I bought a black T-shirt at a second hand clothing shop a few years ago, that had this phrase on it: “Love yourself.” Something about this statement resonated with me: it was a beautiful, short, simple, yet profound commandment for how to live life. Even so, if you had met me then I would have been the first to admit that I had no idea how to do that in reality.
Given my background, it is hardly surprising though. Growing up with two Schizophrenic parents, who also had mild intellectual disabilities, meant that I didn’t receive much in the way of guidance or support. Added to that, my home was at times very violent, and I was never fully certain of my safety. While other kids wished for things likes bikes and barbies, I just remember wanting to be loved. It wasn’t until recently that I realized the only person who could really fulfill that desire was me.
Anyone who knows me even a little, knows that I love to read: stacks and stacks of books all year-round. I often think that books saved my life. As well as being my only friends and the only consistent, dependable things in my turbulent childhood, they taught me how to love myself. I had been in counseling for quite some time since leaving home, and I had made lots of progress in many areas, but one thing that I couldn’t seem to turn around was my harsh inner critic. I blamed myself for my past, and I couldn’t see all the amazing qualities residing in me that God had blessed me with from birth. Forget loving myself—I didn’t even like myself!
Then something wonderful happened. I found a new counselor about three years ago, who had a profound influence on my life. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow in one of our sessions early on in the process we ended up discussing my favorite series of books as a child (The “Alex” quartet by New Zealand author Tessa Duder).
We talked about how I loved the main character, Alex’s, resiliency. This was something we kept coming back to again and again. One day my counselor invited me to consider the possibility that the reason this was my favorite story as a child, and the reason it has remained close to me all these years, was because it was my story. The quality of resiliency that I so admired in Alex described me too. Once I realized this, a subtle shift occurred in me. I didn’t all of a sudden love myself, but finally I could see and appreciate one quality in me as being something to be proud of, something to guard and protect, and keep fighting for. Still I had to figure out how to love myself practically.
Recently, I received an invitation to my friend Angela’s wedding. Now don’t get me wrong, I love weddings. There is something incredibly magical and sacred about two people committing themselves to each other. However the majority of times I have been at weddings, I’ve felt incredibly sombre. Around couples and families who are openly demonstrating their love and support of each other, and celebrating each other’s achievements and happiness, I am reminded of the lack of support and love from my childhood.
It is not a conscious, self-pitying thought, but rather a deep ache that arises from within: a wound that has been patched up many times but never completely healed. Which is why when I received Angela’s wedding invitation, I felt a dichotomy within me. I was delighted to go and share her special day with her, but also dreading the painful emotions it would likely bring up for me.
The wedding day came, and the weather was glorious—uncharacteristically hot for our city. Angela had a traditional Catholic ceremony, and I loved both the tradition and modesty of it. After the ceremony, there was an amazing reception with the most sumptuous food and a great live band. I was feeling comfortable, relaxed and joyful, yet I kept looking deep within, expecting to find this oh-so-familiar well of sadness, but it was there no longer.
In its place was a sense of ease—how easy it was to be present and fully happy for Angela, as opposed to being envious, or feeling neglected. The absence of this deep ache of sadness within was so unexpected. If I’m being truly honest, I don’t think I ever believed, back when this whole journey started, that I would ever arrive in this place: free and liberated to live my life, not just survive. This was the first moment when I realized that my decision to love myself—to start transferring the energy and attention I used to put into other people into me—had paid off.
One of my favorite teachers at the school I attend, often uses the analogy of how people live their lives in different ways – depending on the glasses they are wearing. Through one set of lenses things look a certain way, but if you take off those glasses and replace them with a new pair, things will look completely different, and each individual is prescribed a unique set of lenses.
Since my friend’s wedding, when I discovered such a fullness of joy in a part of me that had only ever known pain, it feels like I, too, have traded glasses. My new glasses are not perfect, but they are not fogged up like my old ones were. Whereas before I could vaguely detect objects, now I am able to see and recognize things in detail, color, and clarity.
Now that I have seen through these new glasses, I can finally take off my old glasses and let them rest, in a case that is firmly shut.
New Glasses was reproduced with permission from the author, it originally appeared on The Equals Record.