The first time I was asked that very question, I was sitting in a big brown chair in a room that had 4 walls, and no windows.
I remember thinking, “What a repugnant space. They sure don’t make this process very inviting.”
I was 18. A college freshman.
It was a Tuesday. I should have been at our dorm social but instead I was sitting in the basement of one of the oldest buildings on campus unveiling my big secret.
“Are you serious? No, I hate myself. If I loved myself, do you think I would really be here?”
Yes, even then, I was a smart-ass.
The truth is—I did hate myself in that moment.
Which is exactly why I had secretly reached out for help.
Since the beginning of the semester, things got progressively worse. Not only was I starving myself but I was overworking my body…exercising 2 hours 3 times a day. Believe me, this can do a number on your mental capacity. Just take my word on that.
After the fourth morning of waking up with a book on my head praying that I had learned what I needed to know through osmosis, I realized something needed to give.
And weighing in at just 100 pounds, at 5’8”, and slowing watching that number drop, I knew that I was giving myself a death sentence if I didn’t get some help.
Did I want to die? No! What I really wanted was for all the pain to disappear. I yearned to be happy again. Hell, to just be normal.
But I couldn’t allow myself to let that “night” go. The night I was raped. It turned my world on its head.
And someone had to be punished. I chose that person to be ME.
Fast forward two years later…
“Do you love yourself? Really, wholeheartedly love yourself?”
“Yes, I love myself,” I would say. “I eat right, exercise regularly, get lots of rest and spent time doing things I love.”
I thought I had it all figured out.
I spent numerous hours in deep intensive counseling, worked with a nutritionist, regularly showed up for my group therapy sessions, and took really good of myself.
I was fixed.
Now I wanted to go. To be released. To be free. To get back to being “normal.”
I think about that day now, almost 17 years later, and I laugh.
I can’t believe I really thought that was self-love.
Of course, eating right, moving your body, getting lots of rest and doing things you are passionate about are pieces of self-love but honestly, they’re just small pieces to that puzzle.
Today, I view self-love very differently.
To me, self-love is about feeling joy and pain. Because I believe one truly can’t be had without the other.
It’s about embracing my flaws, rather than hiding them.
It’s about finding happiness within myself versus looking for it in the outside world.
It’s about letting go of my expectations of others and learning what I expect of myself.
It’s about breaking down the walls that I built to protect my heart, so that I can love more freely, more deeply and without reciprocation.
It’s about me giving back to the world, whether it be sharing my gifts, lending a helping hand or listening without ever uttering a word.
It’s about me spending more time being present and letting go of the past which only has a hold on me if I allow it.
The truth is I never had to be fixed.
I just had to learn to be ME.
And being ME is more than ENOUGH. I am imperfectly perfect and knowing that makes my heart sing and my soul dance.
What, my dear friend, does self-love mean to you?
I just needed to show up in the world every day as ME.