I loved someone who didn’t know how to love me well.
I continue to tell myself that it wasn’t that bad, but he crossed lines he shouldn’t have. The good times we shared hid the ways in which he slowly stripped away the parts of me that made him feel threatened and insecure.
He made me out to be a villain, a moron, a whore.
In this troubled lover’s eyes, I saw a girl reflected back at me who wasn’t me at all. In my naivete, I let myself believe it was.
I was ashamed.
I wanted to become someone else: someone thinner, someone smarter, someone calmer, someone more doting, someone less sensitive. I wanted to be “perfect.”
I tried, and when I failed, I blamed myself.
Eventually, I broke away from letting someone else define me. An enormous weight of shame and guilt lifted. My intention is not to reflect on those turbulent times, but to let bloom out of retrospect the ways in which I grew away from that dark and lonely place where I was disconnected from my own being.
Nurtured by hindsight, the following are the five commandments that allowed me to love myself:
1. Be with yourself.
I remember the very moment, a few weeks after I’d moved out, eating dinner-for-one at the kitchen table in my new place, when I realized that I was alone and that it was okay. In fact, it was nice. I couldn’t recall the last time that I was truly by myself. Without consciously knowing it, I started then to conceive of it less as being alone and more as being with myself. You can be your own best company. Now, I know I need my alone time to come back to my center and thrive, and it is one of my highest priorities. I need to be with myself like I need to spend time with a good friend—to know myself, love myself, and nurture myself.
2. Get naked.
I spend an enormous amount of my solitary time in the nude. Just me, in my skin, doing my thing. I understand that nakedness may not feel good to everyone, but for me it’s an extension of being with myself. When my body is naked, I’m with my whole, naked self. To love myself, I needed to learn to accept myself. I consider my body a large part of my identity and I haven’t always been able to accept it. Part of my path has been learning to bare my most vulnerable parts: my heart, my emotions, my thoughts, and my physical body—at least to myself.
3. Leave your comfort zone.
Everyone’s comfort zone has different boundaries, and it’s wise to grasp where those are before pushing too far too fast. I have always enjoyed taking huge leaps of faith into the abyss, but I know that it’s critical for me to have plans that are well thought-out so that I can feel safe in the discomfort. I am enormously privileged to have had the opportunity to travel at a time in my life when I was desperate for adventure. I set out for New Zealand knowing that I had a cushion to fall back on if I ever hit a dead end or empty savings account. This further enabled me to just go. It was a challenge to put down roots where I knew a total of one person in the entire country—entire hemisphere, actually. My plans shifted and changed as the experience unfolded. It taught me how to abandon prior plans and make new ones as needed. I loved every second of it. I felt such a deep sense of accomplishment forging a life for myself in parts so unfamiliar. I kept thinking, “I did it.”
4. Let yourself feel.
The extremes of our emotions can be some serious waves to ride. Sometimes, when we’re unbalanced, it’s easy to try to force control. I’ve been told that in the ocean, if you get stuck in the current, you can’t simply swim hard back to shore. You can’t force it. You must swim parallel to the shore, until you move out of the current. Like the ocean, our emotions have their own ebb and flow. Often, it’s hard to even understand what we feel and why, and when I realized that I didn’t need to know why or put a label on my feelings, I suddenly felt free to just feel. I could sit with it. Be confused. Be upset. Be overjoyed. Be. Ride those waves.
5. Give yourself what you need.
It’s hard to know what we need. It might not be what we want, it might not be what we thought we needed, it might not be what we decided we needed. Let’s learn to listen to that voice within, be willing to change our perspective if necessary, and let our plans change along with it. Don’t be fooled by preconceived notions of what’s “good.” I’m always convinced that I need exercise, but sometimes I need to let myself sacrifice a workout in order to have a long talk with a friend, enjoy a glass of wine and a good book, or simply let myself roam Instagram unregulated. There’s no right and wrong when it comes to serving ourselves with what we need. Just listen.
May these commandments be of benefit!
Author: Caitlin Jean Howard
Image: Mice / Flickr
Apprentice Editor: Devin Mudcat Kelly; Editor: Toby Israel