Trigger warning: Eating disorders
The self-care revolution has a lot of us believing that if we do more yoga headstands or attend more sound bath meditations, we will automatically find self-realization. Wait, is that something you can find? If you can find it, I think I’ll just call on St. Anthony!
Let me be clear, I am all about this revolution. I love it. In my opinion, it is one of the healthiest things happening in our country and our world right now. But self-care is very different from self-love. Let’s cut the B.S. and talk about what self-love really means, because I think it’s much more than a cool Instagram-worthy moment.
I think I should start by telling you a little about my self-love story. It feels scary, but I just watched Brené Brown’s new Netflix movie and it’s got me feeling like vulnerability is power, so here goes nothing!
Somewhere along the way, I started to look in the mirror and see myself as fat and ugly. The first time I remember really being aware of how I looked was in middle school, which I hope we can all agree is just an all-around terrible time. Everyone is dealing with that weird, puberty, coming-of-age shit and it sucks, not to mention whatever is going on in their home lives.
By the time I got to high school, I was positive that I had to change myself. That being thinner would automatically make me feel better. So I stopped eating. It started with me cutting out all processed junk food, which might seem great, but it grew into this obsessive monster of a problem that was extremely unhealthy. Eating and food became my life. Not only what I ate, but how much I ate, when I last ate, how many calories I was eating, how many calories I was burning, etc. I attempted bulimia, but was unsuccessful, so I thought I would just have to work harder at not eating. I experienced anxiety and debilitating panic attacks, which is far from my carefree, fun-loving soul.
I know I am not alone in this. Eating disorders and disordered eating (yes, those are two different things) affect a disturbingly large portion of the population. And I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that we live in a world rampant with constant messaging that we are never enough. Not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough, not fit enough, not thin enough, not earning enough, not traveling enough, so on and so forth. And the negative messages aren’t just coming to teens, or to women, or to men. They are hitting every single one of us, no matter our age, gender, nationality, sexual preferences, or any other category humans have made up.
By the end of high school, after many visits to therapists and nutritionists and many threats of what would happen if I did not eat, I was eating again, but my relationship with food and with myself was off-the-charts awful. I tortured myself over every single thing that I ate and basically hated myself.
I went on like this for about five more years. Through college I was eating, but always picking on myself in private and obsessing over my flaws. I was too ashamed to talk about it; only a few close friends and family members knew about this demon of mine. That shame is the scary part. Because that is what leads you to very dark places.
After college, I became very ill for the first time in my life and that brought about a whole other host of body image struggles. I spent about five more years doing everything I could to fight my body.
I felt like my body had betrayed me, but what I did not understand until recently is that I had betrayed my body a long time ago.
My eating disorder was never about the food. It was about self-hatred and control. More specifically, about not having any control. It was about living in a turbulent environment and not having any coping mechanisms to deal with the chaos.
I want to be clear here. Having an outlet is different than having a coping mechanism. I had some of the best outlets imaginable. I had a supportive family, amazing friends, and hobbies, like horses, which ultimately saved my life. But what I did not have (and what I think many people do not have) were the tools to deal with my emotions, i.e. coping mechanisms.
Make no mistake, this affects people at every age. With any type of addiction, it’s not really about the substance, it’s about the inability to deal with emotion. As a society, we fail at teaching people how to handle their feelings. Instead, the reaction to a bad day at work is a glass of wine, the reaction to the loss of a loved one is a Xanax. Whatever way you are torturing yourself—and God knows this takes on many different forms—I guarantee it has to do with your feelings, or rather, what you are not allowing yourself to feel.
Within seconds of entering this world, newborn babies are exposed to over 200 chemicals. But I think the worst part is that they are exposed to a crazy toxic environment full of self-haters and limiting beliefs. No one comes into this world hating themselves; we all learn that. We are trained to see problems in ourselves instead of our innate powers and strengths.
If we don’t start fixing our toxic internal environments, it doesn’t matter if we use organic face wash or eat non-GMO kale.
Self-love has been a long time coming for me, actually, a little over a decade. In the last six months, I have faced unbelievable uncertainty and change that has really taken away any last feeling of control that I was clinging to. I guess spending several weeks close to death’s door taught me a whole different kind of respect and appreciation for my body, above and beyond what it looks like.
The exact steps I unknowingly took to get here don’t really matter. It is truly a process and I am much more grateful for the journey than the destination because the journey is where the appreciation and beauty stem from.
I can’t tell you exactly how to love yourself, because your journey back home will look very different from mine.
What I can tell you is that loving yourself is about much more than what you look like, although it takes this form for a lot of people.
What I can tell you is that loving yourself does not mean that you wake up one day, drink Kombucha, and turn into a spiritually aligned, mantra-reciting intuitive.
What I can tell you is that I have faced many hardships in this life, but that the journey to loving myself has been the hardest one yet.
Self-love isn’t sexy. It’s a lot of hard work. I would argue some of the most important work you’ll ever do.
It is about putting yourself in situations where you know that you may fail and loving yourself anyways.
It is about going to counseling. Not because anything is wrong with you, but because dealing with yourself is the most worthwhile investment you will ever make.
It is about making the conscious decision every day to wake up and love yourself. Every new day gives me new opportunities to practice loving myself, and it is never easy, but it comes easier and easier.
What I know now is that my health journey has never really been about the conditions I have been diagnosed with. It has really been about loving myself unconditionally, in the toughest of circumstances, of which I have no control.
I won’t sit here and feed you ridiculous hippie B.S. about how you need to meditate every day or post positive affirmations in your bathroom (although I do both of those things and they make me feel like a goddess!). Let’s be real.
By all means, do yoga, meditate, eat more slowly, go on a long walk, or whatever your thing is! Just make sure that you’re doing the work too. Self-care activities are definitely an important component of the journey, but self-love is really about loving yourself enough to do the hard work. That’s where the light shines in.
It is not going to be easy. You will fail often. I fail every single day. I just catch myself and return to love quicker now. I choose to love myself through the process, in spite of the failures.
My prayer for you is that you embrace your personal journey, because if there’s anything I know, it’s this: Self-love is the scariest and yet the most worthwhile process; it is the most meaningful bridge you will ever cross. Wherever you are on this journey, I hope that you see all the greatness within yourself that has always been there. May you always know that you are enough right now in this very moment.