Learning to Love Yourself
Names have been left out in this story to provide anonymity and keep life peaceful. I have let go of the past and how it has hurt me, but it also made me who I am today. I have no desire to start a smear campaign. I look back not in bitterness, anger, or regret; but to recognize how far I have come and all that I have overcome. A survivor is a person who copes well with difficulties in their life. But I haven’t just survived, I’ve thrived.
I rode silent in the back seat on my way to the airport. Tears were streaming down my face. My anxiety had gone too far and I knew it. I knew I needed help. I had been begging for it for a while now. To be listened to. To be seen. But somehow it was always my fault. I questioned my own thoughts, my own memories, because I was constantly told they were untrue. My reality crumbled around me like an old house unkept. The very foundation now threatening to disintegrate. I was holding on to every beam and joist I could grasp. But it was too late. They all fell anyway. “Just a few days with my family”, I told myself. I would get myself composed and gathered to fight for my marriage even if I was the only one fighting. I knew what I was capable of, and I knew I was strong. I was ready to carry it all on my back if that’s what it required. I clung to the past. To the promises made and the love that had fallen on me like a bomb. I tried to use those passionate memories to bargain with his apathy. It was my fault. Because that’s what I had constantly been told and because I should have known. I should have known it was too good to be true.
I grabbed my navy blue carry on with rickety wheels and tugged on my oversized sweatshirt, wishing it could swallow me whole. I remember telling him, “I will be home soon”. I didn't realize he had already decided otherwise for me. The tears began again as I stood in line at the airport. A stranger turned to me with a look of pity that I hated and said, “It’s okay. You will see him again soon”. I wonder if he knew he was lying.
My flight to North Carolina went by like a blur. Probably because of the pill I took beforehand. I was trying to figure out how to tell my family everything that had been going on. I rolled my suitcase through the terminal and found a pattern in the klick-klack of the wheels in an attempt to quiet my thoughts. Just one more set of stairs and an escalator. I still had a little time to figure out what I would say. I stepped onto the black escalator steps that resembled teeth and took a deep breath. I looked down and saw my mom standing there. She was looking up at me with a look on her face I hadn’t seen before. I walked up to her, hugged her and I knew. She knew. I didn’t have to say a thing. That would be my last flight from Texas to North Carolina. I didn’t know it yet, but I was almost home.
Several years ago I got out of a very toxic and abusive relationship and found myself spending my days alone for the first time in years. I can recognize now that my days alone were far better than any I spent in that old house on Kessler Blvd., but due to unhealthy attachment, narcissistic hoovering, and my trauma it took me a while to recognize the freedom and opportunity I had been given. (For context: Hoovering is described as emotional manipulation by a narcissist to lure partners back in. And for a while after the relationship had ended, I was the fish).
When that relationship ended I was an empty shell. The Hannah I knew years ago was long gone, and what was left was a carcass. Nothing but dissociating, anxiety ridden, self doubting remains. I had given all of myself to this relationship and I was completely used up. Not only that, but I was damaged. I was bruised, scarred, marred, and wounded in ways that I could never imagine. I left believing I wasn’t lovable or worthy of being chosen. In my attempt to lean on the person I should have been able to trust the most, I was ultimately discarded and abandoned. This left me with the belief that I required too much and was nothing but a burden.
I have noticed a pattern throughout my life…I like to learn things the hard way. I say that I left that relationship as a shell, but the truth is there wasn’t much substance within myself to begin with. I was extremely young when the relationship began, and the idea of loving myself was very foreign to me. In fact, I felt quite the opposite. Hatred wasn’t necessarily the word…I guess the word was disdain. I felt that I was unworthy. Unworthy of consideration, of respect, and unworthy of love. Because of my lack of self-love, I spent a lot of my life over-extending myself for others in an attempt to earn theirs. I was searching for my value in another person. Surely if they loved and approved of me I would have value. As you can see, I was responsible for a lot of toxic behaviors and beliefs myself. I have healed enough to admit my part, but ultimately my betrayal in that relationship was towards myself. When you believe that your value is derived from others, you give them power over your life and your identity. I don’t say this to victimize myself. I say this to show that I learned the importance of knowing my worth and the importance of self-love the hardest way.
There is a new movement of “self-love” these days…and I admire it. I do think it gets a little convoluted at times. Is eating your third order of Chick-fil-a chicken minis this week really an act of self-love? Probably not. (I can say this because I have done it). I do think it’s dangerous in the fact that it can be used to justify a lot of unhealthy behaviors, but that isn’t true unconditional self-love to begin with.
The fact is, unconditional self-love is quite uncomfortable. It is also brutally honest. It calls you out on your bullshit. Self-love is described as, "Having a high regard for your own well being and happiness”. Unconditional is described as, “Absolute and not subject to any terms or conditions”. Combine the two, and you have an absolute high regard for your own well being and happiness. You believe that your worth and happiness is not contingent on any terms or conditions. You believe that you are worthy simply for being, simply, because you’re you.
It wasn’t until after I made the mistake of letting someone else define my worth, that I learned my absolute and unconditional value. I learned on my journey to self-love, that you cannot truly love yourself until you fully knowyourself and accept yourself for who you truly are.
It took time alone, turning inward, taking out my lantern and exploring the deepest caverns of my heart to learn who I truly was. It took me studying my shadows to understand my flaws, my insecurities, my mistakes, my fears, and my trauma. I came face to face with them and I was disgusted. I looked at them with a sneer and I judged every single one of them. I thought my fear of abandonment was weak. I thought my desire for approval was pretentious. I thought that the loss of my relationship made me a failure. I saw who I really was, and I hated her. I wanted to set the lantern down, smother out the flame, and look away. But instead, I drew closer. I held the lantern up and I looked her straight in her wretched face. You know what else I saw? I saw a young girl, loving other people the best way she knew how. I saw a young girl who cared so much about others that she sacrificed herself to meet their needs. I saw that she was scared and doing her best to get by. I saw that she was covered in battle scars because she had fought with everything she had. I hugged her, and my hatred melted as I wrapped her in a warm embrace. I told her she belonged. I told her she was strong. I told her she was welcome. I accepted her.
It was at that moment her darkness turned to light, her weeds turned to roses and she was finally whole. She was loved simply for being. She was seen for who she was and she was heard. What she had been searching for she had finally found. The love she always longed for, was within herself. She was finally home.