Self-love is not selfish; you cannot truly love another until you know how to love yourself.Anonymous
One of my Instagram friends suggested that I write about how I developed my self-love. This suggestion, both clever and timely, was in response to a post where I asked my tribe for writing assignment suggestions. Another friend asked me to write about my journey to heart-centered living; I briefly touched on this subject back in December 2017. I’ll have to expand on that in the future. But in the meantime, and especially since I need to prepare for a live video on the topic, I’m going to share my self-love journey. Like many things in my life, it was never destined to be a direct path. Yes, there have been some bumps in the road. Fasten your seat belts ladies and gentlemen.
It begins, as most things do, early in childhood. As a newborn baby, I didn’t need to worry about such esoteric concepts. All I had to do was eat, sleep, and “other”. Later on, I added “play” to my repertoire. This is all just well-reasoned conjecture, since my first memories are from about three years of age. And at that time, both my mother and I were living at her parent’s house. I remember that time fondly. I knew I was loved. I was surrounded by an extended family that doted on me — most of all my dear grandmother. Naturally, I adored her and the way she shamelessly spoiled me. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Well, the same thing could have been said about grandma’s “little” man. My heart got a LOT of attention in that house and it showed in my bulging waistline. I was a butterball before long. There was no shame about it, no body issues, no neurosis to process. Just love, pure and simple.
The first icy tendrils of shame and self-loathing began in kindergarten. I began to see myself through the eyes of my classmates. And even though I had some friends, there were plenty of moments where I just wanted to disappear within myself, never to be seen again. For instance, I had learned that nudity was frowned upon. I learned this lesson before kindergarten when I unwisely decided to ride on my bike, sans clothes, around the neighborhood. My mother was mortified. Yes, it’s a funny story now (and I even wrote about it here). But for the first time, I felt shameful about my body. And when my so-called friends turned on me, throwing a ripe apricot in my face, I wondered what I had done and how this could happen to me. It’s a cruel world after all.
It got even worse in elementary school. It was a different school, a different neighborhood, and the kids were ruthless. I was constantly taunted, threatened, and treated with barely concealed disdain by my classmates. I was always the last to be chosen at sports. Nobody wanted me on their team. I was short, clumsy, weak, and uncoordinated. I made up for those shortcomings with my intelligence and sassy wit. The latter came naturally to me, perhaps as a defense mechanism. The former came from some place unknown to me; I was a good student, though. And when a brand new set of World Book encyclopedias arrived, I discovered, to my great delight, new worlds and ideas. But self-love? It was rapidly being replaced with my intellectual pursuits. If those kids had measured each other on brain power alone, I would have been in the upper echelons.
My social status improved slightly after grade school. Turns out, I had a talent for music. I guess this made me slightly more tolerable. But only just a little. Those kids were going through adolescence and I wasn’t. That really stung me — all the way through my heart. After a grueling series of medical tests, I learned the awful truth. My pituitary glad, that little organ in the brain the controls the endocrine system, was faulty and had stopped working for no reason in particular. I needed to take growth hormone, and later, testosterone. Whatever self-love had remained from those earlier years now vanished like a magic act. My self-image did not improve when I had to start injections, three times a week, in the legs. As I would sit down, preparing the syringe with the hormones needed to make me “normal”, I would look down at my pale, anemic legs with distaste. I injected myself time and time again, the long needle working its way to my muscle, filling me with a strange mixture of hope and shame.
At home with my family, there was little room for self-love, or even the thought of discussing it. My father worked twelve hour days, Monday through Saturday, out of sheer necessity. On those days I only saw him in the evenings — and rarely in the early morning hours. He would come home tired and beaten down from the vicissitudes of life. I think, because of his self-imposed burden, that he expected everyone to pull their own weight without complaint or reflection. On those rare Sundays, we would have these wonderful, insightful conversations that cleared the cobwebs of my mind. But the very notion of self-love was anathema to him. My mother would occasionally build my confidence up, only to smash it to pieces during one of her many violent mood swings. Her words would cut like knife, leaving me to pick up the pieces. Truth be told, I knew that they both loved and cared for me. But sometimes, I would find myself walking that tightrope of fear. My younger sister, with whom I had a bitter rivalry, would occasionally extend the olive leaf. And these gestures helped me, for the first time, to see myself clearly, without filters, through the eyes of someone who respected me. Eventually, the two of us became good friends, and I began to think of myself in terms that were more positive than negative.
As it turns out, music was my vessel that helped me heal. I was respected by my peers and teachers as a musician, ensemble coach, composer/arranger, and conductor. I gradually realized that all the negative ideas about myself, either externally- or self-imposed, had so little validity. You cannot imagine the relief that comes with such a radical change of perspective unless you have gone through it yourself. After Lane passed away, I turned to music, once again. I expressed, through the act of writing deeply-felt music, what I wasn’t yet able to articulate in words. Turns out, it was Lane who exiled the major blocks of self-loathing I had managed to cling to. I was in my early forties. I had fought many battles with myself, and had the scars to prove it. I wasn’t totally healed (is anyone ever?). But I was on my way.