My Journey to Self-Love

I have a long history of hating myself.

My struggle with depression and anxiety began my freshman year of high school, eight long years ago in 2012. That eventually developed into anorexia. Even after beginning eating disorder recovery in late 2014, I was still far from loving myself. There were more days where I hated myself than anything else. Even on my best days, I could only mildly stand myself. I wanted to experience self-love, but it literally felt impossible. I didn’t even know where to begin.

I (finally) began therapy in the spring of 2019. I saw my therapist every other week and referred to these appointments as “doctor appointments” when anyone asked what I was doing, because I was embarrassed. With time, however, that embarrassment started to fade. She helped me process everything I had been through, how things in my childhood effected how I viewed myself and my mistakes. I started making connections on my own. I started recognizing unhealthy thought patterns, and she helped me figure out how to ignore them. I was getting much better, mentally, than I had been in a long time.

I’m still so grateful I started therapy when I did, because then my biggest trial come into view. My marriage began to fall apart and I went into survival mode. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or focus on any school work. I did the bare minimum for a couple weeks, letting myself grieve. I saw my therapist every week for a while. Once the shock started to wear off, it was time to figure out how to say goodbye to the life I thought was mine and start over.

I got my own apartment. I adopted a cat. I wrote a ton of poetry. I listened to a lot of music- first sad, then angry, then progressively happier tunes. I talked to my friends and family about what I was feeling and going through. I focused on myself. God gave me the strength to climb out of the hole someone else had pushed me into.

Once my emotions stopped being overwhelming and became more manageable, I had a sudden realization: I wasn’t anxious. I wasn’t depressed. I wasn’t starving myself.

The things that had been coping mechanisms for years suddenly… weren’t.

I’m not saying they went away, because mental illnesses don’t just go away. But somehow, I wasn’t clinging to these things to drown out the pain. I was letting myself feel and experience the hurt. I was crying. I was screaming along to music when I needed to. I was pouring my heartache into poetry and crying out to God and feeling what I needed to feel when I needed to feel it.

I was taking care of myself.

I literally spent years trying to learn how to do this, and I never could. I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I didn’t know how to love myself. But when I was all I had, I became all I needed.

I had to learn how to be selfish and not feel guilty for it. I had to motivate myself to make changes. I had to trust myself and my instincts. All of these things were suddenly second nature.

Falling in love with myself was like falling into bed after a long day. I had been away from home for eight years, and after fighting battle after battle, I am now comfortable and confident in my own skin. It is the most amazing feeling.

I wish I could write a step-by-step instruction manual on how to love yourself, because that’s what I spent my teens looking for. I’m learning, however, there is no guide or specific way to live that will produce self-love. It takes grace, patience, forgiveness, and compassion. For me, it took heartbreak. It took being betrayed by the one person I trusted. But hey, if that’s what it took, I’m grateful for it. It’s no loss of mine.

Of course, I still have a ton of growing and learning to do. But I’m so proud of my progress.

I used to always doubt myself. Not just my abilities, but my own experiences and memories. Now, I dare to trust myself. Even with little things, like trusting that I read an email correctly about a class being cancelled rather than checking it again in. It’s a relief that I can rely on myself.

I used to always judge myself. When I was alone, if I did, said, or thought something silly, I’d call myself stupid. I’d make fun of myself like a middle school “cool girl” clique. I was literally so mean to myself, I don’t understand it. Now, I let myself have fun. I joke around with myself, sing, dance, take funny pictures, dare to think and say whatever I want. I can finally be myself when I’m alone, which sounds silly, but is such an amazing feeling.

This is a bold statement, but I don’t care what other people think of me anymore. I used to always do things in specific ways because I was worried someone would thing I’m stupid, immature, lazy, ugly, etc. Now, if I notice that I’m starting to concern myself with the opinions of others, I think, “If they think I’m ___ (dumb, weird, etc.) that’s their own issue.” I can’t believe this thought pattern is so easy. I don’t have to be perfect all the time anymore, because if anyone thinks poorly about me, that’s all on them. As it should be. What people think of me is not my responsibility.

I am learning to set healthy boundaries. I block toxic people who trigger my anxiety. I’m setting a bedtime for myself because it’s healthy for me. I’m going to the gym again, but if my schedule is too crammed or I wake up feeling run down, I don’t go, and it isn’t a big deal. I can set goals and boundaries, but they aren’t strict rules. I’m not a failure if I don’t accomplish something. I have grace with myself because being a human is hard and no one can be perfect.

I took this selfie after a workout the other day and my first instinct was to delete it because of the way my shirt comes up at the side. I look fat. I actually did delete it, but thankfully I corrected my mistake and got it out of the trash immediately because I look cute. I always thought my body needed to change in order for me to love it. Turns out, the way I feel and think about my body has nothing to do with my body. It’s all about my head and the way I talk to myself.

When everything started falling apart with my ex, I remember hearing the song “Lose You to Love Me” by Selena Gomez. I cried listening to the lyrics. I begged- myself, God, the universe- that he wouldn’t leave me. I said to myself, “I don’t care if I hate myself forever as long as he stays with me. I don’t want to lose him.”

Dang. Thank goodness whoever I was begging didn’t listen, because the love I have for myself is so much stronger, more powerful, and more fulfilling than the love of a boy. I’m so sorry to myself for ever thinking self-hate was a price worth paying for mediocre attention from someone else. Never again. I now know my worth. I don’t need anything from anyone else, because I am now giving myself the love and respect I deserve.

I love my heart. I love my courage. I love my strength, faith, passion. I love my wisdom, my talent, my compassion. Yes, I have flaws and make mistakes but those things just make me more beautiful.

I never thought I’d get here, but I am so thankful.

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