Self-love has taken me a lot of time and effort to cultivate. It has not been an easy task. In the not-so-distant-past, I remember thinking to myself,
“What does self-love even look like? Self-love, what is that… is that even real? Do people really love themselves?”
I couldn’t imagine a consciousness level where my daily existence, just by its virtue of existing, was worth love. I believed that my efforts were rarely valuable, let alone lovable; I thought that being proud of myself was a sign of arrogance; I believed that holding myself up would make me vulnerable, especially to criticism. I wanted to “beat” anyone who might possibly criticize me to the metaphorical punch, as it were. Instead of living my life being my own cheerleader, I was constantly searching for validation from everyone around me.
“Am I good/ smart/ pretty/ creative/ kind/ fun enough? Am I enough?”
The answer was always a resounding “No”, not because my family or friends thought so, but because I refused to believe them. By convincing myself that self-love was a myth, I eradicated any possibility of taking in the validation of others.
My foundation of love was absent, and so the positivity around me had no place to take hold of in my psyche. I believed that looking outward would eventually alleviate my inner sense of failure, not realizing that the exact opposite was required. I spent so much time looking outward, believing someday something would magically click, and suddenly I would shift. Someone would finally say something to me, and I’d finally believe them. It might go without saying that those magical words never did arrive.
Caught Up in the Dark
Looking back, I can see how exhausting must have been for those around me, who I image often felt stuck in an endless loop of encouragement and resistance. There was nothing anyone could say, nothing anyone could do. It took me a long time to realize I had the equation backwards. Several years ago, when I was in an eating disorder recovery program, by then feeling burnt out and frustrated by the journaling, groups, and therapy sessions, I was writing one morning, when 2 lines from Wax Tailor’s remix of “Que Sera” echoed in my head:
“Well, I… I have the key in my hand/ All I have to find is the lock”lyrics.com
It struck me, suddenly, in the way that tiny, life-changing revelations sometimes do—
I’ve had the key the entire time.
And, what’s more.
I’ve been hiding the lock, from myself.
I remember feeling incredulous. My whole sense of my journey shifted, from one of feeling trapped and resentful, to feeling hopeful and empowered. If I’d been holding the key, and if I still was, then the only true obstacle was myself.
If I was the lock and the key, it meant I’d already possessed the solution the entire time. I’d just been searching for the solution in all the wrong places. I was again reminded of my mini-revelation last week, when I heard a parable by Dr. Wayne Dyer, an acclaimed self-help writer and speaker (several of whose books are now on their way to me by mail), which reads,
The man groped around on the floor in the darkness for a long time, and couldn’t find his keys. Then he noticed that way down the block, the streetlight was on!
So he left his house, went down the street, and started looking for his keys under the streetlight.
After a while, his neighbor saw him, and went over to see if he could help. “What’s wrong?”
“I dropped my keys.”
“Where did you drop them?”
“In my living room.”
“Then why are you looking for them under this streetlight?”
“Because the light’s so much better out here!”pendragon343.com
When I’m afraid to search in the dark, I choose to go out somewhere where the solution seems simple, clear, and easy. Even though I knew my keys weren’t out on the street, I felt that searching in the dark was too frightening. What else might I find in that darkness, what other horrors about myself and my shortcomings? Better to pursue a perpetual search in the light, than to embark on a journey in a vastly more terrifying dark, right?
Embrace the Dark
Choosing to explore the darkness takes time. Choosing to embrace the darkness can be painful, and giving up, going into the light, always beckons. If self-love was such a difficult key to find, why not simply search somewhere else, why stay in the dark? Looking for my healing in others made it impossible for me to devote time to creating healing in myself; I waited and waited in the light, believing I would magically find the key somewhere there, refusing to return to my own house, my own internal self.
Finding Your Own Key
Once I chose, however, to return to the darkness, to find the key to my own prisons I had created, I found out something else. The lights of my own internal self came on, not because I had found the key, but because I’d finally chosen to flip on the light switch. Rather than asking others to give me the key, I started asking them to help me find it. I began to listen to the positivity of those around me, not on my own value, where to look, and what to do to find my own key.
Self-love is not linear. Like most worthwhile journeys, there are twists and turns, times to get lost and times to revisit places you previously thought you’d outgrown. Now, however, I have my own light to guide me, a light that no one else can give me, and that no one (even me) can take away, so long as I remember to keep the lights on.