Let’s kick this off with a classic cliche – practice makes perfect. I have practiced loving others, relentlessly, and I have loved a lot of people. That quantity may be subjective, but I know the amount of myself I’ve poured into others over the years. The thing about practicing this over, and over, and over again, is that yes, I am very good at loving others, but I’ve never continuously practiced self-love.
Throughout several of my relationships over the years, I have taken on the emotions and energies of my partner. I guess I have a type – emotionally inept. I’ve been the crutch, I’ve shown them endless love and thought that in their actions, I was receiving the same back. Let’s take Ace, for example. Ace and I met a few years back, when he came into the bar I was working at three nights in a row. Every night he sat in my section, and on his last night in town, asked me to breakfast the next day, before he went back to LA. I gave him my number and never went. For six months, he was trying to connect with me, I was in and out of late nights and blurred faces so I did not care to make any sort of connection. Something changed, maybe I believed his persistence was a sign of adoration, and he came to Toronto to see me.
Fast forward over six months time, Ace was coming here every couple weeks, always staying with me for days. When we weren’t physically together, we were on FaceTime all day everyday. Seriously, I woke up to him, walked to work with him, spoke to him during my shifts, went to sleep to his face. Every day was him. I never felt the distance. We planned on me moving out to LA, and when he was here, he was all mine. Never checking out other women, always, always, always about me. He would spend money without batting an eye on gifts, we worked on shoots together, everything. I truly believed this to be love. Cut to, one day I’m at work and get a message from his girlfriend of three years, telling me he was arrested and she had his phone. I was shattered.
I was infinitely broken, and felt so stupid and used. I had fought my parents over this relationship, I welcomed this person into my life with open arms, showed him the city, took him out to meet all my friends. The worst part was he was calling me, begging me to speak to him, texting me, voice notes, and when I gave in (because why would I value myself over anyone else, right?) he denied everything.
I cried for days, I wanted to believe him. I even had my best friend call and talk to him because I just didn’t know what to believe. But I did. I knew in my heart that he wasn’t what he seemed. That he was a perfect representation of the life he sold in LA. I just couldn’t do what was best for me. I was incapable of choosing myself over him.
After Ace, I didn’t learn this lesson, because then came Steven. I started seeing Steven who was so odd, and strange, but in a way that made all of my weirdness seem normal. The issue with Steven was, he was a drug addict. Moreover, I was happily falling down the rabbit hole with him, hand in hand. Our connection was incredible, intense, and seemed so meaningful; when he spoke, all I heard was poetry. He had also recently experienced a bad relationship ending when we had found each other. We would stay up all night together, listen to music, share our writing, everything that Bohemian dreams are made of.
One night, during a party my friend had thrown, I overdosed and Steven found me on the floor. Instead of taking me home, or to a hospital, he placed me on a couch and went back out to continue having what we thought was fun in those days. I woke up awhile later, choking on my own spit and vomit. To be honest, the memory is foggy. What I do remember is the anger, the shame, the feeling of worthlessness. I was hurt, upset, and he saw nothing wrong with this. But I didn’t either, because of course, I couldn’t put myself before anyone. So I continued to date him.
I wish I could tell you that I learned after that, but I didn’t. It has taken me a very long while to realize that, you are what you love, not what loves you. I exited a relationship more recently in which I took on this person’s energies, and frustrations; I was an emotional punching bag. I’ve experienced several traumatizing events in my life, things I wish on no one, and I was never able to express these to him. Yes, I told him about them, but when I was having a bad day, or nightmares, or flashbacks, I was never allowed a space to share. I had to take care of him, his emotions, and mine were pushed aside.
These stories may seem extreme, you may be thinking they’re bad people, or perhaps I am, but they’re not – they are just them. I allowed them to act this way, I took on their emotions, their problems and shelved mine because, it is easier to care for someone than care for yourself. I have always wanted to save other people because I had (and still have) no idea how to save myself. I pick these people with similar traits as me, because I want a different ending to the story I’m afraid to write for myself. I’ve freely rented space within myself for other people’s energies and emotions because I cannot handle dealing with my own. Loving these broken beings felt like coming home. I just never realized I was coming home to an empty house.
But here’s the thing, when you are always caring for other people, you cannot care for yourself. When you backseat your emotions for the person you love, whether it is a friend, family, lover, you place aside your happiness. You are removing the honesty from your relationship by not being your whole, true self. You are not helping them because you have now become an enabler; they are incapable of facing their feelings, inner workings, and problems because you will do it for them. It is easier now for them to lash out at you, because you have accepted the role as the outlet. You have gone from partner, and equal, to object of abuse. If you have fallen down this way, it is difficult to learn how to stand up for yourself, I know, I’ve been there, but it is possible to get back up.
You hold all of the happiness you will ever need. I swear. Since detaching from someone, although heart-wrenching, day-by-day I’m doing the simple things to show myself I love myself. I am sober, I eat properly, I workout, I take my vitamins, I write every morning and make my bed. These little actions are how you communicate to your inner self that you care. They are massively important, even if you don’t notice the changes immediately. I am not telling you I have worked out this formula, or that this is the ultimate key, I can only tell you what has worked for me and my recovery.
You have to learn yourself to love yourself. Don’t be a stranger to your soul. Sit with yourself, express yourself, be honest. Confront your shame. Most importantly, forgive yourself. While practice makes perfect, you need to practice patience first.
I urge you to be gentle with yourself, because I know first-hand that no one else in this world will be.
Love yourself, it is the most important person you ever will.
*Names in this post have been changed to prevent these mans from getting butthurt over the truth. Except for Ace, because he can go fuck himself.