One day several years ago, I asked my dad if he believed in “the one.” Considering my dad is both Catholic and deeply in love with my mother, I was ready for a firm yes. What I got instead was, “love is like ice cream.”
When I was seventeen years old, I fell in love with a man. He was beautiful, strong, and exciting. He was loud, drank whiskey, and kissed me deeply. I admired his focus and blatancy. As our time together grew longer, I recognized that his blatancy hurt people, his focus steered him away from what was important, and he stopped longing to kiss me. Even so, I didn’t leave. The displeasure of that relationship wasn’t strong enough to turn me away, even if I knew deep down I’d be doing us both a favor. He ended up leaving me for another woman, and as debilitating as it was at the time, I realized I hadn’t been holding on because of him…
After that relationship, I had two pronounced romantic experiences. The first was with a childhood friend. We grew up together, had always found each other beautiful, and yet our lives took separate paths. When we reunited years later, it was explosive. For two solid weeks we were nearly inseparable. He was reckless and sensitive, kind, and spontaneous. My heart melted every time he touched me. He said he was going away, but he’d be back. He asked me not to fall in love with anyone while he was gone. I said nothing. When he left, I waited for his text messages and calls. Instead, I saw him months later, passing me in his truck with a bunch of women laughing alongside him. My heart sank.
The second experience was with a friend of a friend who had also just ended a long-term relationship. We began texting each other, and he was forward about his romantic side. He wanted to take me to dinner and then out dancing. Finally, when we met, his description was far from the truth. After an intimate evening, and learning he was dealing with some deep-rooted insecurities, he ghosted me, then, of course, told all his friends (AKA our mutual friends) that I was “crazy.”
With those three experiences under my belt, I felt broken. When my dad found me crying one day, and asked me what was wrong; this is all I could muster: everyone leaves me before I can even decide if I even want them or not. I have no control.
Applying the Ice Cream Theory
My dad sat with me, pulled me into his arms and, like dads do, said, “it’s their loss.” I tried to let it sink in. It didn’t. But then he posed one of the most important questions I’d ever been asked, “Did any of them bring out the best in you?” I took a breath. “Truly, did you feel entirely good and yourself around them?”
I didn’t. I became a false, fragmented version of me. The cool girlfriend. The nonchalant, booty call. The chill, party girl. I was, by no stretch of the imagination, any singular persona. At that time, I was a wreck who wanted to feel loved and valued, which left me reaching for people who didn’t have the desire nor capacity for such things. That is why I stayed five years in a broken relationship. That’s why, for two weeks, I followed a man who was so blatantly afraid of commitment. That’s why I hooked up with a guy who spent an entire evening ignoring me.
I was trying to prove to myself that I was important, an exception to the rule. What happened instead was deeper wounds, more self-loathing.
In that instant, I knew what I had to do. In that moment, I had to apply the ice cream theory. I was going to become my favorite flavor, and enjoy every inch of myself before I let anyone back in.
Dangers in Lalaland
People throw this word around like it’s the easiest thing to achieve: self-love. Well, it’s not. We have brains that are programmed for negativity (you can blame this on the lions, tigers and bears). What we do have on our side, however, is awareness, and that day, my dad lit my consciousness up like a Christmas tree.
You see, there are so many magical things about romance and love, but there are also dangers. The greatest one of all is what some psychologists and relationship coaches call “love addiction.” My definition of love addiction is the opposite of self-love.
Love addiction is a sober way of describing a person who seeks validation through romance and intimacy; it’s a person who desperately needs acceptance, and in that desperation, hands their power over to romantic partners. In other words, a love addict uses love and intimacy to shield themselves from, well, themselves (aka, working through their own shit).
Love Addiction with a Cherry on Top
Discovering my need for male validation nearly put me through the roof. Yes, I was trying to fill a void. Yes, I dreamt of the kind of relationship my parents had. Yes, I was a passionate, loving, and physical human being. All of that to say, not every human on the planet could handle me. I had to learn not to trust just anyone with these qualities of mine. And that’s precisely where I started.
Self-acceptance is the action of building self-love. Accepting that I value passion, communication, affection, and sexuality, meant they could no longer be negotiable. I had to learn to take responsibility for my own actions and relationships, because every time I blamed someone else for my mistakes, I was handing them my power.
