Love Yourself… or Don’t, if You Can’t

One of the hardest loves is the love for yourself. Why? Because it’s a deceptive concept. First of all, it seems so attainable—after all, you are right here, in front of you… waiting to be loved… by you. What are you waiting for? Just fall for yourself! All you need to do is ignore all your perceived beliefs, false expectations, your negative experiences, traumas, your disappointments, your feelings of guilt and shame – and jump right into it! Love yourself!

Silly, isn’t it? It is. After all, love is not something you can just turn on and off, even if it seems to be contained entirely within you. In fact, it might be so much more difficult to turn it on if it’s contained entirely within you because it’s possible you’ve spent a lot of your time… not loving yourself at all. There could be so many reasons: You haven’t loved yourself because you weren’t sure who you are because of where you come from (like me, having been relinquished), because you weren’t sure where you belong (because the recovery rooms demand you believe in god and you don’t), because you couldn’t foster a solid identity, or “simply” because you’ve never known kindness, so you haven’t shown it to yourself either. And so you’ve spent a lot of your life misunderstanding yourself, hating yourself, being unable to look in the mirror, being unable to be alone with yourself.

Contrary to all the self-help books and empty life-coaching advice, self-love is not something that many of us can make happen just like that. It is beyond frustrating to hear “you have to love yourself before others will love you” or “you cannot love anybody else until you love yourself” (there are plenty more useless platitudes that I’m sure you can think of that have to do with the whole “love-yourself” thing).

Some of us fall in love with self quickly, shortly upon sobering up and getting better in our recovery, but for many of us it takes a lot of work and some time to get to the point where this idea is at least somewhat digestible. For a majority of us, it’s a combination of recovery, therapy, self-reflection, studying, meditation, talking to others, and just living our experiences sober for the first time that leads us to the path where falling in love with self is possible. Sure, we might feel proud of ourselves, or confident or self-fulfilled, and we so often get glimpses of self-contentment in sobriety, but it does take time and work, and often dumb quotes do nothing but harm.

Loving yourself is perhaps the last frontier of recovery—not the first as self-help gurus and “wise” elders will make you believe.

Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

You do not have to love yourself before others love you. Many people, especially in support group rooms, can love you well before you love yourself.  Let people love you and don’t worry about loving yourself if you can’t. Screw it. The brutal truth is that those of us who struggle with feelings (of love, of attachment, or other complex emotions) may never love themselves. Is there something wrong with that? Absolutely not.

There’s nothing wrong with how YOU recover and live your life and how you end up honoring your new life. If you do find yourself exceedingly satisfied with yourself and happy about who you’ve become to the point of loving yourself, that’s fantastic. But please don’t despair if you don’t get to that point for a while or even never. The measure of your love for yourself is not the measure of how good of a human being you are. There will be people around you who will elevate you to the heights of love and who will show you what you might not be able to show yourself. This is why we surround ourselves with people who are good for us—the connections with others keep us close to life, and it’s the connections that prevent us from isolating and getting lost in addiction or memories of past traumas. If self-love happens to blossom as you recover in this life, welcome it; it’s a gift and it’s exhilarating, but by no means does it make you more special than the guy or the gal who is unable to get to that point. We are all just trying our best. And we are our best, self-love actualized or not.

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