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Love Thyself

Historically speaking, I really loathe February. I could blame it on the weather, which, is typically rather depressing. However, I, the eternal optimist, have always felt like once I’m past January, summer’s almost here, so, it’s really not the cold and snow. Even this year, with the multitude of subzero and multi-inch snowfall days we’ve had here in MN, the weather isn’t really getting me down too much, probably because I am one of those crazy parents who actually likes snow days.

I can’t pinpoint exactly why or when this happened, though I as I sit an analyze this all, I think that my disdain for the second month of every year stems from expectations surrounding love.

I can remember some specific heartbreaks that occurred in my earlier years of junior high and high school, during February, both Valentine’s Day-related and otherwise. There were the cards NOT received from those I had longed for, on February 14th, and those received from those I longed to forget about me. There was an embarrassing, public break-up from someone who clearly didn’t value the relationship as I did, being that they were in 2 additional concurrent ones, unbeknownst to me. These episodes were a little scarring, however I think we can all agree that young love can be both a magical and a tragic thing, though something we can recover from.

As I got older, the expectations of love shifted a bit, as I became both a wife and a mother, something that is really hard to be, when you combine the two.  There is often an expectation and a belief that relationships shouldn’t change once you throw kids in the mix, however this is a pipe dream. Once you add another person or people to your “love list,” it inevitably becomes complicated, especially when it’s someone as helpless as a child, who requires so much love and attention. I have seen this baby-relationship-love-expectation dance play out, with both positive and negative outcomes, in both my personal and professional life, supporting thousands of families over the years.

However, when I look at all of it—all of the expectations of love that led to both joy and sadness, happiness and heartbreak, I must first look at myself, because it was I who placed the expectations there, to be met or not. I must look at the fact that I, for an incredibly long time, had such a negative self-image and did not love myself at all.  How in the world could I have expected someone to love me, if I did not feel that I deserved to be loved?

As I entered my mid-late 30’s, my life entered some new territory, going through some major transitions and personal growth that finally began to change my inner dialogue, my love for myself. I let some people in my life and let others go. I looked at the errors in my ways and worked to pave a new path, but I also realized that I didn’t actually have as many flaws as I had believed.

It was these changes that allowed me to accept challenges in a new way, one of which came my way on Valentine’s Day, nonetheless, two years ago.

I had a little girl home sick from school, incredibly disappointed to be missing her Valentine’s Day party.  At one point, she took a break from resting in the bean bag chair in my bedroom office to create for me the single most important Valentine I have or will ever receive.

She brought me a piece of paper that she had doodled a bit on, with my name at the top, and gave me specific instructions: “Write the words ‘Things I Love About Myself’ under your name.  Then write the numbers 1, 2, and 3, and after each number write something you love about yourself. And you don’t have a choice. You have to do it.”

And so I did. I completed the greatest therapeutic healing exercise, not given to me by a therapist or some self-help book, but from a six-year-old, my dear, sweet Isadora, who since the moment she was born, has been able to see into my soul. She knew exactly what I need to do in that moment, in that month that I hate, to change my expectations surrounding love, and learn that the most important thing to do was to love myself.  And I wrote:

1. I can cook tasty and healthy foods.
2. I am a good mom and care about my children.
3. I practice yoga often.

Now, I will admit, I definitely still have lots of moments of self-doubt, of not loving myself as I should, of placing unrealistic expectations on love, as my wounds are deep and I am only human. However, to remind me, Isadora, once my project was complete, had me place it where all the best art projects go–on the refrigerator, where it has remained for two years now, so I can see it every day.

And now, my challenge to all of you, because I know that every single one of your reading this has moments just as I do–moments where we place expectations on love that may or may not be met, but also even more moments when you forget to love yourself first, which is key to have all of your love expectations fulfilled. Get your own piece of paper and write your name on it. If you have a cute kid or a loving partner or a friend to write your name instead, have them do that, as it’s important to remember who you are loving yourself for. On the top, write “Things I Love About Myself. Then number 1, 2, 3, and come up with three things you love about yourself. If you’re so inclined, add more than three.  When you’re all done, hang in on your refrigerator or mirror, or somewhere you can see it every single day.  And above all else, believe it….and love thyself….and I’ll keep working on doing the same thing myself.

In gratitude and self-love, Liz Lull