If someone makes you angry, jealous, anxious, or any other disruptive emotion, be it within a romantic relationship or not, there is a piece of you in which they have control over. Terrifying, no? But hear me…
If you are aware of your own emotions, and understand that they belong to you, it will be easier to decipher whether your reactions are rational (you’re reactions are proportionate to the situation or whether you’re in an unhealthy/unsafe space), or you’re seeking to gain something through those emotions (i.e., reassurance, attention, etc.). The former shows you that this person does not bring out the best in you. The latter may be a trauma response, in which assistance from a professional could bring you clarity.
Moose Tracks Ice Cream Forever
When you hear “you can’t love someone until you love yourself,” believe it. Listen, when I met my hubs, I was recovering from bulimia nervosa. I was riddled with anxiety and had even begun having panic attacks out of fear of experiencing more heartbreak. You can look at that and easily think, “well, you didn’t love yourself and you found the love of your life!” Let me explain…
I did love myself. I loved myself so much that I recognized I needed help, and that I was going to do everything in my power to get better. No, I hadn’t planned on meeting a special someone during that time, but guess what, the Universe doesn’t always agree with our plans.
Yes, I was triggered constantly. I feared him judging or leaving me… But, with all those fearful thoughts came the soothing ones: if he leaves, he’s just making space for me, and that’s okay. I will be okay, because I have myself, and that’s a beautiful thing. I trained myself to combat the negatives with facts – the truth carried me through the fear.
So, even though I met James and I still had a long road ahead, the self-love journey had already begun. I knew the difference between the external crazy-makers and the one in my head. I could differentiate between my own anxiety and that in which another person caused.
Remember, love is like ice cream. There are many flavors. You’ll like some, dislike others. The question you must really ask yourself is which flavor brings you the most joy? Because, like ice cream, love is meant to feel good! And sometimes, most times, always, that love begins with the self.
Choose yourself forever (even when others don’t).
A Guide to Choosing Your Flavor
I can’t write a whole article on self-love and leave you empty-handed. There was a time where my own reflection brought me to tears. Trust me, I know this road is not always smooth. What I can tell you though is it’s worth every fall, every crawl, every step. So, here are some of the tools that have changed my life. Take what you like, leave the rest – remember it’s about finding your flavour.
Find a mental health professional in your area, or check out Better Help for affordable counsellors.
Creating a routine that incorporates at least one of these three things will have a positive impact on your mood and self-esteem:
In the end we are what we think. Our reality is based on our thoughts of the world and the people in it. Affirmations is a proven method of self transformation – I am walking proof. Don’t know where to start? I recommend you read this article by HuffPost to get started. My advice for fuller effect, choose or write some that resonate most with you and are relevant to your life and struggles. Stand in front a mirror and say them to yourself. Repeat them at least ten times. Take breaths in between, and just let yourself feel the words. Remember, this is a practice, and won’t work over night. Continue, believe, and I promise the change will come!
Studies show that practicing gratitude increases joy, optimism, presence, develops our positive emotions and adds years to our lives. In a recent Rebel Love article, I speak about gratitude and free-flow journaling. Check it out along with other mental health tools to implement in your daily routine. Remember, start with one or two.
During my recovery, I practiced meditation in the morning and at night. It increased my ability to focus and stay out of spiraling negative thoughts. It strengthens your presence and awareness, which is critical for personal growth and building self-esteem. If you’re someone who has triggers around specific topics or situations, meditation also provides breathing/calming techniques that will help reduce you during triggered moments. I recommend apps like Headspace, Insight Timer (includes free mediations), and Stop, Think & Breathe (includes free mediations).
Books and Gurus
This is an unexhausted list of my favorite books and people.
- Jen Sincero’s You are a Bad Ass
- Brene Brown‘s Braving the Wilderness, Dare to Lead, and her TEDx Talk on Vulnerability!
- Eckart Tolle‘s A New Earth and The Power of Now
- Emily Nagoski’s Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life
Share Your Story
We aren’t on this planet to give monologues and walk off stage. We’re here to love and lift one another, so please, share your story in the comments below or by contacting me here. We can learn so much from one another!
Until next time,
Love well, friends!
Quean Mo xx
P.S. So, tell me, do you have any self-love practices? Do you have any gurus you lean on in hard times?