learning what love is


Love feels unsafe.

To the little girl within me, love is unsafe—she grew up with abuse.

To her, love means hurt.

Love means pain, trauma, inconsistency, insanity, and conditions.

Love was fucked up, twisted, and tied so deep into their self-hatred, that it came out wrapped in violence, rather than gentleness and warmth. Bitterness, rather than compassion and understanding. Jealousy and resentment, rather than supportive holding and cheerleading.

The love wasn’t hers, it was theirs—it had the potential to change any moment. And generally, it did. No matter how hard my inner girl or inner teen tried, things stayed the same.

Why—and how—would they be any different, now?

I remember the first time I got told about unconditional love, almost three years ago:

“You don’t have to do anything for someone to love you?”

I laughed, thinking it was a joke.

When I realised it wasn’t, I felt a sudden sorrow—a deep grief—for myself.

How did I not know this?

My relationship with love had been ‘wrong’ my whole life.

An innately wise part of myself always understood unconditional love existed—as a kid, I remember watching other parents and children, knowing somewhere deep inside that what I experienced at home wasn’t the only way. Somehow I knew, beneath my wounding and fear, that things wouldn’t always be this way.

What I was experiencing was only a chapter, or two, of my Love Story.

As I’ve begun healing my youth and early adulthood, my relationship with love—towards myself and others—is rapidly changing.

I’m learning what love actually is.

But I’m in the messy stage.

My defences, fears, past hurts, and insecurities, feel more tender and in-my-face, than ever—I can’t step round, look past, or dive through my wounding, anymore.

My need to feel safe, feels more important than any other need I have, so it governs almost everything I do.

I struggle to trust people. To believe or trust the love and time they give me, and that they—or it—won’t disappear, feels terrifying, and almost impossible, even though part of me knows it isn’t, and it won’t.

I worry that love I receive will also disappear when the person really sees me and witnesses my imperfections, so I make sure I only share the imperfections I feel safe sharing. Even though I love others for, and with, theirs, and that mine just make me human.

I notice there’s always a desire to rip apart any love or support given, by finding reasons or supposed ‘proof’ that the love wasn’t really genuine—“they were just saying that…they probably felt like they had to”—even though this habit only brings hurt, and I know it’s generally not true. And even if it is, or they were, it’s not my place to take it on.

I take risks, show myself, and share my needs or vulnerabilities—or my authentic rawness and openness—and then freak-out by reading into people’s every move or every word. I disappear for a few days/weeks, convinced I was ‘too much’. Sometimes I find myself laughing, because the theories my inner critic comes up with in these moments are so well thought out, convincing, and hilarious. Other times I find myself unable to laugh or find solid ground beneath the fear and self-judgment, worrying that what I’m believing, is definitely true.

My fear of abandonment feel so great, and so sensitive, that I avoid situations in which there is potential for abandonment—I end up avoiding and declining a lot. Sometimes the fear, or potential risk, of not feeling safe, is one I want—or feel able to—work with and compassionately notice. Other times it isn’t. This part of my relationship with love and trust and people, breaks my heart the most.

I feel like I stranger to myself and my previous life. I almost constantly feel slightly, or completely, disconnected or alone. Even though I’m not.

I let a friend in, become close, and then freak-out with fear of the close connection, and fear that I will be really seen. Sometimes I stay but keep a certain distance, to ensure I feel safe. Other times, I’ve fled out of fear they wouldn’t love me if they continued to get to know me.

If a friend fucks-up, the option of offering forgiveness or compassion feels way too terrifying, at the moment. That’s what I gave my mum for all those years, which—from the eyes of my inner girl—enabled her to keep coming back to hurt me more. I need this time to find my boundaries and learn a balance, and to learn to trust myself. But it does mean that I abandon people.

I don’t value my love enough—I don’t value that my love is a gift itself. 

