“Self-love doesn’t have a finish line.”
In the midst of one of my I’m-so-tired-of-having-to-do-the-work-can’t-I-just-quit rants, one of my dear friends nonchalantly imparted her wisdom, as if what rolled off her tongue so effortlessly was a universal truth etched into textbooks and taught in schools all over the world.
Self-love doesn’t have a finish line.
I sat idly in the echo of her words and engrained the sentiment into my memory, not quite realizing then the gravity of what I had just heard. Those words, while simple, and that statement, while small, became a sort of healing balm for me at a time when my lifetime battle with self-doubt, self-deprecation, self-worth, and self-love seemed to have more wins on their side than I did on mine.
As the sun sets and closes in on one year and rises to meet the next, I can’t help but wrap myself up in a blanket of reflection—a little bubble that keeps me both nostalgic for the past and hopeful for the year ahead. In many ways, when looking back on 2017, I am a changed woman, but in other ways, I am still the same. Strong, but often scared; happy, but desperate to cling to fear like a second skin; more open to vulnerability, yet still so guarded; whole, with jagged pieces that are glued together.
In looking at the last year, I am met with flashes of light—feeling whole, welcoming joy, and experiencing growth on a profound level. I set forth to “work on myself” in 2017—without quite defining what that work meant, what it entailed, or what it looked like. I just knew deep in my core at the beginning of the year that I was holding onto fragmented pieces of myself – so many, that if I didn’t slowly give them up, I would get cut.
So that’s what I did, and in reflecting, that self-work was evident; I have grown and let go of some of those shards of glass.
But in other flashes, perhaps less bright ones, I’ve noticed emotional regression—reverting back to my adolescent self on the days where I let go of the wheel and allow self-doubt to steer for awhile. In moments of inadequacy, or deep reflection and nostalgia, or sadness and grief, I feel as though I am 29-going-on-16. I am angsty, angry at myself for not being who 16-year-old-me dreamed I would be. I am withdrawn, sad, and anxiety ridden. I accept defeat as my middle name. I am filled to the brim with hopelessness – not quite in the same way the adolescent version of myself hung onto, but still skating around the surface of is this really it? Am I really going to be like this forever? Will I ever like who I am completely? I feel myself returning to places I promised I never would – ripping scabs off and returning to old wounds and old ways, unsure of what I’m really looking for. Revisiting the parts of my soul that I had stitched and bandaged and was previously okay with leaving in the archives of my life. I am raising the white flag. I am accepting my fate as this: I will always be the witty, sarcastic girl that uses self-deprecation and humor to shield myself from being seen… when all I have ever wanted was to be seen. All of this may be indiscernible to anyone, but myself, or perhaps the people who know me in a way deeper than most.
In looking forward at this next year, my heart clings onto the seven words that my friend shared with me months earlier – seven words that, to this day, she probably doesn’t know have been so pivotal for me.
Self-love doesn’t have a finish line.
Know that those words have been healing for me in a way that many things haven’t; let those words be the same for you. Know that deciding to work on yourself doesn’t suddenly mean you are finished with yourself. Know that you can put forth energy into being the best version of yourself, but you won’t wake up one day suddenly enlightened, having decided that this is it; this is the day I love myself. Know that this is okay. Know that there will be days where you feel good about the person that you are blossoming into, and know that there will still be days where you can’t help but feel less than. There will be days when you feel inadequate, like the skin on your body doesn’t quite fit in the way it should, and you look all over for some magical elixir that will remove the excess and gift you with skin that is meant for someone like you. There will be moments where the career you chose so many years ago doesn’t fit the same way as it once did. And you question if you’re good enough for your job, or what it would have been like had you chosen a different path.
There will be days of utter self-defeat. There will be pain, and loss, and days where you can’t even breathe. Know that healing is not linear.
