The majority of my life I did not like myself. I lived in a fearful state most of the time, and constantly told myself I was worthless. I spent endless hours comparing myself to others and always came up short. I did not think I was smart or good at anything except making art and even that was in question most of the time. I felt like an awkward teenager way past my teenage years and never knew how to love myself. I didn’t even think self love was possible, I thought it was for people with huge egos or some hippy shit for people who didn’t have any real problems, problems like the ones I had. When I quit destroying my life with alcohol and drugs in my early 20’s I started to become aware of just how much I disliked myself. It wasn’t something I had to think about while intoxicated and when those coping mechanisms were out of my life I felt like dying.
I remember someone suggesting to me back then that I write out a list of all of my amazing qualities. I thought that was such a ridiculous idea. I thought, if people knew who I really was they would hate me too and then they would leave. Everyone always left me. A product of divorced parents it is typical for children in that situation to believe they had something to do with it and/or that their parents did not really love them because if they did they would not leave. These feelings stuck with me into my adult life and have taken years to uncover and sit with in an awake and gentle state.
I started my list. For months all I could think of that was great about me was that I am creative. That was it. I couldn’t see for the life of me any other redeeming qualities, after all I’d gotten myself into a great deal of trouble and harmful situations with the way I chose to live and everything looked so dark and depressing. In a similar fashion as the gratitude list, this list began to grow without me having to think about it or try really hard to come up with something. As I started to become healthier, go back to college, and get my life on track little things started popping up here and there. A few years after I hit that bottom and made a big life change it started to sink in that I am brave. This is a quality that I have nurtured throughout my 20’s and while it has gotten me into trouble on occasion it is a big part of who I am. Being able to acknowledge and honor that part of myself has helped me get through so many difficult situations.
One of the reasons I struggled with compliments and saying nice things about myself has been my insecurity. For one I haven’t always liked myself as I mentioned and I thought that people that said nice things about themselves were snobs – as you can see it is a major problem with my perspective! I know this now but I was clueless for a long time. A big part of it for me was also the fear of showing people who I really am, someone that is bright, funny, spacey, emotional, fearless, intuitive, and strong. I was in fear of showing my light because I was afraid of it’s power. This has been a theme in my life as well. One of my best friends likes to sing this song to me he learned in church growing up in Kansas, “this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine….” He sings that to me when I am in a lot of fear and it always cuts right through to the truth. It’s not the unknown that is scary, it’s my power and strength that is too much to handle sometimes.
Setting aside a few moments to reflect on my life and pick out my amazing qualities is such a transformative exercise. Little by little I start to see my light, let it shine, and it is not as scary as I think it is going to be. Take out a piece of paper. Write out as many of your amazing qualities as you can think of. If you have one on your sheet great, if you have ten that is great too. It’s not the quantity that is important, what is more important is to begin and we can only begin where we are. Put this paper some place you can see it and read it often. I like to read my list in the morning after my meditation. Honoring our amazing qualities shows us that even on days when we didn’t act or do exactly as we would have liked, we are still powerful, mystical, people. Try this exercise for as long as you want to. I would suggest at least a month, but you do what feels right for you. Even if you just write out your list and stick it on the fridge that is awesome too, you will see it regularly and it will work its subtle magic on your mind and heart.
Photo: Lani Trock