“You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.”
I can’t be the only one who hears/sees this everywhere, right? And every time I see it, I hate it even more.
I don’t love myself. I never have, and I’m fairly doubtful that I ever will. Deep down, I believe I’m a bad person, ugly, broken, fucked-up, unlovable, worthless. I believe that because that’s what I was taught, explicitly and implicitly. My parents abused me. Other kids bullied me, and the teachers never lifted a hand to stop it. I was physically and sexually assaulted in a psychiatric hospital. I’m disabled, and I live in poverty because my government doesn’t think I’m worth spending money on since I can’t work. From every direction, I’ve been told that I’m worthless, that I deserve to be hated and mistreated. So it’s natural that I would internalize those beliefs. How could I not? I’ve always been a quick learner, so I learned very well that I deserve to be hated instead of loved.
But that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of loving anyone else. It doesn’t make my love meaningless or invalid or broken. My love is just as good as anyone else’s.
I love my sisters more than anything else in the world, and I would do anything for them. As a child, I did everything I could to keep them safe from our parents, but I didn’t understand then that it wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t keep our parents from abusing them. As we grew up, our relationships became somewhat distant because we couldn’t talk about the traumas we shared; we couldn’t face them on our own, let alone together. As adults, we still don’t talk about what happened, but we’ve gotten much closer.
When I went down to Alabama for my sister’s wedding in August, the three of us got matching tattoos: a triquetra, an ancient Celtic symbol representing a trinity. (It was adopted by Christians but predates the Christianization of western Europe.) Around the three sides of the triquetra are our three names. I live more than a thousand miles away from them, but it doesn’t matter because love can span the distance. (God, that sounds like a bad love poem. Begging your pardon.)
There are other people I love too, friends who are my family of choice. I’m spending Thanksgiving with a dear friend and her family. When I was in the trauma unit in Baltimore, another dear friend called and came to visit. Other friends called me, kept me sane, sent me letters and packages. I collect hippos, and almost all of them are gifts from friends. I knit things for them–rainbow socks with flaps for my friend in Michigan, a sweater for a friend’s baby in New York, a Christmas stocking for a friend in New Jersey who’s about to have her first grandchild. Each piece means hours of work, but it makes me feel closer to people because I can hold them in mind with each stitch.
Conventional wisdom would discard all that. It would say that, because I still hate myself, I can’t really love any of these people. I suppose I only think I do, but it’s really about being selfish or meeting my own needs or something…I’ve never actually heard a clear explanation.
Well, I call bullshit.
A lot of people don’t love themselves, particularly those of us who have been abused or neglected. But to say we can’t love anyone–that makes us less than human. That’s crap. My love is as real and significant and meaningful as anyone else’s.