I've been thinking a lot about self-love, lately.
It's come up numerous times in therapy, as well as in my online support groups and my social circles. I see quotes and poems pop up on Pinterest and Instagram; I read articles upon articles shared in my Facebook feed or sent to me through private messages.
And the truth is that I didn't know what that really meant.
Maybe it's because of my complicated relationship with organized religion and their use of the concept of forgiveness to kind of backhand blame people or make them feel lesser, or maybe the way that forgiveness has often been framed for me as basically acting like a trespass never happened and shoving whatever feelings it brought up in you into that pressure-bottle in your soul to fester, but the concept of forgiveness has always been incredibly hard for me to wrap my mind around and process without a negative, submissive, agency-less connotation.
After stewing about it for quite some time, I realized that I was having a lot of one-on-one conversations with people I love and trust that kept chipping away at the same themes. I've been fortunate in recent years to find my tribe both online and off, and I realized that this quandary was one I could most likely throw to my circles and have it be regarded with intelligence and kindness. After hemming and hawing a bit, I finally just asked like the filterless person I am. I threw up a small post on Facebook, then shared a screenshot to Instagram to cover my bases, and I waited.
And the best response came early in the general poll.
I'd link to it here, but part of my process lately has meant setting up some boundaries, which has led to most of my social media going private. It's not a permanent situation, but I think it's what's best for me right now. I've also been doing some shedding of follwers and blocking of unwelcome eyes so, you know, sorry for those of you who maybe got caught up in that. It's rarely personal, and in 98% of cases 100% legitimately about me and not you.
Anyway, so the response that not only floored me, but many other people who weighed in had to do about forgiveness. Namely, forgiving yourself. Your supposed flaws, your perceived shortcomings and failings, your imperfections that make you human.
And I realized, that's where I've been stuck.
When I decided to file for divorce, I did so believing with every fiber of my being that I had done everything within my power to save my marriage and the broken man I called my husband, even though I knew only he could save himself. I knew without a doubt that I deserved to be happy and be loved the ways that felt right to me -- not settling for whatever I was handed, not making excuses for the lack, not bowing to another's every whim and losing my own agency. I knew that I wanted more for me, more for my kids, even if that meant it would only be the three of us for the foreseeable future.
Of course, I didn't actually think it would be the three of us, alone. I thought it would be the five of us, combined, but not immediately. I not only had my whole process to undergo, but Matt had yet to even take the first real steps. I knew it was years off. I was ready to wait, to work on myself and build myself back up while he got his affairs in order so that when we were both ready, it could be everything we'd ever dreamed and hoped for a family and a partnership, not the shallow facsimiles that our respective current marriages pantomimed.
So when that was ripped away, I beat myself up. For being stupid for loving someone just as unavailable as Kyle had been for way longer than I had ever really admitted to myself. For believing words said to me that either were never meant or only meant in the moment or in a parallel fantasy universe or maybe actually meant but had no real bite, no substance to them when it came down to punches. For devaluing myself so much as to allow myself to continue to be second best to someone I was putting before myself and my own needs, again.
For wanting someone willing to walk through the same inferno I'd had to, to show me (and everyone watching) that I was worth choosing, worth loving above everyone else.
Because if I couldn't see it, if I didn't have proof, then how could it be true?
Long ago, I'd forgiven myself for Kyle. I'd forgiven the scared, lonely, anxious young woman I was when I met him, directionless and trying not to drown in the riptide of impending adulthood. I forgave the neglected and desperate new young mother that clung to him as a life preserver when she couldn't even trust her own mind and instincts, her two core most strengths, to guide her in this new phase of life. And I forgave the beaten down and battle-weary housewife that listened to him over her own intuition and her own sinking gut when the proof showed up in her hands over and over again, only to give him one more shot, one more chance to turn down the gas on that lamp post and claim the light never changed, it's just my eyes are going bad.
Until I couldn't do it anymore. There was never anything wrong with my eyes. Or my head or my heart or my spirit.
There still isn't.
I forgive the long-ago broken heart so desperate to be seen as magic by a pair of kind, yet hungry eyes. I forgive the self-righteous facet of my spirit that condemned others for the exact behavior I exhibited, while remembering so freshly the pain it could, it would, cause. I forgive my hands for wanting things that weren't there for me to touch, not really.
I forgive myself for loving someone I knew, in the deepest recesses of my soul, would break my heart, even though I hoped and prayed with everything I had that this one time, this one everloving time, I would be proven wrong.
I forgive myself for being brave and opening myself up to something unexpected, something that was truly lovely for the time I was in it. I forgive myself for my vulnerability in the face of adversity. I forgive myself for the pain I have caused others and for the pain I have let others cause me. I forgive myself for wanting and hoping and wishing and scheming and bargaining and sometimes even raging and counting on someone when the only person I should have ever counted on was and is myself.
This was a lesson I needed, a way to illustrate the negative relationship patterns that consistently reappear in my life. This was the thing to break the cycle I was stuck in with myself.
Since the discovery of Kyle's first (at least that I know of) affair, I've done a lot of things I never thought possible, from physical feats like learning and performing pole dance, aerial silks, and lyra (even in public!) and running half marathons to mental challenges like traveling alone both near and far, speaking my mind in large groups, and even winning an award for taking daily pictures of my face. I have learned to look at myself with kindness, to see my own beauty both slathered in makeup and without it, and have found the confidence to present myself as I see fit, not according to how others think I should or is appropriate for whatever reason. I have learned to advocate for myself through advocating for my children, and I know I can handle just about anything life throws at me because I've made it this far, haven't I?
(Though it would be SUPER EXTRA NICE if the bad things, the hard things, cut it out for a minute. Some nice things would be excellent, actually. Just putting it out there for the universe to manifest, that's all.)
I have learned I am capable of anything.
Through this whole terrible summer, I have found through the eyes of my friends and family, people I've known my whole life and people I've never met in person, that I am lovable. I am worth loving. I will be loved, someday, for not just the good attributes I possess, but for all the things I have and will forgive myself for, daily.
Because, frankly, I'm kind of amazing, and there's only one me in the whole wide world.
And in forgiving myself, I'm also making a promise to every iteration of this purple-haired woman I now am and ever will be -- that I will never settle for anything less than being treated exactly as such from anyone ever again, amen.
I am human. I am inherently flawed. I will make mistakes and fail and have regrets. But I will also work hard and fight for what I love and believe in and hold on to the beauty that every single person on this earth contains and I will stay vulnerable and honest and I will never stop pursuing the magic that is out there, and the magic within myself.
Because I am magic.
And I forgive myself for believing that was only true through someone else's eyes instead of my own.