Loving Yourself and What That Means

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Dear Friend,

It’s been quite some time, hasn’t it? I’d run out of things to say to you. And then when I had things to say, I couldn’t quite get them right in my head to put them down into words. But I’ve decided to just throw them out there anyway. The month leading into this new year held several revelations for me. And they’ve continued up until today. And I think that’s worth sharing (it’s long, so if you plan to skim, just look for the parts in bold).

I’d been thinking about this letter for a week or so now. What does it mean to love yourself? If you’ve been following me, you’ll know I’m a fan of Louise Hay. Big time. Everything she says makes sense to me. To use a silly meme phrase I’ve heard I’d say she’s my spirit animal. =) She’s been a huge influence on my learning how to love myself.

So, how can we love ourselves? We talk about that a lot and read it a lot. No one will love you until you love yourself (lie). You’ll never love someone else until you can love yourself (lie, IMO). How can you expect someone else to love you if you don’t love yourself? Now this one hits home for me. Having that expectation of being loved by others without holding yourself to that same expectation… how does that work?

There’s another woman whose work is pretty interesting to me. Her name is Jena la Flamme. She talks about pleasurable weight loss. No, I’m not going to talk about how to lose weight. But she has this method of viewing our bodies as separate animals from our minds. So emotionally you may want one thing, but your body wants another. And if we ask our bodies what they want, they’ll tell us. This made me think of the idea of viewing ourselves as another person.

Do you treat yourself better or worse than you treat other people? What if you started viewing yourself as you did other people? Would you be more – or less – compassionate? Would you encourage or criticise? It’s a really fascinating thing to think about. And I think that ties in with the mirror work that Louise Hay talks about a lot. Talking to yourself in the mirror is a lot more powerful than you may think. You’re looking into your own eyes, and whatever words come out of your mouth, that’s the message your ears and eyes receive. So imagine how awesome if the message was a positive one!

I’m rambling a bit, but this is all how I’ve come to write this letter. All of these tiny insights that build on each other to form one pretty big transformation in how I view myself.

My Story

As a young child I was skinny. I was also fast. I loved to run (not jog) and I was pretty good at it. I remember a photo of me sitting on our couch with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place ribbons all over my shirt after a sports day at my school (most of the activities involved running). I can’t find the picture now but the image is stuck in my head. Fast forward to age 7 when we lived in Canada for a year. I don’t know what it was. The hormones in the milk, the food, the new lifestyle, the stress of moving and culture shock, I don’t know. But I gained a lot of weight, and started growing breasts. At age 7. Brutal really. I couldn’t run any more, and I didn’t understand why. Fast forward a few more years, back in Jamaica, to my dad physically dragging me out of the house to run on the track with him. I always resented it, but now I think he was very worried because I’d gained so much weight and he couldn’t figure out why (none of us could, really, though my mum theorised that it was just my body type from my paternal grandmother.  maybe.). The joke is that looking back on those pictures, I used to wish I could be that small again! Perspective is everything. 

As the years passed, I gained more weight. Not as drastically, but looking at old photos was always a source of regret and nostalgia for me because I always noticed how much smaller I used to be. At age 17, by this time living in Canada again, I tried my first diet. South Beach. It worked for the purpose of getting me into my dress for prom. Then I stopped. Diets are no fun. There was one dessert I liked though. Ricotta cheese, sugar, and vanilla extract. That’s it. Weird consistency but I’m going off on a tangent so let’s get back on track.

In 2010 I decided to try Kickboxing. My brother had always said he thought I’d be good at it. 5 classes later I stopped. Then I tried running again. It had been in my mind for some time at that point that I wanted to be able to run again. So I joined a running clinic with The Running Room here in Toronto. 9 weeks of running and walking intervals. I was always one of the slowest, if not THE slowest, in the group. That part was discouraging, but I had a great instructor who was really all about doing what you could and being happy with that. We’re still friends (hi Carole!). At the end of the clinic I’d lost 26 pounds or something like that. It occurs to me now (but did not then) that losing weight was not the reason I joined the clinic. I started learning to run for its own sake. (It’s in bold so that part is obviously important). I still wasn’t happy with my running abilities, though, so I did the clinic again. Again! 9 more weeks! Why? Because I just wanted to run. By the end of that, I don’t know if I had lost any more weight, but one of the assistant instructors who had been telling me in the first clinic that I  “wasn’t even running” was now saying, “NOW you’re running!” So that felt good, because running was the goal. I was still the slowest though. In retrospect, I probably could have done one more round of that same clinic, but instead I decided to try and move up to the next clinic as one of the assistants. That lasted all of one session. I was discouraged and then I went to Korea where running outside (especially where I lived) wasn’t feasible. I did get a gym membership, though, because there was one very close to my apartment. So I would run on the treadmill. But I don’t think I kept that up for very long. I did lose weight in Korea, though. And for the first time, looking back on old photos was a source of embarrassment. I was now smaller than I had been. But I’ll tell you: Embarrassment about your body is no better than regret about your body. Hating the way I used to look was not loving myself. On top of that, I still wasn’t happy. I still didn’t love myself. Having lost weight, it became my goal again and for the next 3 years after returning from Korea I steadily gained weight. I tried Muay Thai again in 2012, because I thought it would be fun since it was back in 2010 (though I didn’t stick with it). I got a membership at an MMA gym that I still love because there’s definitely a sense of community there. However, the 8 months that I stuck with it were all very difficult. I was afraid, ashamed, embarrassed about being so unfit, and literally had to drag myself to classes (look! being dragged again!). I didn’t lose any weight but I got better at skipping and the technique came relatively easily to me. I had to stop for financial reasons, but I went on to try Jillian Michaels’ 30-Day shred. Got bored after day 24. Then Shaun T’s Insanity. Hurt myself. Then I stopped to heal and by that point was no longer motivated. I enjoyed that I was getting stronger, but that was a by-product of my goal to lose weight. Not sustainable.

