Updated: Aug 23, 2019
Self-love has always been a quite daunting task for me. Since I was a small child, I have dealt with severe anxiety and perfectionism, never feeling like I was living up to my full potential. I criticized myself so harshly and held myself to a standard that was impossible to reach. This pattern of negative self-talk and disapproval continued through my teens, into my early twenties. I had a need for control in life that was never satisfied. This need for control (coupled with genetic predisposition) transpired into anorexia, alcoholism, and drug addiction.
As I fell further down the rabbit hole, my self-loathing and negative outlook on my future brought me to my knees. At 23, I couldn’t do it any longer. Luckily, I have an extremely supportive family and they aided me in getting the help that I needed. I enrolled in the dual-diagnosis (mental health and addiction) chemical dependency rehabilitation program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. I wanted to walk out the hospital doors so many times and just give up-I didn’t feel like I deserved happiness, a sane life, or the help that I so desperately needed. I expressed these feelings to my primary counselor, Jen, and she suggested a few things to start to build some positivity into my very pessimistic perspective.
The first task I was given was to create a gratitude list. Every day I was to write down as many things I could think of that I was grateful for in my life and stick it on the wall in my room to remind me of the positivity that surrounded me, no matter how small. After a few days, Jen and I met to review my lists. During this session, I expressed something that was a profound thought for me, and really was what turned my journey to recovery around: It was so easy to think of the things I was grateful for. My lists went on and on, but I did not feel like I deserved any of the people or things I was grateful for. I kept asking “what have I done to deserve a loving family, a roof over my head, a college education, etc.?” I had done immoral things, took people for granted, lied, abused drugs and alcohol, and acted in a way that I was so ashamed of (among so many other things). As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, this was unacceptable to me, but such a critical turning point.
Jen’s new assignment for me was to create a “self- love and self-gratitude” list: a list of things I loved and appreciated about myself and reasons why others may be grateful for me. This task was scary, frustrating, and incredibly difficult at first. My list was pretty sad at the beginning, but the longer I focused on it and recognized the small good deeds I did daily, the easier it became. I had and still have days when the negative self-talk dominates my mind, but recognizing it and fighting this pessimism has helped me build a life I love and am proud of. This journey of self-love and self-compassion started in January of 2013, and still continues today.
I am still sober, still a bit of a control freak and perfectionist, but I work every day to continue progressing. The journey of loving myself will be a neverending one, but I am so glad that I chose to take the journey, rather than run from it like my negative thoughts and fears initially wanted.
I hope that this small part of my story has sparked something in you; that you can start to recognize what you have to offer to yourself and to others. Loving and accepting yourself is just the start to fueling your soul and creating the happiest life possible. I look forward to continuing to share and growing together!