I still slip back into the belief that I can only be loveable when I do, and because I have stripped right back on how much I do for others, out of the need to give almost solely to myself, I struggle with the theory that I’m not as loveable as I used to be during the days that I was Miss Do.

I have a belief that friends love is a pot that only holds a certain amount—it has a time limit or an amount that can be given, and when it’s been used up, it’s gone…they’ll no longer be there. Like, I can’t still be in a pickle and needing advice, or they can’t still be there to support me with another painful experience. This belief used to be so strong and seemingly true, that when people tried to explain that it doesn’t work like that, I felt so fucking confused.

Now, I’m beginning to see that it’s really not true.

Every time a friend is still there, a little part of me heals.

Every time someone still shows up despite me not having ‘done’ anything, or regardless of whether I believed I was loveable the last time we hung out, or whether I’d shown my imperfections, or how many other times they’ve showed up before, a little piece of my unconditional love puzzle is put into place.

As I continue to discover just how twisted my Love Story has been until now, I continue to notice how deeply this impacts the way I love myself—the way I parent myself.I’m almost constantly noticing or realising something different, something new.

Last week it suddenly hit me that I was only loving myself when I was doing or achieving things. I hadn’t realised that that part of the relationship I have with being able to be loved by others, was also the relationship I have towards being able to love myself.

I wrote this note to myself and stuck it on the wall, with the desire to love myself regardless of whether I’m doing or not doing.

I can love myself just for being.

I’m trying to trust that as this new kind of love—unconditional love—, as well as the forgiveness and acceptance it brings, begins to ripple inside myself, it’ll begin to ripple through the beliefs I have about others love for me, too—that they can love me for just being, also.

And that the people around me have been loving me this way regardless of whether I’ve been able to see it and believe it, or not.

I often feel frustrated with my process—the way that my fear and wounding has such a strong hold, and it feels like it’s taking so fucking long to ease or shift—because I long to feel able to be connected and held, rather than scared and un-seen.

When I look closely, though, things are so far from where they once were. And in my heart, I know this messiness and my wounding being so vividly here, is the beginning of truly healing.

And that can’t help but excite me and leave my worry gently soothed.

Originally published on elephant journal.

catching reflections, cultivating love


Photo: Francesca Woodman

Photo: Francesca Woodman

Today I went back to a Yoga class that I used to go to every week for about a year, but two slipped discs and a bout of vertigo and labyrinthitis brought the stint of Yoga to a halt.

I went back to the class last week but I didn’t really feel like I was completely there because I felt so out of practice. My mind felt elsewhere and my body felt as though it was learning a language again.

This week, though, I was back. At least more back than I was last week.

My mind still wandered and wondered what the fuck I was doing trying to do something I was struggling so hard with, something I knew so well just six months ago.

But as soon as I tucked myself into a twist or opened my spine in a forward bend, I knew I was home and I knew I was right where I needed to be.

Halfway through the class, I was doing a pose that required something to lean on.

My teacher suggested the mirror that had a little ledge on the bottom and I said, “Yes.”

As I said Yes, she said, “Oh, but you might not want to do that.”

I said, “No no no, I do.” And I felt a light flutter of excitement in my heart.

My teacher replied, “Oh, most people don’t want to practice looking at themselves!”

In that moment, I suddenly realized that I now enjoy looking at myself in the mirror. As I stood in front of myself, I felt a fondness and warmth that didn’t use to be there. I vividly remember going to a dance class a year ago and having to stand out of range of the mirror so I couldn’t see myself.

The need to do that was huge and desperate. Loathing and disgust, sorrow and unhappiness, and a desire to run, filled my system when I caught glimpses of myself.

It wasn’t until that moment of avoiding myself in the mirror did I realize a large part of me hated myself. It shone a light into the shame that swum through my system.

The shame for being me, the shame for being the daughter of my mother, the shame for not being skinny, the shame for feeling ugly, the shame for not welcoming me, the shame for not being as womanly as the voices in my head tell me I should be — even though I was my own kind of womanly, beautiful, wholesome, wholehearted, and complete.

