22 Things That Have Helped Me Grow and Love Myself

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22 Things That Have Helped Me Grow and Love Myself


“Be brave enough to take off the masks you wear out there and get to know who you are underneath. Be vulnerable enough to accept your flaws and know that they are what make you human; they are what make you real. Be confident enough to accept and cherish your strengths. Don’t minimize them or hide them. They are your beautiful gifts to share with the world. Be brave enough to say, you know what, all of this is who I am. I make so many mistakes. I can be forgetful, I am messy. But I am doing my best with what I’ve got. And I am so proud of that. I am so proud of me. And I am proud of who I am becoming. ” ~Nikki Banas

A few years ago, a kindergartener came up to me with a small Valentine’s balloon. He handed it to me and said with a sweet and innocent smile, “This is for you. Since you probably aren’t getting anything else.” I laughed so hard I wet my pants.

Over the years I have learned the importance of being your own Valentine. There is no greater love than the love you can give yourself. And if I know one thing for sure, it is that we have the rest of our lives to spend with ourselves. So we might as well learn to love ourselves. Am I right?

In that moment, I was reminded of just how far I had come on life’s wild ride.

I remember on Valentine’s Day, about ten years ago, I walked into a Target to do some serious retail therapy. I barely made it twenty steps before I saw a shelf filled with coffee mugs. You know, the ones that have one initial on the front, but you can never find your exact initials. You can only find X, Q, and Z. Well, I kid you not, there were three lined up perfectly that spelled out J-E-N. Jen, my ex. The one I thought I would marry.

As her name glared at me from the shelf, “Since You Been Gone” played on the loudspeaker. I nearly had a breakdown on aisle four. At that moment, my world felt like it was imploding. It seemed as if the world was against me. Loneliness and grief flooded my body.

I darted straight for the alcohol aisle, then I went home and drank myself into oblivion. I don’t even know what oblivion is, but I know I drank myself there. I didn’t know any other way to soothe myself. Drinking was my answer for everything.

Two months later, I would almost drink myself to death. Self-love, self-compassion, and self-worth were not words in my vocabulary. I had heard them before, but I had never fully put them into practice.

People had told me that I was loved. But what do those words mean if you don’t believe it yourself?  If you don’t love yourself, those words sound a lot like Charlie Brown’s teacher. “Muah. Muah. Blah blah blah blah blah.” Telling me that I was loved was a sweet sentiment, but it felt rather meaningless for me at that time in my life.

I did attempt the journey of self-love before I got sober. But addiction stunts your growth. You can only grow so much when you are numbing out to some of life’s greatest opportunities for learning.

My sobriety propelled me into a real and authentic journey of self-love. A journey that I was able to fully envelop and embrace. Self-love changed my entire life. It changed how I viewed myself. And, in turn, it changed how I viewed the world.

Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, president of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, wrote, “Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological, and spiritual growth. Self-love means having a high regard for your own well-being and happiness. Self-love means taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your well-being to please others. Self-love means not settling for less than you deserve.”

For years I had cared so much about what other people thought, and I would often put on a show to try and convince other people of my worthiness—when, in fact, I was the one that needed convincing. “Hustling for worthiness,” as Brené Brown calls it, is exhausting.

And a foundation built on what others think of you is about as unstable as a foundation built of candy corn. Why candy corn? I have no idea. But one tiny windstorm or a small bit of turbulence and you are screwed.

Self-love, self-compassion, and self-worth are not just things you hope for; they are things you work for.

I had to start by letting go of anything that might be holding me back from stepping into my true self. I had to peel away the layers. Years of using alcohol to cope and survive, shame around my sexuality, trauma and grief related to my family’s deaths, the way religion tried to convince me that I was broken… the list goes on and on. I had to face these things head on and fully accept all parts of myself. The light and the dark.

Brené Brown, one of my all-time favorite authors, states in one of my all-time favorite books, The Gifts of Imperfection, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”

I worked through some tough stuff and began to see myself in a different light. Realizing that I was not broken was an incredible gift. A gift that I would not have been able to unwrap without first healing some past wounds and facing some hard things that I had so long avoided. And I continued to love myself through the entire process.

Self-love, in my opinion, is the most powerful kind of love. Without it, I find it almost impossible to authentically love someone else. Without self-love, my life would become a bit of a dark alley. Without self-love, I would stay stuck in that dark alley. And the good Lord knows, ain’t nothing good going on in a dark alley.

Self-love gives me the lantern I need to help light the way out of the darkness, back to my authentic self. Back to my truth. Back to my own light. 

Brené Brown also makes reference to this courage and this light. She says, “Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of OUR light.” Self-love guides the way.

Self-love is more than just the state of “feeling good.” It is much more than buying yourself some chocolates and taking a bubble bath, although chocolates and bubble baths are nice too. Self-love is about diving and digging deep into your own life. It is about letting go of those limiting beliefs and negative loops that have been telling you lies for years.

It is about learning to talk to yourself in the loving way that you deserve. It is discovering how to feel comfortable in your own skin and recognizing that you matter. It is standing up for yourself in areas that might scare you at first but will empower you in the end. It is about letting others see you. The real you.

Self-love is a way of life.

It is about rewiring your brain and changing your old story. It is about having compassion for ourselves and celebrating ourselves. All parts of ourselves. It doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t do one abdominal workout and wake up with a six-pack the following day. Otherwise, I would be rocking a six-pack.

Just like training and toning our muscles takes commitment and time, training and toning our minds and our hearts takes consistent dedication and a willingness to stay on course. Unlearning is hard work. But hard work that is worth it, since it means living happy, joyous, and free (most of time).

My old ways of thinking certainly make “cameos” in my life these days. The difference is, they don’t run the show.

At forty-five, I have the confidence to say that self-love has changed my entire life. My self-love journey is ever-evolving, and I certainly still have my rough days. But, if we are looking at the big picture, I have become quite fond of my qualities. I truly feel like I am light in this world rather than just a useless bump on a log. Actually, who is to say that those bumps on logs are useless? Maybe someone loves those bumps. Okay, that might be stretching it.

Anyway, when I used to experience any type of emotional disturbance, I would often choose unhealthy and negative ways to deal with my feelings. Now, I have a laundry list of practices that help promote a healthier and more productive response so that I can move through the disturbances with grace and dignity rather than self-pity and self-sabotage.

The triggers don’t ever go away, but the way we respond to them most certainly does some shifting.

Where does one even start to discover self-love? I think you have to see what works for you. Some things that have been and still are vital to my growth include:

  • therapy
  • breathwork
  • meditation
  • writing
  • taking time for myself
  • getting to know myself
  • forgiveness
  • being of service
  • listening to others’ stories of hope
  • unplugging
  • long baths
  • doing things that make me happy
  • not shaming myself for needing medication for my depression
  • getting outside of my comfort zone
  • staying sober
  • laughing and not taking everything so seriously
  • making empowering choices
  • interrupting negative thoughts
  • reading a lot of Brené Brown books
  • vulnerability
  • being open and honest about my own story
  • nature

These are just some of the things that are in my self-love satchel. Do people still use that word, satchel? Satchel. Satchel. Now it sounds weird. Anyway, those are just a few things that have helped and continue to help keep my train on the tracks.

The journey of self-love is hard work. But nothing that is worth it comes easy. What challenges you, changes you. And getting to know myself and accepting all parts of myself was one of the most challenging things I have ever tried. And at the same time one of the most rewarding.

I’m looking forward to the day that I meet my other Valentine.

That kindergartener was right, though. The balloon was the only gift I would get on that particular Valentine’s Day. But I had already given myself the greatest gift on earth: the gift of self-love.





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