I remember the day that my self-judgment voice totally changed into something surprising.
So simple, yet so profound. Still to this day, when I think back to this moment, I get goosebumps and smile. So I hope this one helps you the next time you’re feeling it.
It was right around Valentine's Day a few years back.
My then-girlfriend and I separated. It was an amicable breakup, but it still hurt like hell. And it resurfaced a lot of old thoughts and beliefs.
I would find myself moping around the house in my bathrobe, feeling really, really sorry for myself. Self pity, loneliness sinking all the way to my bones like an arctic chill. And even though I was over the shame of herpes specifically, the thoughts swirling in my head sounded all too familiar: “You’re totally alone again. Nobody loves you. Just give up.” (The perfect personification of Eeyore.) Blah blah blah. It was incessant, like a playground bully, taunting me.
Each thought lead to me feeling more down, like each was a shovelful of dirt, digging me deeper into the hole of depression. The shittier I felt, the more intense the thoughts became. The more intense the thoughts, the deeper I went. It was quite the vicious cycle.
And one day after rolling myself out of bed, as I poured my morning coffee, grabbed the vanilla creamer and …
I heard a new voice in my head …
a new thought that surprised me …
It said: “I know you like your coffee sweet. Just a bit more creamer for you …. It’s gonna be okay.”
Possibly even comical that such a simple thought could have such a profound impact on me. And it was more than just the thought itself — it was the tone of it. A tone of deep care.
I immediately started weeping. And through the deluge of tears, I was laughing, too. I could hardly see the coffee mug through the eye leakage as I added in the creamer. I felt truly and deeply taken care of.
For the first time in a long time, I had turned the corner. I was truly taking care of myself. In this moment, the voice in my head wasn’t beating me up ... it was actually supporting me.
(And shucks, that voice did know me so well: I do like my coffee sweet.)
Fast forward to now.
I’ve been feeling pretty low. Shitty would be the word that comes to mind. It feels like I got punched in the gut. I have a lump in my throat. I want to cry. Thoughts are racing. A lot happened today. I’m in an amazing relationship with an amazing woman, have an amazing life and so much to be grateful for, and still I’m super sad.
And here I am writing an article on self love.
And it’s actually perfect.
Why? Because I (just like a lot of us) can get caught up in this idea: If I’m not feeling happy, there’s something I need to fix about me. There’s something I’m doing desperately wrong.
But sometimes life kicks us in the gut, slaps us across the face and takes our lunch money (yes, even after you get over having herpes, life still hands you other opportunities!). And when that happens, we can go one of two ways: Collapse deeper into the negative thoughts and beliefs, or use these moments as opportunities to connect in, uncover our strength and find out who we choose to be in the face of what life hands us.
So how does self-love play out in times like these?
Trust me, I still have those familiar thoughts swirling around from time to time. But what has changed is what I do with them. Am I making those wisps of thoughts and beliefs into absolute truth? Or am I using them as a springboard to go deeper into myself, to find my strength, courage and resilience?
To me, true self love is about giving myself full permission to feel whatever I’m feeling right now, to face what is right here and allow it to just be. Accepting ourselves and our feelings during our lowest times builds such an important muscle in our beings:
The muscle of self-acceptance. The muscle of resiliency.
It’s less about accepting something so I can feel better and more about being with myself however I’m feeling, without judgment, like my own best friend. (“How about more vanilla creamer, buddy?”) There’s nothing wrong with being a flesh-and-blood human being with feelings. It’s how we relate to being human that's where the magic happens.
And let me be clear about acceptance: It doesn’t mean wallowing. It doesn’t mean saying, “I’m accepting reality. And the reality is that I’m going to be sad and alone forever.” No, no, not that at all. Please get off of that thought train quick! What I’m referring to is accepting the feelings themselves. Accepting that at this moment, if I’m feeling some things that are difficult — sad, angry, confused, numb — and that’s okay. Actually, it’s totally normal. From here, I have more choice about where I go next. Accept the things I can’t change, change the things I can. (Serenity prayer, anyone?)
And acceptance isn’t something that’s just at the end of the 5 Stages of Grief. It’s always available to us. Moment by moment. Acceptance doesn’t mean we have to like where we are. It just means we meet ourselves in this moment, with these feelings … with empathy, compassion and understanding. Only then can we actually start shifting into a better-feeling place.
So today, let’s practice some radical self love: Let’s accept ourselves fully. Let’s meet ourselves. Right here and now. Exactly as we are.
Then we might ask ourselves, “Hey, how about some super sweet coffee?”