We’re constantly being told to love ourselves.
My mom was big on the whole, “In order to truly love others we have to start with ourselves,” thing. Always made sense to me as a theory.
But how do you do it? How do you love yourself? Is there a switch? A lever in the heart that flips and affinity just starts gushing out of every valve? The onset of a passionate, unstoppable love storm. That would be amazing.
Turns out, loving yourself is even more simple than that. And more amazing. Lever not even needed.
But a little over a week ago you couldn’t have convinced me that self-love is simple, or even doable. I was in the throes of my most desolate point in recent memory, utterly worn out from self-spiting patterns of drinking and binge eating.
I was lumbering through a manic impulse to fritter away some money. I conceded to the impulse, but with a condition. I would make my spending spree count. Ordered a slew of self-help books. Ha.
Last Friday (the 13th, for good measure), I came to peace with checking into inpatient treatment for depression and substance misuse. I let some close friends and family know. Made some calls, planned to be in by Tuesday. I felt relieved, but was aware of my historical tendency to veer into a self-abusive rampage when help is on the horizon. It’s like the grand finale, the storm before the calm.
In a gesture to bypass the drama and aim for a gentle weekend, I opened up one of my new books, a little book called Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It by an entrepreneur named Kamal Ravikant.
I didn’t really wholeheartedly plan on having a gentle weekend, but I figured I’d feel better about myself if I at least went through some motions.
And then something weird and miraculous happened: I began to love myself.
It took about 45 minutes to read. 45 minutes to activate my resolve reservoirs. Kamal Ravikant nailed it, cleanly and completely.
By Monday I felt radically transformed. In a loving relationship with myself again. It slowly sunk in that I was going to be just fine. Hospitalization averted.
Kamal Ravikant’s message is deliciously concise. Re-wire ourselves for self-love by anchoring in the mantra, I love myself, I love myself, I love myself. Over and over, day in and day out. By letting it be our truth, our guiding light. You don’t have to mean it at first. Just say it. Deep down your heart knows exactly what those words mean. After persistent reinforcement, you’ll feel the words, become the words. Live the words. You’ll love yourself.
Sound too simple? The simplicity is awesome because there is no reason not to try it. There is no learning curve. No complicated procedure. Only a commitment to follow through and see what happens.
Finding heart in a broken world
Sunday evening, last night. Just after dusk. I walk through my neighborhood, which was pummeled by an ice storm the eve before. The intense weight of the ice has dismembered most of our trees. It’s a surreal visage. Enormous branches in the street and lying broken in every yard. A silver maple that I fondly climbed as a child, a shadow of its former self. I am reminded of impermanence, of the inevitability of change and decay. I ponder the proverbial ice storms of life. How they take their toll on my branches, weighing me down, obliterating the parts of me not strong enough to persevere until the warmth comes back. I notice that the evergreens in the neighborhood are, of course, relatively untouched. They are in their element. Built to withstand. Can I be more like the evergreen? I wonder. A gentle spark crackles in my center, like the tiny flame of a candle. I feel right. I feel at home. The destruction caused by the storm is not tragic. It’s somehow beautiful and fascinating. All is well. A smile dances across my face. Not a token smile, it’s the real thing. Connected to sensations deep in my chest. The smile amplifies the sensations, further intensifying the smile, which… Oh my. So this is what it’s like to love myself.
This past week I’ve said “I love you” to myself, I don’t know, thousands of times? Tens of thousands? Hundreds? Is that even possible? I have no idea. It’s a lot. It makes a difference, and it’s easy. At first I thought I’d forget to keep doing it, but it quickly became automatic. “I love myself” is my final thought before sleep, and it’s my icebreaker with myself first thing in the morning. It’s smile-inducing every time, to hear the words “I love myself” in my mind, before even opening my eyes, without even trying. I am saying it to myself right now, and as I type this I can feel that little candle flame in my chest, flickering its little heart out.
I am not about to restate Kamal Ravikant’s entire message, but I definitely want you to read his book. No guarantee that it will affect you as it affected me, but why wouldn’t it?
All I’m saying is that before I read it I was headed to the psychiatric hospital. After reading it, I wasn’t. Those are just the naked facts. The book didn’t apply itself, obviously. The words resonated with me, I embraced the message, and then I embraced myself.
If the concept of zealously loving yourself seems selfish, just consider how arduous it is to give to others when you’re not on good terms with you. The quality of our interactions with the world is greatly and directly impacted by our status with ourselves. It’s just like how my feelings fed my smile and my smile looped back into my feelings. By loving ourselves, our capacity for loving others expands, which makes self-love even more rewarding, which… Oh my, here it is again. Goodness gracious, I love myself.
I really, really want you to read Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It. If you’re interested but cannot currently afford that expense, let me know. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Provide a mailing address, or specify a preference for the Kindle edition. I’ll get a copy to you.
In one of my favorite parts of the book, Kamal says that it’s fruitless to aim at abolishing old patterns, old habits, old mental loops. Instead, just make the mental loop for self-love (I love myself, I love myself, I love myself…) the deepest, strongest habit of all. Those other neural connections for self-limiting habits still exist, but they will be weak and non-compelling in comparison.
This is an incredibly liberating thought process in terms of mental health recovery. It means that I don’t need to pressure myself into the impossible task of surgically removing every limiting part of myself, every neural pathway that stands between where I’m at and who I dream of being. I tend to micromanage my faults, making hit lists. Making demands of myself. But that is the inevitable recipe for inner enmity.
There is delicious freedom and unwavering relief in knowing that all there is to do to brave any storm is to love myself.
Deeply, completely, relentlessly.
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Also published on Medium.