There’s an infectious axiom that floats around daytime television, self-help books, and yes – blogs: No one else can love you until you love yourself.
During my darkest hours, I was loved. For every day I was most full of self-loathing and despair, there was a person in my life who loved me… and probably couldn’t see the corrosive feelings gnawing away at my insides. Just like I couldn’t see their love. Like there was an invisible wall between us.
Those people propelled me to start a ten-year journey of healing from a place of self-injury to a deep self-love… and I did it in a way that would make life coaches cringe hard.
Stage One: Build a fortress.
In my late twenties, I met some rebellious and raucous women who inspired me to say, “Fuck this.” I stopped looking for love and relished just having a good time; I casually dated and never let anyone get close to me for years. Using this defense mechanism of putting up walls allowed me to do two important things – learn who I was and what I wanted for me outside of relationships, and embrace casual sex. I’m very thankful for both.
Stage Two: Stop dating men.
I’d had so many excruciating experiences wherein I a) developed Real Feelings for a boy, b) told him, c) had sex with him to get him to like me back, and d) felt crushed when surprise! He didn’t. This is probably one of the reasons why I just stopped being that attracted to men. Dating women allowed me to express my feelings in a safe space (for the most part). They didn’t lie to or mislead me in order to get sex; in fact, if anything, I had to work on my communication skills in order to tell them exactly what I wanted up front and be really honest when I wasn’t looking for a monogamous relationship – before the sex. Not only did I have relationships (and phenomenal sex) with strong, adventurous, no-nonsense, compassionate, intelligent, and hilarious women – I was surrounded by them in my community. Dating women taught me that I have inherent value that is not directly tied to my cunt.
Step Three: Allow yourself to fall in love recklessly with someone you know will break your heart.
I started dating men again because I fell in love with a coworker who I knew was going to leave in a matter of months. When I realized a month in how intensely and romantically I loved this man compared to his palpably platonic love for me, I acknowledged it and dove in headfirst. I allowed myself to feel all of my feelings – the euphoric and the excruciating – and when I made it through the other side, I’d learned not only to survive, but to open my heart completely because I knew I could survive and recover from heartache.
[Step 3.5: Travel to a tropical locale. Feel the breeze, listen to the waves, self-evaluate, and drink rum. Have a lot of sweaty sex with someone who makes you laugh hard.]
Step Four: Recognize the value of other people’s love.
I never have to guess how The Engineer feels about me, and he never has to guess how I feel about him; we tell each other every single day earnestly and without prompting. His emotional intelligence and general smooshiness have made me reflect on my expression of love to friends and family and theirs to me – and I try mindfully not to take a single drop of that love for granted. When I was in my early twenties and was surrounded by people who loved me, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Or, rather, the tree – the tree being whomever I happened to be infatuated with at the moment.
Lots of people have loved me when I didn’t love myself – when, in fact, I felt empty, worthless, and unlovable. And their love, whether or not I felt it, allowed my fractures to be re-broken and eventually mend – if not perfectly, enough to make me feel whole in and of myself.