And that loathing felt really fucking sad, but it also felt familiar. Oh-so-heartbreakingly-familiar. I was trying, desperately — and successfully — to form, cultivate, and discover self-love, but I was only at the beginning.

I didn’t know it could be any different from what it was then because I hadn’t met that level of self-love yet. I was on the foundation course.

I didn’t know it could be how it is now.

Now I feel like a pro. My love still falters and wavers and sometimes skips to the next shore — a shore seemingly miles away from the shore I’m currently residing at — but it always comes back. And it never skips away completely.

I know I’ve got miles to go and new self-love levels to meet — and I probably always will have — but looking where I’ve come from, I’ve swum miles already and ticked off levels I never knew I would.

Today, I wanted to see myself.

I lit up with love when I saw myself. I looked at myself and realized I’d come home, again.

I saw that, despite the whirling chatter of hatred and loathing, criticism and desired destruct, future-tripping and storytelling, rolling around my head, I was still me. I was — and am — still the beautiful, wholesome, me.

Looking at myself, I realized that no longer do I hate myself in the ways I used to. No longer do I strive to be something completely different.

I strive to be something, and sometimes I strive to be anything but me, but even in those moments of striving there’s a warmth, an affection, a compassion, a love, for what I am, who I am, the me that’s so very me, and so very here.

Today, as my teacher appeared surprised, and perhaps relieved, that I wanted to stand in front of the mirror, I told her why. I told her that I’ve been hanging out with myself in front of the mirror a lot, lately, so I’m well up for doing it now in the class. She laughed.

I said, “Seriously,” laughing too.

Because I do, and I have done, and I believe this to be the reason I can stand there holding fondness and familiarity with myself. I was keen to stand in front of the mirror because it was like practicing Yoga with an old friend — I was happy to see her, and she was happy to see me.

We stood together and practiced and felt a little shy that the whole world — the class — was witnessing our intimacy.

I stand, or kneel, or sit, or sometimes lie, in front of the mirror at home. Or I stand in front of bathroom mirrors anywhere I am, and need a moment with myself. I laugh, I cry, I have tear-storms. Tear-storms at home that last for hours.

I have conversations with my inner girl from my inner mother for moments I wish lasted forever, and sometimes the beauty of them blows me away. I wish I could pocket it, and in some ways they do because they’re there to access whenever I find myself in a reflection.

I sit there and hold myself, often literally.

I reach out and touch my hand on the mirror, on my reflection, and I tell myself, “You’re safe, you’re okay, I’m not leaving you, you’ve got this, I’m with you, I’m here.”

In those moments, nothing leaves me and everything stays. In those moments, tears fall and smiles beam, frowns fall and relief fills. I see everything I’d been wanting to see, and sometimes everything I don’t want to — but need to see in order to learn to love myself completely.

I hear everything I’d been needing to hear, and I often hear more. And it’s in those moments that I hear me.

I hear the deep and beautiful me bounding up from the sides of the turmoil that runs through me. I see and hear the beauty that resides within me, and I see and hear the grounded, unconditionally loving parent that lies within me. I see and hear my inner girl crying desperately or sharing her needs.

I hear my inner teen fuming or burning in agony. I hear my inner critic’s treadmill slow down to a juddering halt, or I hear him run off to find his mates. I hear my inner healer tell me that I’m safe.

I hear my heart say, “Yes.”

Because in those moments of intimacy, it’s like the world lies dormant around me as I find my sun.

It’s like nothing else matters as I come home.

“And there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.” 

~ Mary Oliver

Previously published on Rebelle Society

falling in love with myself

I love fiercely.

I love myself fiercely.

Lately, it’s felt like I’ve got a new crush, and that new crush is me.

I’m like, “Woah, hello hot stuff, where have you been all my life?”, when I look in the mirror.

