Human beings are interesting creatures…yes, we are. We live in a veritable smorgasbord of delightful, let alone positive possibilities, options and experiences from which to create our lives but so often we choose the hardest and bleakest routes to learn from. Why is that? What drives us to take the long way, instead of the short; swim up stream instead of going with the flow; choose pain over pleasure or hatred over love? Why is that?
These are all questions I have asked myself over the years as I’ve pondered many of my own choices and here are some of the answers I’ve considered…Is it karma or is it cultural/religious conditioning? Maybe it’s learned behavior or could it be just the roll of the dice? Is it making the best of a situation (aka life) which, clearly, is a big mystery? Is it because of the continual barrage of sensational media coverage that keeps us riveted on the worst? Is it that we all blindly believe in, “no pain, no gain” or “no guts, no glory”? Is it in our DNA? Is it that life is hard? Is it handed down? Is it the way our adventurous human spirit needs to express itself, make itself known?
Or have we forgotten who we really are? In other words, is it our ego (fear) long separated from our essence (love) floundering and doing the best it can to find its way home?
While there is some truth in all of these answers, this last one (albeit bold and somewhat esoteric) has always resonated the most for me because it feels like an open door, whereas all the others feel closed. And daily, since I decided to explore its truth, it makes the biggest difference. (barring the inevitable ego flare-ups of course) It gives me the peace, strength and power to choose ease over effort, forgiveness over pain, being over doing, thriving over surviving, knowing over believing, love over fear and gratitude no matter what is happening. It is the answer I found in the midst of trying to save my life (a life where I always did it the hard way). It is the answer I found in the midst of learning to love myself. Here’s the story…
Quite a number of years ago now, back in my “30 something’s”, I was diagnosed with a grizzly and potentially devastating illness called Lupus…you could have knocked me over with a feather. In an instant, any dreams I might have had were at serious risk, not the least of which, were those I saw with and for my two children. So, as the doctor delivered the dire news, I bolted out of my body to the safety of the ceiling above to assess the real damage and figure out some plan to dodge this unexpected bullet. As I hung out up there, contemplating my threatened future, I experienced a lightning strike epiphany that, in one fell swoop, dramatically set my course, laid out my purpose and ultimately saved my life. No joke.
Under stress, you never know where your sense of humor will show up…so there I was, hovering near the ceiling, muttering to myself in my best Tina Fey voice, “OMG, I have the self-hatred disease!” Funny? Not so funny? Well, I guess you had to be there, but no matter what, it really was brilliant (part of the epiphany) and true. While astounded and feeling somewhat betrayed by my body attacking itself, I was also galvanized and ready to take on this fire-breathing dragon and where it came from…you know, “To boldly go where no (wo)man has gone before.” (Trekkies please forgive me!!)
The truth was, I had struggled with self-hatred for as long as I could remember. Self-esteem, self- worth or self-confidence issues were tame cousins to my searing personal dislike. While I would never describe myself as a biased person, when it came to myself, I bore my own internal scarlet letter. This searing hatred appeared in several forms: a relentless inner critic (who I have, posthumously, named Holocaust), a suffocating blanket of low-grade chronic depression, as well as many mysterious physical symptomologies. And the topper was: a crippling fear that someday, when least expected, someone would discover a horrible monster hidden beneath my carefully crafted good girl exterior. Take it from me, self-hatred is the ultimate in abusive relationships and the hardest to get out of.
But, the diagnosis had flipped a switch igniting my will to live in a way it never had been before setting me in an entirely new direction. As I floated out of my body it was all so clear and simple to me…if I could just figure out why I hated myself so much, then I could reverse the illness. Improbable? Impossible? Crazy? Naïve? Had I just created yet another mountain to conquer?
In that moment it didn’t matter whether I was in my right mind or what the odds were, I just knew that I had to try. I knew in my depths that getting to the cause of my self-hatred would free me one way or another. So that’s exactly what I blurted out as the doctor was beginning to prescribe a drug cocktail that, to me, seemed more foreboding than the ugly disease.
The rest is history. I left the Doc in shock, but in awe as well. Despite his western medical oath, he genuinely felt my crusader spark and supported my theory. He wanted me to win where he had seen so many other women lose to this destructive autoimmune disorder. It was one of those transcendent moments where lives are never the same again. We both wanted to help our helplessness and somehow that was the perfect drug to embolden us.
So I began my journey to get to the root of my self-hatred armed with the only antidote that made sense, self-love. Admittedly, when I set out, self-love seemed like a daunting task, but it sure beat the alternative. Obviously I was in a foreign land, speaking a foreign language, but I was undeterred. Ironically, added to that, back in those days self-love was still a dirty word, most often associated with an even dirtier word, selfishness. I was not only in uncharted territory, but also, in dangerous waters that could have fueled my self-hatred.
But somehow, despite my tenuous grasp on self-love, once I reached out to find it, it held my hand tight and never let go. Slowly, but surely, it began to lift me up as it taught me that I wasn’t the horrible monster I had been told I was. Slowly, but surely, it guided me to and through the long-buried, gruesome memories that had perpetually seeded my self-hatred. Slowly, but surely, it moved the lupus into remission (unheard of at the time). Slowly but surely, it changed my course from living in fear to living in love. Slowly, but surely, it set me free and at the same time brought me home to Me.
Slowly, but surely, self-love can do the same for you. Like so many of us with similar self-value distortions, I really hadn’t done anything wrong to warrant those beliefs (except to be born into a deeply dysfunctional family where I was abused). And, in my experience, most likely, if you are dealing with any self-approbation, you didn’t do anything wrong either. For most of us, loving yourself was a concept that not only wasn’t embraced, it was miserably misunderstood. You don’t have to have come from an abusive home to be separated from the inner and outer beauty of who you really are.
We are all born with self-love. Conveniently, it’s part of the human package. I’ve never see a baby snarl at her/himself. Have you? Delight in who we are comes naturally but that appreciation, acceptance and awareness gets diminished as we grow up in a competitive world where success is predicated on how you look and what you do rather than who you are. We become strangers to our true selves in order to survive and in the process lose touch with how to thrive (our SHINE) which is self-love’s reflection.
Each of us owes it to ourselves to find the self-love we lost. Each of us owes it to ourselves to reach out and invite it to hold our hands. Each of us owes it to ourselves to boldly go where we are meant to be, learning through grace rather than suffering. Each of us owes it to ourselves to thrive, to SHINE. Each of us owes it to ourselves to be the drop of peace that self-love brings in the swirling ocean of humanity that we are all a part of.
I’m in. How bout you? Will you boldly go with me? Will you explore this final frontier?
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