What Does It Look Like to Love Yourself?
The Early Years
“When you love yourself, love will find you.” I first heard these words in 2001 when a mentor responded to my question of how to find passionate love. I was twenty-nine.
In response, I wrote in my journal, “I love you. You are awesome, beautiful, and sexy,” followed by vows to improve in the ways I wasn’t good enough: not patient enough, not generous enough, not tolerant enough, not loving enough. My journal entries sounded like a Stuart Smalley skit from Saturday Night Live in the early nineties. “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.”
Memoirs of Finding Oneself
Since then, I’ve devoured memoirs about people taking journeys and finding themselves, learning to accept themselves, learning to love themselves. I want what these authors found. How many people decided to hit Italy, India and Bali hoping to find the peace (and perhaps the man) that Elizabeth Gilbert did in Eat Pray Love? It’s become almost ubiquitous for the unprepared to hike the Pacific Crest Trail to deal with punishing grief as Cheryl Strayed did in Wild.
At the end of the memoirs though, I wondered what happened when the authors returned to the real world? Were they able to hold onto their new-found peace amidst the daily bombardment of annoying neighbors, bad drivers, friends and lovers saying that thing that hurts us, and chicken-little-type “the sky is falling” messages we hear in the news 24 hours a day? And if so, what did holding-on to that peace look like?
My Battle With Shame
In August 2018, I spent a month alone in New Mexico writing my memoir. My temporary home had no internet or television, and limited human interaction so I spent my days reading, writing, walking my dog in the desert and the mountains, praying and meditating. One of my goals was to understand and let go of the shame that I was never good enough. Perhaps paramount, I wanted to let go of the anger at the world that had taken up residence in my body following a breakup.
I discovered in my journals how I had become more accepting and loving of myself in the past seventeen years. But I also discovered that as I overcame one area of shame, new ones cropped up. By the end of my trip, I thought I had let it all go. I told myself that I had found my peace. Returning home though, it took only a few days to discover how easy it is to be at peace isolated from the world and how hard it is to hold on to.]
And that’s when I decided I would write about the daily struggle of accepting and loving my humanness. What does it look like: to accept that I make mistakes and learn from them rather than just beating myself up; to trust that voice inside as to my path and to trust that God is at work in the rest; to let go of a lifetime of “supposed tos” and a bevy of voices constantly telling me that I’ve done or said the wrong thing; to find joy in the many loving relationships I have in my life, while still wanting to find a romantic partner?
It’s not an easy journey. I’ve discovered I will never arrive, at least in this life, at an end destination of having the answers. But the journey is still worth it. I stumble daily and then I get back up and try again. The dark times have become shorter and less frequent. I’m finding the more I trust in myself and God/the universe/the creator – whatever you want to call the mystery of our being – the more joy I experience.
That’s what I plan to write about here: my stumbles, my dark moments, my lessons, and my joys. I want to share my daily struggle with genuinely being who I am and loving every part of myself even when I screw up. Jennifer is not a saint. She is just human. That’s not only good enough, but it makes me love myself even more – or at least I’m trying.