Herpes and love

[Originally posted on Valentine’s Day]

Today the world is celebrating Valentine's Day (also known as “Singles Awareness Day”). There’s a lot of talk of lovers loving together in a warm cocoon of lovely love … almost nauseating, right? If you happen to be single on this day of love (with herpes to boot), it might feel like a cold, lonely day — like the day itself is rubbing your face in this unfortunate singlehood. At first blush, herpes and love can't co-exist. But that’s simply not a fair way to look at it. Let’s look at how we can flip this holiday into a positive experience, shall we?

This holiday has been billed as a day specifically for couples love. But why so greedy? Why do couples get it all? You can still celebrate it as a day of love: Loving yourself … and you don’t have to be corny about it (unless corny works for you). How has your relationship to yourself been with herpes? For many people I coach, their initial default mode is self-judgment, self-criticism, shame and blame. If you can relate to this at all, then maybe self-love can simply mean you get to give yourself a break. Tomorrow you can get back to beating yourself up if you really want to. But today, you put down the flog, regardless of whatever stage of the herpes healing process you are in. Today is all about self-compassion.

A post on our herpes forum spoke to this unfortunate way we tend to treat ourselves: “And then I thought about me: How could I have such compassion for [someone else with herpes] and be so mean to myself for years about the same exact condition? I would never be mean to anyone in the real world like I was to myself … the horrible self-messages I sent to myself. Reading other people's stories reminds me where I need to show compassion to myself and how to soften my self-judgment into a greater kindness.” It's fascinating that how we treat others with default compassion can be a lesson in how we can treat ourselves.

I read a quote once: “Self-love is to know that you are completely loved and completely lovable. Upon observing your understanding of your own self-worth, the world mirrors that knowing back to you.” It’s a fancy way of saying that you can’t be fully loved by another until you fully love yourself. Love yourself as you are. Not as you should be. Not as you wish you were. Not as who you will eventually become. Love yourself as you are. Right now. Everything. The good, the bad, and everything in between is loved. Because, after all, in the absence of judgment, everything simply is. “Love is attention without judgment.”

Love and compassion for yourself means first noticing how you treat yourself. Only things that you are aware of do you have choice around. So if your self-criticism and self-judgment stays under the radar of your awareness, then you have no choice: The self-masochism continues. But the moment you actually notice those abusive voices in your head, you then have the choice to do it a different way. Self-compassion leads to more self-compassion. And a hint right off the bat: Once you notice yourself beating yourself up, don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up. Quite the vicious cycle there.

A clarification: Self-love doesn’t mean forcing yourself to be happy. It’s all about meeting yourself where you are right now. It means being authentic and real with yourself. No forcing, no trickery. Happiness will come naturally as a byproduct of being with yourself. And sadness will, too, if it needs to come. What do you need today to take care of yourself? It might be a bubble bath or it might be a 20-minute walk to clear your head and return to nature's pace. It might mean going to bed early. But be true to yourself.

So here’s to you. And to real, deep, true love. The love you have for yourself. Because once you learn to love yourself fully, then that can overflow into one of those nauseously ooey-gooey romantic relationships. *Wink*

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