Self-love sometimes feels like a paper product you can easily pick up on sale in aisle 10 in the corner of your local grocery store. It’s a trending topic on most social media sites, it’s preached about by celebrities, and writers, and activists, and therapists like myself. And though it’s talked about in so many ways, on so many outlets, the truth about self-love rarely ever makes its way to the front page. The hard truth that I am still grappling with is that there is no red carpet, no ticker-tape parade that welcomes you with a medal or a trophy or a certificate on the day where you wake up ready to love yourself. You may never see that day.
There is a misconception, I think, that you reach this grand ol’ finale and suddenly, the work is done. You are happy, you love yourself, and nothing else can touch or hurt you. This is where people get stuck. This is certainly where I’ve gotten stuck. At any given time, we can tap into that feeling of inadequacy, or imperfection, or worthlessness. But, just as most things are in life, these thoughts are transient. They carry very little truth and weight unless you plant them and water them. Remember, things do not grow unless you feed them. Believing these thoughts, holding onto them, adding to them, and giving them life will keep you stuck in this cycle of condemnation.
In 2018, let’s make it a collective and universal goal to stop condemning ourselves.
Please drop the boxing gloves and step out of the ring. Please stop being so quick to fight the person staring back at you in the mirror. Please stop chipping away the pieces of yourself that you don’t think are good enough. Please redefine what is good enough and know that you are whole just as you are. Please stop sitting in front of your mirror, hours after just having gone to the gym, cursing yourself for not working out for another hour, or for having that second serving of pie on Christmas. Please stop picking and prodding at your skins’ imperfections. Please stop allowing social media to be the yardstick for which you measure your milestones.
Please stop being unkind to yourself.
Please learn to be patient with yourself. Learn to be patient with yourself after making a self-deprecating joke, or for feeling uncomfortable in your own skin, or for feeling like you are never going to be the daughter or son that gets your family to decide that you are worthy.
Work takes time.
Learn forgiveness. Forgive yourself for gaining three pounds. Forgive yourself for going back to that place where your brain isn’t your healthiest friend. Please learn to give yourself grace—to give your body rest when it needs it, to feed your soul when it’s hungry for inspiration. Be gentle with yourself. When you’re hurting, let yourself hurt. Don’t kick yourself for ruminating. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling. Pain is meant to be felt, not avoided. Please learn to let love in—to take compliments from people with a simple thank you without cringing, to believe them when they say that you are amazing—because you are. Learn to look at yourself and be with yourself. Learn to allow stillness and silence in to your life. Learn to avoid using things to fill—like social media, people, booze, or things.
Please be proactive in practicing self-love. Please know that self-love is consciously deciding every single day to show up and treat yourself with the same respect, and love, and kindness that you would someone else. It’s treating your heart with fragile hands in the very same way you’d treat someone you love. It’s loving yourself in the way that you love others. It’s letting yourself be enough just as you are.
Make it a point to notice when you are genuinely happy with yourself—when you are succeeding at your job, or when you find a color dress that makes your skin glow, or when you’re having a killer hair day.
Notice when you feel yourself growing stronger from dedicating time in the gym, or when you feel your heart grow lighter the further you walk away from a bad relationship. Notice the shifts in your body and in your mind—make note of the self-awareness and how it helps you grow. Know that all of these tiny little things become big things that are quintessential in becoming a whole version of yourself. Know that all of these little things equal love, but only if you allow it all in. Only if you let go of the incessant need to condemn yourself.
Remember: tough love isn’t always the best love.
Please stop searching for a short-cut, or a cheat-sheet, or the answers to pop out at you in the back of a book.
The answer is simple: practice kindness towards yourself every single day.
Practice it on the days that you feel good, but especially on the days where you want to give up. This is how your heart heals. Eventually, you will find yourself in a place of wholeness, and fullness, and acceptance. And though it won’t always feel good, though you won’t always find that you love every bit of your body or your soul, I promise that what’s on this side of your journey is much better than what was on the other side.
And I will meet you there.