I was in a dark place. My marriage had failed. The separation and divorce tattered my son’s self-esteem. My writing had stalled and I had horrible nightmares. I was the most worthless person I knew (second only to my ex). Self-love was selfish, or so I thought. I wish someone had told child me, “love yourself.”
It took years of therapy and self-examination to learn that self-love isn’t selfish.
I was lucky. I could afford therapy and by the luck of the draw, I found some good therapists. Back then I had one thing going for me, I was determined. Determined to be the best mom I could be for my son, I knew I had to work on me.
It was a terrible struggle. Feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing, mistrust, and shame filled me with negativity. I hid most of those feelings from the people around me. That good old Puritan work ethic flowed through me. I plowed through the work day, the housework, and the Monday through Friday life stuff. Every other weekend my son went to his father’s house and I crumpled into a tearful, self-loathing mess. I feared I was going crazy. My therapist made a suggestion. Journal your feelings, she said. That was easy, right? I’m a writer. I can do that. And I did.
I poured all that negativity and memories and self-loathing into my journal. I did that for a year or two. Slowly, surely, I got myself back together and reclaimed my weekends. Things were pretty good. Not great, but better.
One day I was moving clutter from one place to another and found some old journals. Curiosity overwhelmed me and I sat down to read. I read and I read. I read current journals, too. And I came to the horrifying conclusion that NOTHING had changed. I hadn’t changed. All those negative feelings were there, I’d simply hid them better.
Someone, probably my therapist, suggested I make myself some healing rituals. She suggested I work on one negative trait at a time. Treat that one thing with a ritual for a couple of months and see what happens. Now, I was a registered nurse at that time and “healing rituals” sounded a little woo-woo to me. But, journaling alone wasn’t the answer. So I decided to give it a try.
I decided that what I most needed to work on was forgiving myself and learning to trust myself. I wrote the ritual down so I would be able to repeat it word for word.
That original piece of paper has been lost, but I remember the essence of that ritual. First thing in the morning, I lit a scented candle and said, “I light this candle to remember all the mistakes I have made.” I would breathe in the scent for a minute. Then, I would blow out the candle and say, “My past mistakes are as the light of this candle. I put them out. They are behind me.” Next, I had a small pile of sage leaves in an inelegant ashtray leftover from my marriage. I lit that and breathed in the aroma saying, “Sage is burnt honoring my inner wisdom. My heart is wise and I will listen to it.” When the sage burned out, the ritual was over.
Why do I tell you this? Because over time I stopped needing that ritual. I learned to trust myself more and more and in so doing, I learned to love myself. I learned to love me for all the mistakes I made, for the wisdom I had, and the person I am. And the more I loved myself, the more love entered my world.
If you don’t already love yourself, take this February, this month of love and learn to love yourself. Discover your fears and the lies you tell yourself through journaling. Use affirmations and rituals to rebuild your self-esteem. Love yourself, my friends. It isn’t selfish. It will change your life.