverted partier to the introverted silence-lover. I enjoy my time alone, and I'm equally grateful to spend time with the people who remain in my life after all those years of self-loathing.
I love talking to people about the importance of this topic. Nothing means more to me than an email from someone who had been struggling who found some hope and inspiration in the words I wrote.
It's important to remember that healing is hard, but we can do hard things. Staying in the hurt might be easier, but that hurt will only continue to grow until you move past it...or until it kills you.
Loving yourself is a practice. It gets easier to do, but it will take a lifetime to learn, during which you will only become stronger.
This is where my dark side lives. I'm still growing and ever-changing, but I'm here to progress, and I'm following my calling of taking you along with me. I invite you to recognize your own dark side and decide where you want to bloom into sunshine. It's always good to have someone at your side.