Written 2/14/2021

Be brave enough to take off the masks you wear out there and get to know who you are underneath. Be vulnerable enough to accept your flaws and know that they are what make you human; they are what make you real. Be confident enough to accept and cherish your strengths. Don’t minimize them or hide them. They are your beautiful gifts to share with the world. Be brave enough to say, you know what, all of this is who I am. I make so many mistakes. I can be forgetful, I am messy. But, I am doing my best with what I’ve got. And I am so proud of that. I am so proud of me. And I am proud of who I am becoming. ” -Nikki Banas- 

On Valentine’s Day, about 10 years ago, I walked into a Target to do some serious retail therapy. I barely made it 20 steps before I saw a shelf filled with coffee mugs. You know the ones that have one initial on the front, but you can never find your exact initials. You can only find X, Q, and Z. Well, I kid you not. There were three lined up perfectly that spelled out J E N. My ex. The one I thought I would marry. Yep. That ex. 

As her name glared at me from the shelf, “Since you Been Gone” played on the loudspeaker.” I nearly had a breakdown on aisle four. In that moment, my world felt like it was imploding. It seemed as if the world was against me. Loneliness and grief flooded my body. 

I darted straight for the alcohol aisle and I went home and I drank myself into an oblivion. I didn’t know any other way to self-soothe. Drinking was my answer for everything. It was the only way I knew how to cope. 

And two months later, I would almost drink myself to death. 

Self-love, self compassion, and self worth were not words in my vocabulary at that time. I had heard them before, but I had never fully practiced them. People had told me that I was loved. But what do those words mean if you don’t believe it yourself?  If you don’t love yourself, those words sound a lot like Charlie Brown’s teacher. “Blah blah blah blah blah.” Telling me I was loved was a sweet sentiment. But it was meaningless for me at that time. I heard it. But, I did not believe it. 

I attempted the journey of self-love before I got sober. But, addiction stunts your growth. You can only grow so much when you are numbing out to some of life’s greatest opportunities for learning. You can only grow so much when you are unwilling to face what is holding you back and keeping you stuck. 

 My sobriety propelled me into a real and authentic journey of self-love. A journey that I was able to fully envelop and embrace. It changed my entire life. 

Self-love is not based on the ego. Self-love is simply based on knowing your worth and believing that you matter. 

The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation states, “Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth. Self-love means having a high regard for your own well-being and happiness. Self-love means taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your well-being to please others. Self-love means not settling for less than you deserve.”

For years I had cared so much about what other people thought and I would often put on a show in order to try and convince other people of my worthiness. When in fact, I was the one that needed convincing of my own worthiness. As Brenè Brown says, hustling for worthiness is exhausting.

I had to start by letting go of anything that might be holding me back from stepping into my true self. I had to peel away the layers of years of using alcohol to cope and survive, shame of my sexuality, religious and personal trauma and grief of my family’s deaths. My environment as a kid. The list could continue like a CVS receipt. 

I had to face these things head on and fully accept all parts of me. The light and the dark. I had to step into courage and be willing to see things differently so that I could make new decisions. 

Once again, Brenè Brown, states in one of my all time favorite books, ‘Daring Greatly,’ “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do.”

I worked through some tough stuff and began to see myself in a different light. I had to show up for my life in ways that were terrifying. I had to open up and be vulnerable. I had to get honest and clear about my past so that I could create a new path to living a more happy and joyous and free life. 

Realizing that I was not broken was an incredible gift. A gift that I would not have been able to unwrap without healing some past wounds and facing some hard things that I had so long avoided. And I did my best to love myself through the entire process.

Self-love, in my opinion, is the most powerful kind of love. Without it, my life would become a bit of a dark alley with lots of spider webs. And without self-love I would stay stuck in that dark alley. And the good Lord knows, ain’t nothing good going on in a dark alley.

Self-love gives me the lantern I need to help light the way out of the darkness and back to my authentic self. Back to my truth. Back to my light.

Self-love is more than just the state of “feeling good.” It is much more than buying yourself some chocolates and taking a bubble bath. Although chocolates and bubble baths are nice too. 

Self-love is about diving and digging deep into your own life. It is about letting go of those limiting beliefs and those negative loops that have been telling you lies for years. It is about learning to talk to yourself in the loving way that you deserve. It is discovering how to feel comfortable in your own skin. And recognizing that you matter. It is standing up for yourself in areas that might scare you at first, but will empower you in the end. It is about letting others see you. The real you. Self-love is a way of life.

It is about rewiring your brain and changing your old story. We all have the ability to rewire our brains. Ain’t science fun? Self-love  is about having compassion for ourselves and celebrating ourselves. All parts of us. 

It doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t do one abdominal workout and wake up with a  6 pack the following day. Just like training and toning our muscles takes commitment and time, training and toning our minds and our hearts takes consistent dedication and a willingness to stay on course. Unlearning is hard work. But hard work can make this life a little brighter. And it can help make the weight that we often carry around with us a little lighter. 

My old ways of thinking certainly make “cameos” in my life these days. The difference is, they don’t run the show.

At 45, I have the confidence to say that self-love has changed my entire life. My self-love journey is ever evolving and I certainly still have my days. But if we are looking at the big picture, I have become quite fond of my qualities. 

I truly feel like I am light in this world rather than just a useless bump on a log. And who is to say that those bumps on logs are useless? Maybe someone loves those things. 

Anyway, when I used to experience any type of emotional disturbance, I would often choose unhealthy and negative ways to deal with my feelings. Now, I have a laundry list of ways that help promote a healthier and more productive response so that I can move through the disturbances with grace and dignity rather than self pity and self sabotage.

The triggers don’t ever go away. But the way you respond to them most certainly shift. 

Therapy, breathing, meditation, writing, taking time for me, getting to know myself, forgiveness, being of service, listening to others stories of hope. Find something that works for you. Stay with it. Keep going until you feel a gentle shift. 

Whatever you do, don’t give up on yourself. You are worth every second that you invest into YOU. You are loved. You matter. And remember you are one bad ass mutha. 

I will leave you with this. 

Just a few years ago a kindergartner came up to me on Valentine’s Day with a small heart balloon. He handed it over to me and said with a sweet and innocent smile, “You can have this since you won’t be getting anything else today.” 

I laughed until my side hurt. And this laughter for me was a sign of important growth. 

You see, years ago, this may have triggered me back to that moment in Target where I saw those coffee mugs. Where I was trying to confirm an old story of not being enough, not being loved. An old story of fear and abandonment. 

But, instead, I greeted the moment with laughter. A lightness that I had not yet known. And this moment was evidence that all of my hard work had paid off. All of my hard work had led me to this moment of truth where I was able to intentionally choose a different thought. Any shift in thinking is a miracle. And folks, this was truly a miracle. 

And, to be fair,  he was right. It was the only gift that I received that day. 

However, I had already given myself the most valuable gift of all. Self-love. 

Cheers to learning to love yourself. One moment at a time. 

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