Learning to be a friend to myself
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about self-love. And I don’t mean I’ve been sitting up at night creating a list of all the possible ways I can actively show love to myself when my inner critic is on the attack. No, lately my usual acts of self-love—hot baths, morning walks by the water, afternoon naps in my fluffy feathered bed, Shirley Temple marathons, and a cup of hot tea before bed—haven’t quite done the trick. I’ve been craving something more, something deeper. I realized tonight, lying on the floor of the yoga studio looking for Shavasana, that what I desire, with every last molecule of my being, is a friendship with myself—you know, a relationship that keeps enduring long after the summer has ended and the tea is gone.
When I was a senior in college (a mere three years ago), I was co-president of a club called Beauty of Women that served to empower girls on my college campus to embrace their authentic beauty. As a club we celebrated Love Your Body Day, hosted a screening of Miss Representation, and occasionally held events where girls could come and discuss the pressures we all face in our college years and how to bond together to rise above them.
My favorite of these events was called “Dear Me” where we invited four senior girls to write letters to their freshman selves to elicit advice they wished someone had told them and share wisdom they feel possibly could have led their younger selves in a different direction. I remember sitting in the small audience, listening to the letters of my peers being spoken aloud, and simultaneously drafting my own letter to myself. At the time, I didn’t see my younger freshman self as a friend, but rather a small child who needed saving. While other girls were telling their younger selves to not worry so much about random hookups or poor grades in classes, all I felt compelled to do was give my younger self one incredibly large hug and whisper:
I know you’ve endured so much in the last 18 years with your Mom being sick and you feeling responsible for your parents’ happiness, and yet somehow you’ve kept a smile on through it all. It’s okay, my love. I’m here now. You can let all the pain go. I’ll carry it for you so you can go on and become who you’re destined to be.
Yes, for so long, I’ve tried to be my own savior. What I didn’t see then, in my senior year of college, was that my efforts to save my younger self and hold all of her pain depleted me, leaving only so much strength to navigate through the present moment with my present self.
Meet Wonder Woman, Elizabeth, traveling to the past to save her younger self from trauma and pain.
It’s a pretty beautiful sentiment until you realize you’re trying to save the part of you that already got through the darkness—the you who buried your mother when you were twenty two years old and somehow still managed to get up and fight for your life, slowly uncovering the meaning behind all the suffering.
As I sat on the floor tonight looking for Shavasana, I realized, I don’t need to save that girl; I need to be friends with her. I need to love her. I need to go on adventures with her. I need to ask her how she’s doing every day, and tell her how I’m doing, too. I need to validate her when she needs to vent, and cry with her when she needs to cry, and celebrate with her when she needs to celebrate. I need to help her mix the egg into the batter when she’s making brownies. I need to stay up with her through the sleepless nights. I need to remind her that she’s never alone. I need to admit to her that I don’t have all the answers, but I have all the time in the world to explore the questions with her. I need to take her hand, look her in the eye, and ever so gently say:
Walk through this with me, walk through this with me.