5.2
October 29, 2018

I Learned to love Myself—but I had to Lose Everything First.

You know that saying, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”?

I have to admit, it used to piss me off…I was always a destination guy.

My childhood was not an easy one. Growing up around addiction, I didn’t learn much about self-esteem and gratitude. I learned to bury my feelings in a place far, far away, never to be acknowledged or discussed. It was a lonely way to live—but I got used to it.

As an adult, I hoped for a happy life. I didn’t know what that really meant, so I looked to the outside world for my happiness. Surely my next great love would make me happy? That would work for a while, but it wouldn’t last. How about my next fantastic adventure, or brand new car? Those didn’t work either. Even worse was the voice in my head wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn’t find happiness. I desperately longed to feel complete.

But I never did.

My jobs never fulfilled me. The new toys didn’t stay new. Every time I thought I was near the finish line, it felt like it got pushed further down the road. I would try to run toward it even faster. I was quick to move on—always to the next destination, always in motion, doing whatever I could to avoid painful or uncomfortable feelings. What this life strategy got me was a slew of poor choices and painful experiences.

After my marriage failed two years ago, I found myself at my emotional rock bottom. The pain of that loss was almost unbearable. It was one loss too many. I felt all alone, living with the broken pieces of my poor choices. I felt humbled, and lost.

The rawness of that time shattered my defenses. Hope and denial were gone. This was something I’d never experienced before. I was on my knees, open to looking at myself in a way I never had. I was face-to-face with the scary, but undeniable, truth that I would first have to be happy and comfortable with myself before I could have the life I wanted.

The day I realized that was the first day of the rest of my life.

My journey began when I mustered up enough courage to face lifelong issues and start to figure sh*t out. It wasn’t easy. Before I could face these issues, I had some work to do. I had to learn how to be present—how to sit with my feelings and not be afraid. I had no idea how to do that. More than that, it was the last thing I wanted to do. I had spent most of my life avoiding my feelings, afraid of being inadequate or not good enough. I needed help.

After countless hours of therapy, soul-searching, and tears, I started to learn.

I practiced self-awareness. I watched a lot of Brené Brown videos. To be my authentic self, I would have to embrace my feelings and my fears; let them out for a while. Let them flow to the surface and be acknowledged. Shutting down was easy for me, it was how I lived my life. Burdened by the secret that I was lonely and insecure, I would run from those feelings as fast as I could.

As I learned how to be present, how to feel my feelings, I realized that they wouldn’t kill me. It can be uncomfortable at times, but I was surprised to learn that sharing my feelings and being vulnerable made me stronger. I traded my carefully crafted facade of security for acceptance of my flaws. I was perfectly imperfect.

I also made a commitment to show up for myself first. That’s the only way I would learn to trust myself and my decisions. Only then could I be in a position to really show up for others. I became mindful of how I lived each day. I began meditating, I took control of my health and fitness, I ate mindfully. I spent time in nature, whether paddle boarding on the bay or watching a sunrise. I paid bills on time instead of procrastinating. All of these helped me cultivate a practice for showing up for myself.

Don’t get me wrong, this work is hard. I still make mistakes—plenty of them.

I had to learn how to forgive myself, to learn from my mistakes and move on. That was huge for me. I always felt pressure to be perfect, and because of that I was extremely hard on myself. I never realized how much of a toll it all took on me until I stopped doing it.

Instead of beating myself up, I now practice gratitude and empathy whenever I can. And I mean practice. These are not natural skills for me, so it’s going to take a lot of work. That’s what my commitment to myself is all about.

I wouldn’t trade the last couple of years for anything. Old wounds are healing. Getting to know and accept myself—and getting to be my own best friend—has been the most liberating and fulfilling experience of my life. I am finally enjoying the “journey,” one simple step at a time.

We all suffer, and we all struggle at times. We can also decide to be brave. Changing is hard, but it’s never too much, and it’s never too late to find the courage to love ourselves.

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David Baumrind

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