I recently had the experience of hearing someone share that their drinking started for fun – not from a need or desire to escape or hide – and it was only the results of this developed habit that caused problems.
I really resonate with that story because that’s me. I did not have any trauma or difficult living situations or abusive relationships I was intentionally numbing out from. I did, definitely, have some pretty average human challenges with handling emotions and thoughts and I was missing healthy coping skills, but generally speaking drinking just felt fun and happy and became a cherished routine of relaxing at the end of my day and a big focus of time spent with friends, or making new friends and it was only the fact that this casual social habit ended up taking up all my free time and rewired me neurologically to be totally focused on it – only made more uncomfortable and burdensome when I tried to moderate it – that ended up causing my distaste for it. I only found out after I stopped how much healing I get to work on.
So, not so much when I first stopped smoking last summer but shortly after I stopped drinking in January 2017 did I realize that every one I was following for guidance on social media kept referencing Self Love and I felt that I too should start “doing” more Self Love. But really, I did not fucking know what this meant and as with everything else at that time, I was sure there was a Right way and that I had to Get it or else I was doing it Wrong.
At first, I did not really differentiate between Self Love and self care. I used the terms a bit interchangeably and in hindsight I think it’s because I really was in full-on survival mode. I was trying to make it through my days without engaging a habit and without substances that my brain and body had come to believe that I absolutely needed (cigarettes and alcohol both), and while my conscious mind was ticking along in a largely productive direction, not all of me was on board. This really caused a lot of discomfort for me and again, as someone who couldn’t really experience any tolerance for trying/failing/readjusting, I was pretty discouraged and the only thing I could see to do was really edit my self care game.
Self care for me looked like meditation, yoga at home or in a class, journaling A LOT SO MUCH ALL THE TIME OBSESSIVELY, my social media folks who post only the most inspiring, uplifting, supportive, realistic, wise shit all day, reading self growth sites and books, seltzer, and isolation.
Eventually, at some point, I started to feel a shift. Around March or April I attended a yoga/journaling workshop that was sort of formulated around forgiveness and self love, and I also started reading Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart” and I started getting the feel of how I could notice and cultivate my Self Love.
Early on I really had this thought that I had to advocate for Self Love before all else, even if I didn’t totally get it. It felt like the key. That if I didn’t love myself then I wouldn’t really try to make my life any different. I also did not have a clue how to approach cultivating it. And worse, a part of me was in the back of my mind saying “Maybe this is it. Maybe you already do and this is as good as it gets.” It felt mechanical and uncertain to keep rallying for it, but also necessary and full of hope.
Now, I feel loads more ease around this subject. I have lots of ways I feel and manifest my Self Love (note: I’m capitalizing it due to creative license!). I notice when supporting myself to do something scary is Self Love, I notice when allowing myself to pass on something uncomfortable is Self Love, I notice when eating a salad is Self Love, I notice when eating ice cream is Self Love. And it’s not static – it’s not the same constantly, and I’m able to stay with those shifts more and more. Some days a salad is not Self Love because I really want soup, and vice versa. There’s no true end point here, which is pretty cool. Being patient, supportive, discerning, wise, curious, and so on to myself becomes easier and more fulfilling each day. Noticing when I am NOT being Self Loving is a bit harder, more subtle. It feels uncomfortable, like a tightening. It could look like full-on judgement or disdain. It could be not listening to my gut about what I need, or not caring for my body in a way that feels good. For example, I started going to the gym when I first stopped drinking as a form of Self Love, until I noticed how critical I was being of my visible progress from exercise. I had to take a break to reassess, to learn what my thoughts were about my body and start to practice body positivity differently, and I can tell the difference in my perception from this effort.
It also definitely looks like not engaging with self deprecation, either to myself or when someone directs it towards themselves, it looks like being body positive for myself and all humans, it looks like practicing intersectional feminism, it looks like supporting access to mental health services, it looks like advocating for real change in how we view and address addiction, it looks like learning what my beliefs are so I can help. It looks like just showing up to my life and trying and practicing every day and knowing that all my small gestures and offerings help – even if I can’t make a huge gesture all at once, that’s fine.
I’m learning each day that cultivating this Self Love above all else is what allows me to be in the world and show these qualities to other humans, too. It is not selfish, even if at times it upsets another person when I put on my own oxygen mask first. It keeps me learning to touch the inherent joy in life, to let down my armor, to be my authentic self and to authentically care for others. Recently I noticed a shift in thought around what “Myself” means to me. I have a history of letting myself get lost in others, and in reading a lot about interconnectedness and truly believing in the importance of knowing that we are all connected, I kind of warped that in a way that was leaving me feeling like my edges were getting smeared like wet clay. So it occurred to me how really safe and “Myself” I am, even with this sameness and oneness we all share. So even as recently as last week did I learn a new way of perceiving something that feels healthy and supportive to me – I love that!
I’d also like to be clear, if I wasn’t already, that in practicing these traits – I still falter. I still talk unkind gossipy shit, I still form judgements, I still am sarcastic when I’m afraid to be vulnerable or honest or keep my mouth shut. I am a human, and I am practicing behaving in a way that feels more kind, wise, discerning and loving each day. It’s not always about stopping habits – sometimes, often, it’s about intention and practicing new habits until they replace the old ones. It’s also about being kind and patient with myself when I do make choices I don’t feel glad about, rather than beating myself up, which can often lead to giving up hope for putting in the effort ever seeing progress.
In conclusion, if this concept is new, or at least unexplored, to you – don’t worry too much as a journey towards Self Love is probably already happening in you. It’s up to you to engage with it. This can look like journaling, therapy, reading books from wise humans, beginning a spiritual practice, yoga, starting a social media account for a hobby of yours, anything. But you are you, and this is your life. I hope you can access a deep and abiding Love for yourself while you’re here. You are unquestionably and undoubtedly worth every minute and dollar you sink into that love.
I am sending you clarity, insight, peace and love.