The Stages of Learning to Love Yourself

Amidst the Pandemic, we have experienced in and all around us countless forms of grief, loss, pain, etc. One thing I have truly come to learn about love, that I thought I had known prior but didn’t, is the immeasurable ways it can be experienced.

I’m talking about self-love.

I’ve never really had body-image issues, or had a hard time socializing, connecting with people, or making friends. I’ve always been a really strong student and employee, speaking up when and where I feel necessary, and know my boundaries. I’ve had a pretty good grasp on my self-worth. For the most part.

But my self-love?

Is that like being conceited? Self-centered? Self-absorbed?

As it turns out…. No, it’s not.

There are three major points in my life that shaped me, and ultimately the choices I made in life:

1. The first death of a close family member when I was six.

2. The birth of my daughter, death of my father, and end of my first abusive relationship – all within the same three months.

3. Completing my Paralegal Certificate, and leasing my first apartment completely by myself.

Losing my uncle when I was six was the first time I realized immortality. I became obsessed with death, and would not be able to shake the feeling for about five years. I would lie awake late at night thinking about what the end must be like and what happens after. Certainly, watching “Rescue 911” did not help, but I was determined to be awake and alert should anything happen to any of my siblings or my parents. Around the same time of my uncle’s death, I fell into a long abuse cycle. This began my decades-long mindset that I had to watch over and take care of others before myself. I was physically and mentally strong, even at six. So, I figured I could take the hits and spare my younger siblings.

Survival mode: engaged.

Abuse does something to a person and you have no idea it is happening until you’ve moved in and added a second story. In my experience, the abuse pushed me to be a harder worker in school and in my career. I had to be perfect in everything I did outside the home, so no one would catch on. I wanted so badly to be loved, so I would not have to feel so much pain. But how do you know love, when you have none for yourself? You don’t. You just look for someone to give you attention. Any attention. Even another abuser. After all that’s what you know, right?

I met him when I was 26. He was charming, listened, and enjoyed adventures. It didn’t take long for us to be exclusive. Not long after that, we moved two states away to start a new life. And then he revealed himself. I was six months pregnant with our daughter when he got so angry, he grabbed my arm and spun me around, ultimately throwing me through a wall in my daughter’s soon to be room, breaking through the plaster. A pregnant sized hole stayed in that wall for three weeks before I fixed it. Shame and embarrassment set in, as close friends and family clued in and tried to help me. But I felt broken and so much hate for myself for getting myself in this situation. The only response was to deny the allegations and help, and instead just lie, lie, lie.

Then, three months after my daughter’s birth, my dad passed away. Cancer really is a bitch, ya know? My dad’s death was like a snap back into reality. A snap out of the dark hole I was in. I opened up to my mother, my sisters, friends, cousins, my bosses…. Anyone who would listen to me. Shortly after, my newborn and I moved back the California.

I had to start life all over again. It was TERRIFYING.

But I did it, even if still in survival mode.

Fast forward to spring of 2018. My then-partner and I called it quits after a very tumultuous five years together. I was in the middle of finishing my last semester of my paralegal program, while still working, interning, and raising my family. That paralegal program woke me up again. I learned that not only did I really love learning all things legal, I am really good at it. My partner was not so supportive and tried multiple times to sabotage and discourage me from finishing. But I knew my worth, and I loved this Monica who could put her debating and investigation skills to good use. For the first time since I was a child, I truly felt anything was possible. And there was no way I was letting anyone stop me from exploring that. Or from ruining my 4.0 GPA.

So, I said “goodbye” to him, packed my and my daughter’s belongings, and walked away from the rest. Up to that point, I had only rented a room or moved into my significant other’s home. I never had one in my name. But like I said….. Anything is possible.

Six weeks after we left, I signed the papers for my own place. My own place. I had no furniture, and no plan of how I would do it. But I just knew it was time I took a risk for myself. No longer would I put others first. How can I protect and care for anyone else if I am beating myself up?

Survival mode: disengaged.

Over the past two and a half years, we have slowly furnished our home. The walls are covered in paintings by my daughter and me – symbols of various moments of joy, doubt, stress, and…. Love. Beads, wires, and other jewelry-making items can be found on the coffee table at any given moment. Before COVID-19, our home was a meeting place for friends, including new friends made down at the pool. Two cuddly cats have taken up residence. And a new (healthy) romance has started to blossom.

Love. Such a small word for such an empowering and important commodity.

This love I have for myself is the acceptance and understanding that I am not perfect, that it is okay to make a wrong decision, and it is okay to forgive myself for those imperfections and mistakes. Looking back, I see all the times I chose to stay where I was, because I was afraid of being great. I can’t change those, and I accept that. But what I can do is make new ones.

And if surviving abuse, death, cut hours, a pandemic, and furlough have taught me anything, it is simply: Anything is possible.

When you love yourself, you can do anything, no matter what bumps and twists and turns come your way. But more importantly, you believe you can do anything.

I know you will.

And I can’t wait to see what you create.

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