For years and years I’ve put off writing this post. Why? Because I frequently suck at self-love.
Originally I meant to write only after I had self-love down. Self-loving me I pictured as an endearingly geriatric version of myself, her grizzled hair drawn up in a loose bun and her slightly pouchy face lit with a warm smile of knowing. When I get there, I thought, and I’ve got all this chit figured out, then I’ll crank out a self-love post like, BAM!
Never gonna happen.
My future blogging self will actually be a view of this laptop (or a newer one). And every day I live, I will wrestle with weird, difficult feelings. So my question will ALWAYS be the same as yours: without using booze or whatever to shut them down, how do we deal with those inner voices of self-loathing, not enoughness, anxiety, awkwardness, shame, envy, self-pity, vulnerability, and drama addiction?
My inner voices get meaner during Seattle winters, when twilight sets in before 4:00 p.m. and the gray rain can drag on for days. They’ve been up lately — super critical of my appearance, abilities, personality, and what little I have to show for the many years I’ve lived — but all mooshed together in a generic “fail” static that hums as a backdrop for my thoughts.
So. Because I well know, at almost 23 years sober, that such voices are “fake news” (haha), I resolved last month to launch a self-love campaign. I found a self-love prayer and, er, trimmed it down on my phone (see bottom of this post), and I bookmarked two self-love meditations from Sarah Blondin on Insight Timer (a wonderful free meditation app). Whenever I’d first wake up, I’d find the onslaught of “fail” static SO LOUD that I’d start blindly fumbling for my phone the way Bill and Bob describe grabbing for a bedside bottle of gin.
“I need help! I need help!” This was my constant prayer.
Eventually, the campaign worked — though not in the way I’d intended. I gained, not any falling in love with myself, but enough gumption to turn and face those inner voices and ask them, “Why are you here? What, exactly, am I doing so wrong? Can you guys explain?”
Man, do they hate that!! Because I saw those assholes for what they were.
Vanity and Ego are the soil in which self-criticism thrives. Both of them craftily impersonate self-esteem or self-love. Maybe vanity’s more about narcissism and ego self-importance, but they both tell us, “You’re okay because you have this!” And THIS is things, material wealth, cool shit. THIS is intellect, degrees, a fat paycheck. THIS is looking hot or well dressed. It’s the social finesse to be interesting and witty. Being right. Being wronged. Lots of tattoos. A hot partner. Class. Whatever vanity/ego can hock to grant us status.
But if you listen closely, what vanity and ego are actually saying is, “Without THIS, you’d be worthlesssssss.”
In truth, criticizing ourselves for insufficient THIS is a tactic we learned to protect ourselves from the stings of criticism we suffered growing up in dysfunctional families. If our THIS supplies aren’t constantly rising, our worthlessness-hazard gauge is. But in our hearts we know, THIS is never us. No matter how persistently we try to amass THIS, we feel no inner worth — no love for self. That pain is one reason we drank.
“The soul grows not by addition but by subtraction.”
— Meister Eckhart, 1260 – 1327
Eckhart’s subtraction principle, I am discovering, applies to self-love. Love’s roots thrive in humility, not in awesomeness. Do vanity and ego claim that, compared to other people or where I ought to be, I’m mediocre, boring, and unimportant?
Okay, fine. You win, mean voices. Mediocre is my middle name.
Once I stop fighting, I topple from ego’s tightrope, down and down until I land on the solid ground of being stuck with me. But it feels pretty good! What a relief! Once I subtract the work of defending myself (which isn’t easy), once I chuck any fickle THIS gauge in favor of not caring where I stand, I can focus on being just plain old me — to the fullest. Sure, the arena where my duels with self-criticism took place will still call to me. But unconditional surrender, giving up again and again, means I relinquish much emotional busywork and free up that much more bandwidth for what matters: using the gifts I’ve been granted to contribute something positive to this messy, lovable world.
God’s love and self-love are one
I think of a friend with Parkinson-like symptoms caused by an inoperable brain tumor, who tells of waking in the night consumed with terror and praying his guts out in the dark. He got an answer of two words: Trust me.
I think of an NDE survivor, a father who once dozed while driving 80 mph, lost his adored wife and baby in the same crash that took his leg, and who, struggling to make a home for his surviving boy, sobbed his guts out to god. He, too, got a two-word response: Choose joy.
And I think of my own NDE, how the instant I found myself on the other side, I’d simply shed all negative emotions. I had zero self-criticism, zero self-consciousness, zero interest in self-assessment — all the concerns of being human. I cared only about how cool and amazing my surroundings were, how cool and amazing it felt to get to experience stuff.
Those three elements together, I’ve been thinking, make up a recipe self-love: trust god, choose joy, forget myself.
Here you may notice a major overlap with the basic recipe for sobriety: trust god, clean house, help others. They’re the same. Because I can’t choose joy if I carry resentment or guilt, and the best self-forgetting comes from helping others. So, sort of like Dorothy, I guess I’ve had the way home all along.
Self-love, I’m learning imperfectly and will doubtless forget again, flows from a source that can never be depleted, only obscured by ego’s relentless fear of lack. I am love. We are sparks of god, you and I — shards of the light sculpted into cherished artworks by the ultimate love. To realize my home, which glows with the warmth of self-love, I need only to drop all those thorny false treasures I’ve been trying so desperately to clutch.
Today, Creator of the Universe, I ask that you help me to accept myself just the way I am, without judgment. Help me to accept my mind the way it is, with all my emotions, hopes and dreams, my personality, and my unique way of being. Help me to accept my body just as it is. Let the love I have for myself be so strong that I never again reject myself or sabotage my happiness, freedom, and love.
From now on, let my every thought be based on love. Help me, Creator, to increase my self-love until the entire dream of my life is transformed from fear and drama to love and joy. Let the self-love I feel be strong enough to break all the lies that tell me I am not good enough, so strong that I no longer need to live my life according to other people’s opinions. Let me trust myself completely to make choices and take responsibility.
Starting today, help me to love myself so much that I never set up circumstances that go against me. I will live being myself and not pretending to be someone else in an effort to be accepted by others. I no longer need other people to accept me or tell me how good I am because I know what I am.
Let loving myself be the power that changes the dreams of my life. Let me transform every relationship I have, beginning with my relationship with myself. Help me to love myself so much that I forgive anyone who, I feel, has hurt me in the past, and strengthen my will to forgive myself, as well.
Give me the courage to love my family and friends unconditionally. Let these relationships be based on respect and joy so that I no longer seek to tell anyone how to think or be. Help me to accept others because when I reject them, I reject myself. And when I reject myself, I reject you.
Help me to start my life over beginning today with the power of self-love. Help me to enjoy my life, to take risks, and to no longer live in fear of love. Help me to become a Master of Gratitude, Generosity, and Love so that I can enjoy all of your creations forever and ever. Amen.