In my life I have used what I will call "situational" therapy. Therapy to help me during, well, situations. Often transitions. Often around relationships, whether with lovers or with family. Sometimes it helps to have a second person help you navigate and negotiate through those straits. In keeping with a nautical theme, it never hurts to have a second set of eyes helping keep watch as you move forward for things like, well icebergs (Can you BELIEVE that they are bringing The Titanic BACK to theaters? I saw that in a trailer yesterday!!! In 3-D! You'd think in 3-D they'd be able to see the iceberg... but I digress)
So I have heard the words from these folks and from other good well meaning intentioned friends that I need to love myself.
I admit I've often been puzzled by this direction. Not that I don't think it is important to love yourself - I do - but how do you KNOW if you love yourself? Or don't love yourself? I wonder now, what self-loathing these people were observing, because frankly, I never saw it.
I do think I love myself. I am quite comfortable with myself and have a pretty reasonable self-esteem. I think their concern may arise from the fact that when I am in relationships, I tend to become involved in others' interests that I may not necessarily pursue on my own. I can see, from the outside, where that could be concerning for those who love me, but I can say with all certainty that I am not losing myself in them in the way that they fear. I am enjoying the company of people I love. And if something is important to them, particularly if I haven't done it myself, I'm willing to to give it a whirl and see if it's fun. I will admit, most often the reason it is fun, is because of their company. And, yes, some of those activities fall off my to-do list when I am no longer hanging with a particular person.
But ironically, this post isn't about me. Or rather this post isn't inspired by me.
My head feels, at the moment, like it is going to explode.
I came out in high school. And looking backwards from there, it made sense. I had crushes on several female teachers, I liked to look down some of their shirts (natural curiosity that doesn't mean I'm gay, but certainly makes more sense in context of it), had ardent feelings for my female best friends, etc. And most people, apparently, knew before I did, and asked me when I finally did come out what took so long, or said "Duh!"
But I do remember that early time period wondering, "could I be... " "Am I..." I couldn't even write the word "lesbian" then. But I knew what I was referring to, so I didn't need to. I went on a journey of exploration. Remembered my interest and curiosity in other lesbians I had met or had seen on television. Read "Our Bodies, Ourselves" and recognized an an affinity with the writing about the women who loved women. But I was scared to kiss one, and even more scared of what else might happen - I had not yet been sexual, although I had done some heavy petting. I had no idea what to do with a woman. And frankly the thought of doing some things that I really, really, really enjoy now were quite disgusting to me to think about. But then again, who is turned on by french kissing before you actually try it? I digress.
I'm lucky. My family was reasonably supportive. And all of this, frankly, should have been part of another post, but today's pending head explosion has required me to get all this introductory stuff out of the way.
A friend of mine is coming out late in life. Ironically she's one of several. I always seem to attract people who are about to come out as friends. I wonder why? ;)
And she has the normal questioning: Am I really this way? Why am I this way? Did I drink the Kool-Aid? What will others think? Who do I tell? Do I tell anyone? Can they tell just by looking at me? What does it mean? Am I okay? Will my friends still like me? Will people still love me?
My answers to those questions, frankly, are:
- Does it really matter?
- Maybe, but it wasn't Kool-Aid that made you this way.
- Who cares?
- Anyone you want or no-one you don't want.
- It's up to you.
- Some might, most won't; those of us who are may have a better chance of recognizing you.
- It means, at a minimum, you're not straight.
- Yes, you're okay.
- Yes, your true friends will still like you.
- Yes, people will still love you.
But I am beginning to sense that the underlying question that she may be asking or she should be asking is "Do I still love myself?"
Because she has acknowledged that she doesn't think there's anything wrong with LGBQTalphabet in others. She's not queer-phobic or think that it's wrong in others. And actually, this isn't her first time at the rodeo.
To me, being gay is just a part of who I am. A part that has always been there. A part as natural to me as having five fingers. I don't define myself by having five fingers, but if you took them away, I wouldn't quite be myself. (Maybe this is a bad analogy, but it is similar to the one I made to her, so let's roll with it). She is worried that maybe she was this way because others told her she was, and not because she had arrived here on her own. And yet, she agreed upon further questioning, that there was no one throwing her out or pushing her or pulling her out of the closet door this time. That coming out was not something that was fashionably correct that she was trying to emulate. But, she wondered, do I really have a mark on me or do I just believe I do because others have told me I do?
So I made the analogy of a birthmark. Analogies are tricky things. If you don't think them out first, they could back-fire on you. And maybe I didn't. But I explained to her that being this way (and exactly what "this way" means is still unclear - there's a lot of grey area in sexuality despite what others might say or think) for her and her experience is like having a birthmark on her back. It's been there all along, but she couldn't see it. Others told her it was there when she was younger, but she never saw it, herself. She trusted others that it was there.
Now she's wondering if it is really there. And I told her I had fancy mirrors and could take a picture of it so she could see.
And this morning she asked, "what if it's a melanoma?"
What if her queer feelings were actually a cancer?! Really???
I'd like to say I'm speechless, but you can see from above, I'm clearly not.
I am kind of angry, I'll admit. But mostly I am very, very sad.
Because suddenly I was struck with this lightening bolt: "Oh, this is what it looks like when you don't love yourself"
The good news for me is I know that is not me - I am clear that I do, very much indeed, love myself.
And as much as I'd like to rejoice in that knowledge, my heart is heavy for my friend. Very heavy.
Now I ask questions in life. And so I have, on more than one occasion, asked in response to someone who told me I needed to love myself how I do that. And none of them exactly had the answer to that, although one did give me a guide to masturbation. (No, I kid, but really, you knew the joke had to come in somewhere....)
I am shaking my head because I really wish, now, I had the answer.
And I think the answer might be that you love yourself the same way you love others. You put their needs first. You make what is important to them important to you. You try to make their burden easier. You accept them with all of their flaws. You recognize that they are not perfect. That they will make mistakes. That they will have inconsistencies. They are beautiful in your eyes just the way they are because you love them. You want what is best for them. You want them to find happiness and peace. You don't want them to hurt. You enjoy their company. Their smile makes you smile. You want to support them no matter what they want to do. I don't know - this isn't easy. Often hormones help you "love" someone else while you build a solid foundation of emotional love underneath the chemical one.
There is a lot of what Paul wrote that I don't agree with, but this seems as good a guideline as any:
"Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth"
How to apply that to loving yourself?
Love is patient. Be patient with yourself.
Love is kind. Be kind to yourself.
It is not irritable or resentful. Accept yourself as you are, without resentment.
And find some way to rejoice in the truth - no matter how scary it is.
And know that others love you and you deserve to be loved. Most especially by you.