For years women have received the message that in order to draw positive people and experiences into one’s life, “You just need to love yourself,” and everything will fall magically into place. And, until recently, I would silently scoff to myself and roll my mind’s eye upon each utterance of this trite plea. Believe me. I tried to get onboard with this concept. However, in all honesty, I never understood what this “love of oneself” meant and, each time I attempted to invoke this feeling within myself, I felt like I was trying to hold a slippery, squirming fish in my hands, never getting a solid grasp of it. In my efforts to demystify this construct for myself, I found that most explanations I came across felt either too “hokey-self-help-ish” or simply too abstract to implement. Additionally, this notion of self-love directly conflicted with my long-held belief that loving oneself equated selfishness or egomania. Perhaps my change of heart stemmed from turning 40 this past April or from meeting so many wise women during my recent circuit through graduate school. I only know that, at last, I feel as though I am beginning to understand the many ways in which loving one’s self can finally manifest in my life.
While I do not claim to have figured it all out, I can say that, for myself, I began to conceptualize this type of love in a different way than I had in years past. At the zenith of my struggle in finding this seemingly elusive feeling, I had relapsed into an old enemy: Ed (read: raging eating disorder). Ed’s behaviors of constant dietary restriction and increasingly frequent binging and purging embodied my frustration with this lack of understanding in my life. At the time, I was hemorrhaging energetically at what felt more like an abusive domestic relationship than a day job, and I had become disillusioned with most people in my life, regardless of their emotional proximity to me. Isolation allowed me the indulgence of secrecy, because my worst fear was not being able to maintain a permanent smile for everyone around me; and, if I was physically unable to do that due to the coinciding major depression that hemmed itself in with Ed, then I had to hide myself away to protect others from my unbearable inner pain. The emotional turmoil that thrashed around inside of me hit a fever pitch as my physical health also began to deteriorate, with flare-ups of my autoimmune disorder quickly becoming more common than not. After working late one night and having just been reamed out by a colleague and thrown under the bus by my then boss, I sat in my office, covered my face with my hands, and began to weep. I could no longer keep this up, whatever “this” meant. The next day, I contacted HR and told them I needed to take a leave of absence for an indefinite period of time.
This leave from work lasted a full year, during which time I underwent every level of care imaginable for my eating disorder and major depressive disorder. I know this may sound peculiar, but I did not want Ed to leave me because the behaviors were the only thing I could count on to bring me any semblance of control and comfort in my life. In these warped acts of self-torture, I found release forf my pain, like a build up of steam escaping through a pipe valve.
In its briefest definition, I would now say that loving one’s self means making decisions in your life – every day – that reflect that your well-being, your feelings, your thoughts, and your behaviors matter and they are all worthy of honoring.
Include: perfectly imperfect.
End: So, go ahead. Love yourself. I dare you. In fact, I double-dog dare you.