“You’re so beautiful, so talented, amazing, incredible, and capable, and I feel honoured to be a part of you and to witness your journey. You’re gonna rock it, and you’re rocking it already, you bad-ass motherfucker, you.”

During almost every talking-to-myself-in-the-mirror session, I end up in tears. Tears of love, hope, relief, forgiveness. A sense I’m coming home.

I’m falling in love with myself.

I’ve noticed a part of myself—in response to this beautiful, loving, empowering, and sometimes hilarious positive self-talk that’s flooding in at the moment—that’s like, “Okay…alright, alright, I get it—you love me, you think I’m amazing, you think I great, you are honoured to be with me on my journey, you’re proud of me, you think I’m rad, you think I’m fucking cool, you think I’m amazing, please just quieten down a little, I’m trying to sleep.”

But then I think, fuck it.

No way man.

I’m gonna let this voice of praise bellow. I’m gonna let myself feel and hear all these things—all this love and all this warmth.

I feel things intensely and that’s okay.

Sometimes (often) it’s exhausting but I realise it’s who I am: I’m someone who feels things intensely.

I’ve tried for a while to try to change this—to try and wear my feelings in a different way. To soften and breathe into the feelings to try to make them dissipate and/or go away, or to just try and get the parts of me feeling these feelings, to chill the fuck out a little.

But I realise that doesn’t work. It only creates inner conflict, which then amplifies the shitty and hard feelings that I feel intensely, too. Self-acceptance takes a dive out the window, and I’m left feeling isolated from myself, and lost.

Naked in a land of self-abandonment.

Allowing my feelings—whatever they are, and in all their intensity—to be here, with my breath rather than being shoved away by my breath, amplifies the love I have for myself. This lush and long-overdue love. I’m accepting myself rather than trying to change myself—something I never thought I’d write, and something that as I do write, I feel a little sick with nerves and potential embarrassment doing so (as though people reading this will be like, “Erm, she’s saying she’s brilliant and beautiful and wonderful! Has she looked in the mirror?!”) but it’s also something that I’m so fucking glad to see is truly coming, and something that’s partly here already.

Watching this love begin to flood in by the bucket load, feels like I’m winning the internal self-love lottery and I need to tell everyone and anyone who’s listening, and make them listen if they’re not. It needs to be headline news, because it is in my world.

Considering my journey until now, it definitely isn’t something I need to soften, quieten, or try to make dissipate.

This love is something I can let roar—inside and outside of me, spoken aloud or spoken to myself—because I deserve to love myself fiercely and I deserve to love the world and those in it, fiercely, too. Even if it is a little exhausting, it’s a healthy kind of exhaustion.

This love feels so physical (as do all of my feelings)—I feel it somatically.

These loving, mothering, full-of-warmth and admiration feelings often feel as though they’re going to bowl me over and or as though I’m going to explode with this new found love and respect for myself.

I can’t get enough of myself. When I’m giving myself a cuddle, I can’t cuddle myself tight enough.

Don’t get me wrong, my critic is still holding a megaphone and throwing ten-tonnes of shit around at the moment, too, I’m just beginning to truly embrace this love that’s here for myself fiercely, alongside it. the love can be here with the shit, just like my pain can be here with my beauty. The more the love is here, the more I feel able to navigate my way through the sticky path of the harder feelings, the pain, the anguish, because I know a part of myself really knows that I fucking shine.

My natural reaction is that I need to do something with this love, my new crush on me—tell myself something, tell someone about it (my new crush), hug myself, and do something for myself to show myself that I’m listening and that I love myself—but perhaps sometimes I don’t need to do anything.

Perhaps I can just breathe and let it be—let the love be fierce and let it be for me.

Perhaps just being with myself, in the love-floods, is the biggest gift of all.

A gift I deserve to receive, over and over again.

Originally published on elephant journal. 

love notes to myself

One of my favourite gifts to give myself, is a love note or a gentle reminder stuck on the wall of my bedroom.

Here my fave.