When “they” talk about self-love, they’ll tell you about bathtubs by candlelight and special dates you take yourself on and sips of tea in front of rainy windowsills. They make love sound like a bizarre fever dream where everything is wonderful.
But love is not that fever dream.
And self-love is not won by moonlight through soft, measured breaths. It is a painful, destructive birth of new self. To love yourself you must first look squarely on with the things that have kept you from loving yourself. The things that have kept you from loving yourself are not soft blossoms of joy. They are not your favorite memories on replay. They are the worst of you, the worst you think of you, your worst perceptions, your most unloving thoughts, your self-loathing on display, the very valid reasons you couldn’t love yourself easily and quietly like you thought love was supposed to be.
Self-love is a destruction and it might be that you don’t like the person who lay underneath your protections and egos and false identities. And maybe on the other side of your own love is an anger, because now you see all that you’ve allowed to transpire that you did not deserve. You now know what you’ve allowed when you didn’t know any better.
Because part of loving yourself is knowing what you deserve and the shadow part of loving yourself is seeing the evidence you’ve collected of just how unworthy you believed you were.
There is post-love and pre-love, yet even in the post-love you have to untangle everything the pre-love self said was okay. There’s a fury, too, because you see your past with new eyes that don’t love where you’ve come from. Your past is where the unworthy you has dwelled.
Because, before self-love becomes a liberation, it is first a burden. Well, there’s the anger at who treated you poorly when you didn’t know to ask for better treatment. The anger at yourself for what you’ve allowed. There’s the grief for lost time. There’s the strangling necessity to push people, things, ideas out, out, out because there’s no room for them. There’s the loneliness and isolation that accompanies the growth of self. There’s the new boundary lines, the new range of the word no, the opening of eyes that would rather be shut, and the terrifying realization that love isn’t synonymous with joy. It’s synonymous with growth.
And growth isn’t bliss. It never was. It was a lie that said love would be white-teethed smiles on beaches.
The pinnacle of self-love is not endless ecstasy.
It is a heartbreaking process of undoing the life your unloved self built, brick by unworthy brick.