You Have to Learn before You Can Teach: A Mother’s Journey to Self-Love

I watch my son struggling right now, with sadness, with self-esteem issues, trying to find his way amidst experiences out of his control. I am trying to teach him to love himself through all of it, no matter what comes, no matter what struggles, no matter the words or actions of others. It strikes me now that as I am trying to teach my son these lessons, I am parenting myself right along with him. I am here, at 33 years old, growing myself up, struggling to find the very self-love that I am trying to instill in my children.

I say the words – to myself and them. I understand them, my mind gets it, but that place in the center of my chest constricts in protest. I don’t feel the words, I don’t own them, at my core I don’t even believe them, despite my mind’s constant arguing and reassurance.

A vedic astrologist once told me that the themes of my life from 18-35 would be issues of self-worth along with resilience, that I would keep falling, but that I possess a deep inner drive to pick myself back up and move forward, again and again … and again. I was 31 when he told me this; it was as if he possessed a looking glass and had watched the previous 13 years of my life unfolding, so aptly described by him as a “rollercoaster.” Had I been 18, 19 or 20 when he told me this, I don’t know that I would have made it through … I was already hanging by a thread. But here I am now, 33 years old, the worst of it behind me.

Still I fluctuate, between moments of stubborn faith and hopeless despair, between the conscious commitment to myself to create a joyful life, and the dark voice inside telling me to just give up. But every day I have a choice.

I’m blessed to have enough insight at this point in my life to recognize each state as temporary, and to recognize that whatever I feed the most will grow.

“Your mind is a garden, your thoughts are the seeds. You can grow flowers, or you can grow weeds.”

“Fall down seven times, get up eight.”

And so it goes.

I think we are all here, in the same way, in the same place, to varying degrees and with different challenges and details, but at the core we share the same struggles and joys. Loneliness. Doubt. Fear. Worry. Pain. Struggle. Love. Joy. Happiness. Hope. Faith. We cycle through them as time cycles through the seasons, at times a little worse for wear, yet every death cycle brings rebirth, as winter into spring. Silence, rest and reflection make way for blooming. Replanting good seeds – good thoughts, good habits – brings blossoming. And the cycle repeats, again and again.

Ideally you come to a place in yourself that exists beneath the changing seasons, beneath the joys and struggles. Many spiritual teachers call this presence, or the witness. The core of you, the eternal whisper that gives your body life: your soul, your spirit, your Being. All roads lead back here. This is the place you feel first in the center of your chest that, with practice, grows to fill your entire being. This is peace, deep connection, love - not just feeling loved or loving, but actually being love, with the whole of your very existence.

I was there once, for a few months. It was like every weight had been lifted from my shoulders, every touch, every sight felt like magic. Even walking across the room I felt as if I was surrounded by love, everywhere I looked I felt connected – because I was connected to myself, because I was in love –soaking in it, radiating it at the deepest level. I’ve been trying to get back there ever since, to build a life that for the most part sustains this level of presence, of awareness, of self-acceptance, of love.

The key for me was a combination of meditation, yoga, reflection, reading, writing, and adding joy and fun wherever and however I could. Life felt balanced. Until…

I resumed dating. Like many women in our culture, my self-care practices faded to the back burner as my partner’s needs took precedence. I was a victim of social conditioning, coupled with childhood wounds and patterns that I would be destined to recreate in every relationship I ever had – until I truly dealt with them.

Abandonment. Sexual assault. A chronic, life-threatening illness that has stolen nearly half my life. Early ingrained patterns and beliefs – that I wasn’t worth sticking around for, that life is up and down, hot and cold, that I don’t get a say, that I am here for the taking.

Even in therapy I described it as “I was kind of sexually assaulted.” And, my biological father left but my stepfather chose me, he adopted me, so I should be thankful for that. I had a disease but at least it wasn’t leukemia, those kids had it so much worse, I should be so thankful for that too, that I didn’t have to go through those painful treatments, never mind that mine is a lifetime, or that it has stolen almost half my life so far. I should stop complaining and count my blessings.

I am thankful, and in many ways that gratitude has served me. However, in my rush to gratitude, to positivity, I have systematically continued the patterns I have learned: I have continued to deny myself a voice. I’ve resisted, I’ve repressed, I’ve run away – and I’ve repeated. I’ve repeated the same cycle of relationships, of dating men who… Take. Twist. Abuse. Control. Manipulate. Lie. Judge. Shun. Cheat. Punish. My relationships have resembled addictions more than anything, with extreme highs and lows mimicking my early childhood patterns.

“Lessons in life will be repeated until they are learned.”

It’s time to stop running, to start sorting through it all, acknowledging it, allowing my voice to be heard – by ME. By the light of awareness I will heal. Patience, presence and self-care. The guidance and support of a spiritually-rooted therapist.

As I made my exit from the most damaging relationship of my life, all signs kept pointing to therapy, a path I fought. Until I was left picking up the pieces of yet another broken, unhealthy relationship with a man who, as love-starved as I was, I still craved despite the glaring red flags – I’m minimizing it again, we’ll leave it at that for now. Regardless, it was by the grace of god that I had a few key people in my life supporting and guiding me to take a better path.

I have moments where I literally want to die, where I am so tired – physically, emotionally, psychically –that I don’t care to live another moment. If it weren’t for my children, I probably would have given in to the voice of despair long ago.

If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for someone you love, for someone who loves you.

Be gentle with yourself, but make the firm commitment to get well. Even more than that, make these commitments to yourself:

1) To love yourself deeply and fully.

2) To create the most joyful life you have ever imagined.

How do you do this?

  • Work through your wounds and demons once and for all.

  • Incorporate more self-care practices – yoga, meditation, reading, writing, reflection, proper rest and nutrition, exercise.

  • Add more joy – hobbies, passions, positive people and experiences.

  • Make gratitude lists and vision boards of how you would like your life to be, to feel.

  • Have more fun!

  • Touch base with yourself, take the time to ask yourself, “What is the most loving thing I can do for you right now?”

  • Listen to yourself, and take steps to be more loving to yourself, whatever that might mean right now.

  • Always do your best, but understand that your best will be different at any given moment, under different circumstances.

  • Stop people pleasing.

  • Give yourself breaks.

  • Sit down and watch your children – just watch them, how they play, how they explore. Let yourself be pulled in by their playful, lighthearted energy.

I don’t have all the answers; I have only my own experiences. May you find solace in knowing that we are all in this together, we share the same dreams and struggles, we all just want to feel loved, safe, connected, whole, free, light. I’ve touched this place, and no matter how many times I fall, no matter how hard, I will always get back up, I will recommit to myself, and I will push through. And someday, I will be healed.

You are not alone. There is a light at the end of the tunnel: that light is YOU. Believe it until you see it, until you feel it. The core of you is nothing but light.

That is the deepest truth that I know.

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