When I was a small child of 4 or 5 my mom took me to the public pool. At that age she describes my personality as gregarious, kind and protective of others. On this particular day she said that I was laughing and playing without hesitation. And like a balloon with too much air, she said that I was just bursting with joy. "You walked to the center of the kiddy pool, looked around and declared at the top of your lungs, 'Everyone here is my friend!' "
While I don't remember the pool moment, I do remember loving myself and others fiercely. I remember looking in the mirror and celebrating what I saw. I remember believing all the compliments that my family lavished on me and my confidence soared. I am so lucky to have grown up in a safe environment with a surplus of supporting family members to support my healthy perception of me. As my self love grew, so did my capacity to love others freely.
Starting in my preteen years, the typical anxiety around change and peer shaming changed everything. Growth spurts and "difference" awareness around junior high and high school made me want to shrink away from standing out. I would methodically hide any physical trait that caused me to be the center of attention, positive or negative. I just wanted to hide until the change stopped and I could re-acclimate to the body I had been chosen to inhabit. That was an impossible ask.
|...then, when I was done growing, at age 17 I had developed to:|
Due to extreme swing in my physical traits, I had terrible body dysmorphoria and developed a depression disorder called dysthymia. I could not see the beauty in what I had become because I missed the comfort of what I had been. While being "90s supermodel skinny" the teasing I endured was that of envy from girls and crushes from boys. With my new volumptuous body, the vocal envy from girls fell away and open lust from boys grew. I could not understand this new way I was seen. I couldn't see the beauty I once did when I looked in the mirror at 5 years old.
The truth of the matter was that I let uncertainty steal my self love. I spent my 20s trying to earn my way back to self love. I volunteered, took on leadership positions, mentored teens and spent time giving when/where I could. I boxed, power-lifted. body-builded, ran, biked, rock climbed and ate better to feel like I could earn any attention I received for my appearance. While I loved the work I did/put-in, and felt better, it didn't fill the void that I had developed when I was a teen. One thing I have learned is self love cannot be earned, it can only be given freely with grace. Grace is rooted in forgiveness and forgiveness is a skill; learned and practice.
When I started learning and practicing self care I found the capacity to accept myself as I am, not as I wish I was. Seeing the depression and anxiety that had developed in my late teen years as a treatable disorder helped me move forward, ask for help and accept the help I needed to grow as a person. I committed to therapy and medication. The medication helped me to feel calm, lifted the pressure from my chest, and as a result, I could think clearly. With each lesson learned about grace, forgiveness and self acceptance I started shifted back toward that 4 year old version of me, full of love and life.
Now, at age 34 I can say I am closer to feeling like the 'true me' than I have ever been. I have also noticed that other people in my life feel the affects my larger capacity to love and give. Dating is easier. I am more productive in my career. I am more forgiving of myself and others.
Treat self care and self love like a shower, mandatory if you want be close to others. And if you need a place to begin, start by loving yourself like those you love most.