I started doing Muay Thai again in September 2014. I was less consistent with it, but I was going more because I wanted to be active. Nowadays I dance in my apartment and do little things here and there when the mood strikes.

ANYWAY, here’s what I’ve realised:

1) I resented exercise, because to me it only meant that I had to not be fat any more, that there was something wrong with my body, and this was the only way to fix it.

2) As long as “weight loss/getting fit/ getting healthy/ whatever catch phrase” remains my goal, I will never get there. Because all those terms mean the same thing to me, I need to let them all go. I need to look in the mirror and love what I see. I need to eat, read, and do things that make me feel good. And I do still want to be active. I feel better when I’m being active, but I can’t do an activity that’s not fun in and of itself just because I feel better having done it. Whatever physical activity I do, I must do it for its own sake.

As for how to love yourself, I’m afraid I don’t have any lists for you. But I know there’s a lot to be said for understanding yourself, being honest with yourself, and accepting wherever you are without criticism. I’ve been listening to this every night as I go to bed: Louise Hay Self Love Guided Meditation. Check it out and see how it makes you feel.

I hope this very long letter has helped at least a little.

All my love,

Angel xo

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Strength is a funny thing

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Dear Friend,

The dialogue around what makes a person strong has a lot of contradictions in it, don’t you think? For example, some say being strong means doing things yourself, while others say it means knowing how to ask for help.

I don’t know the right answer for what it means to be strong, but I did notice something today.

The interesting thing about getting stronger is that sometimes it feels like you’re actually getting weaker, because you’re more tired or things seem harder… I think it’s really just that you’ve done more, gone farther, and worked harder than you did when you (thought you) were weak.

Because now you (know you) can.

Today, please acknowledge your strength, because you have an abundance of it.

All my love,
Angel xo

Everything is Working Out for Your Highest Good

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Dear Friend,

Today marks the 3-month anniversary of me writing letters to you! Isn’t that great?! Last week I talked about looking back to recognise how far you’ve come. Today I’m going to talk about myself a lot (sorry in advance!). I’ve been doing a lot of looking back lately. And I know I have to be careful not to miss what’s ahead of me and where I am right now. But I spent all night last night remembering, specifically the year I spent in South Korea. I was there from August 2010 until August 2011 and I had a blog that I posted in periodically about what was happening to me there. I re-read that blog, reliving some of the experiences I wrote about. I also looked at my FB status updates during that time. I can honestly say I have changed a lot since then. Wow.

I am more comfortable expressing my love for others, like friends and family. I am more cognisant now of when people are being genuinely friendly and helpful. It’s easier for me to pause in the moment and reflect rather than exploding and regretting it after. On the flip side, I’m better at grabbing opportunities and asking questions when they come to me rather than hesitating and regretting THAT later. I don’t get as easily frustrated and when I do get frustrated, I handle it so much better than I used to. I contemplate more. I consciously engage in being positive and uplifting. I’m better at validating myself, without needing others to do it for me (and then being upset when they don’t). I’m better at giving without needing reciprocation (better but not great).

It sounds like I’m doing pretty amazingly, and I am proud of myself. However, I honestly believe I would not have gotten here if it hadn’t been for that year in Korea. It was a very difficult time for me, in many ways that I found it difficult to explain to others. Even when my parents visited me, my attitude didn’t change. I was expecting them to come cheer me up and they were expecting me to host them and be cheerful all on my own. Naturally, the ensuing result was a disaster, but we got some good pictures out of it and I’m still glad they made the trip. I just wish I’d been in a better frame of mind. Even so, all those difficult experiences, all the frustration and depression, led me to make a change in myself. My attitude and outlook, I now know, are the only things I can change 100% of the time. When I did make that change, my experience in Korea changed. And now, I feel like a better person.

As difficult as all those experiences were, they made me better. So I’m not grateful in spite of the challenges I faced. I’m grateful for those challenges. How else do we grow?

I hope, that as you go through your days, weeks, months, and years, that you are able to find ways to be grateful for it all, rather than in spite of it all. I hope you can affirm for yourself that everything happens for your highest good. To make you your own version of better.

 

All my love,

Angel xo

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September 2010. My first month in South Korea.