The Love Doctor
One of the biggest struggles that I have faced over the past 5 years has been learning to love myself again. By loving myself, I mean wholeheartedly believing that I am the beautiful, smart and able woman that I was created to be.
As I made my way through middle school and high school, I began really struggling with confidence. I remember being at dance, looking in the mirror and comparing myself to the girls around me. Some tall and lean, some shorter with dense muscles; we were all different, each made in our own unique way. I would sit and wish that I was taller or that the arches of my feet were deeper, or that I was ‘more like the other girls’. What I wasn’t seeing was the powerhouse of a body that worked for me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; the countless muscles that I used each day during dance class, the growing brain that helped me earn exceptional grades in my classes, and the strong heart that kept me alive day after day.
My confidence and self-love only grew smaller over time, being teased about my “thick legs” and “muscular hips”. I remember being at a pool party in high school; girls were talking about the places on their body that ‘held the most fat’ and someone next to me poked at certain spots around my bathing suit. I had never considered myself as even slightly overweight, but suddenly I began seeing imperfections that I had never noticed. My insecurities formed over a matter of minutes, and I couldn’t help but think what it would be like to make them go away. Fortunately at the time, I still had an ounce of self-confidence holding me together; but when those insecurities and unbearable sadness built up, the love I had for myself seemed to disappear altogether. My insecurities turned to depression; depression turned to self-harm. Self-harm turned to unbreakable habits, and habits turned to obsessions. A girl who was once as confident and happy as ever was now a girl who couldn’t stand to look in the mirror.
During recovery from an eating disorder, confidence is one of the hardest things to gain back. I had reached a point in my journey where I cared enough about myself to get better, but I wasn’t necessarily loving what it felt like to be “healthy” again. Luckily, I had a great support system through this tough time. They complimented me on my figure and constantly reminded me how far I had come. I found my real friends during this time, and they found a way to make me feel beautiful again. This new confidence wavered from day to day, but it was growing and that was all that really mattered.
Unfortunately, when things were finally looking up, life knocked me right back down again. After a week away at camp, I was so excited to get home and tell my family all about my amazing experience. I punched in the garage code and barged through the back entrance to find an empty house. A doorway once filled with shoes and backpacks was empty; the echoes of my sisters’ music in the basement and my brothers’ giggles were non-existent. I felt a knot form in my stomach instantly, and I knew that something had happened. Before I had left, my parents were fighting more than usual, and it was a little more serious than what I had experienced when I was sick. I had put a lot of stress on my entire family during that time, and especially on my parents. When my dad stopped showing up to parent meetings with my doctors, I had just assumed he was working. Little did I know, I was being sheltered from a lot more pain and dysfunction than I could have imagined. I walked into my empty house that day to find out that my mom had left my dad. She had packed up her stuff, along with my younger siblings’ and had told my dad that she was done.
It felt like my world was falling apart all over again. How could this happen to our family? After twenty some years and eight children, how could this happen? They had always promised us that no matter what, they would never split up. Throughout the years, I watched as my friends’ parents separated, and I had always felt comfort in knowing that it would never happen to my family; but suddenly, my worst nightmare had become reality. I took so much blame upon myself. Maybe if I hadn’t gotten sick, then they wouldn’t have fought so hard. If my medical bills wouldn’t have been piling up for the past 6 months, maybe there wouldn’t have been anything to fight about. Maybe if my mom hadn’t spent so much time at the hospital, they could have been together to figure things out. The possibilities haunted my mind. How could I be happy in a broken family, especially knowing it was my fault?
The divorce was messy; it seemed like my dad was fighting for everything; the money, the house, the cars. He was fighting for everything, except for the one thing that really mattered: our family. It was only a matter of months before the visits stopped; the texts and phone calls went from few to non-existent. No more ‘call me’ or I love you’s. Nothing. Was it really all that easy to just pick up and leave? Was I not worth fighting for? Was he ashamed of me? Was I not good enough to be loved by him? How could I love myself when my own father didn’t even love me? And how could any other man want to love me when the man who had brought me into this world didn’t even bother to care? My mother was beautiful, smart, caring; she gave her all to him and he still couldn’t love her. I was a 16 year old girl; a mentally-ill, weak, confused and hopeless little girl. Why would my dad, or any other guy ever want to love me? I told myself that this was my life and this is how it’s going to be. The never-ending questions would remain unanswered; because when my dad decided to quit being a father, I had to decide to quit fighting for his love and attention.
I hated him for leaving me, but I hated myself more. In my eyes, it was his way of showing me that I wasn’t worth it. After my dad left my life, I not only struggled loving myself, but I also struggled allowing others to love me. I didn’t feel worthy of love. I no longer sought out friendships with new people, because I figured they wouldn’t care enough to make it last. I fell into relationships that never worked out, but I realized later that it was because I wouldn’t allow them to. I would listen to people’s words, but I would never truly accept them. I couldn’t accept the fact that I was worthy of my own love, let alone someone else’s.
It was hard; and I mean that it was really hard. It was hard going to prom, watching all the girls take pictures with their dad when mine was nowhere to be found. It was hard graduating high school, walking across that stage and knowing my dad wouldn’t be there to tell me he was proud of me. It’s hard when people ask me “so what does your dad do?” and I don’t know how to answer, because I don’t even know the answer myself. It’s hard knowing that on my wedding day, my dad won’t be there beside me, walking me down the aisle. It’s hard knowing that he doesn’t know me; that he’ll never know my children/his grandchildren. It still is hard, even five years down the road. There are times when it feels like it will never get any easier, missing him on holidays or explaining to my niece and nephew that “Grandpa’s not here anymore”. It’s hard knowing that it can’t be hard for him, or it wouldn’t be this way.
Sometimes it’s hard remembering that it’s not my fault. That despite all of the pain and hurt that this situation has brought into my life, it’s not my fault. He chose to do this, but I get to choose what I do with it. I get to choose how I live my life; I get to choose to love myself, even though my dad couldn’t. What keeps me going is knowing that even though my dad’s not here, someday I’m going to walk down the aisle in a beautiful white dress, and I will be greeted by a wonderful man who loves me despite all of this. My kids will enjoy the endless love from my husband’s parents, their Grandma Dawn, their 14+ aunties & uncles, and countless cousins. Knowing that God is the only Father that I need in my life, and that He loves me more than my dad ever could.
I can believe wholeheartedly that I am beautiful and smart and that I can be empowered and excited for life because I deserve it. I deserve to love myself for the person that I am and be confident in my own skin. I can embrace my ‘thick legs and hips’ because I was fearfully and wonderfully made that way. I can be confident in knowing that I have overcome some of the biggest challenges in my life, and now I’m here to tell the story.
Ultimately, the lesson that I have learned is that you have to love yourself, in order to allow others to truly love you (and also that 99.9% of the time, you can’t choose people’s paths in life..so you have to stop trying to). It’s a lot easier said than done; but at the end of the day, it’s no one else’s choice but yours. Love yourself, because why wouldn’t you? Out of the 7.1259 billion people in the world, there is not a single one that is exactly like you; and if you ask me, that’s pretty cool. As one of my very favorite artists Demi Lovato says, “What’s wrong with being confident?” And the answer is nothing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being confident. The only person that’s doing something wrong is the person that says there is.
Be Brave. I double dog dare you 😉