By Cynthia Toussaint.
One of my all-time favorite and most healing self-care tools is something I’m fortunate to have always possessed but learned about only recently. In fact, I never knew it had a name.
I practice mindfulness meditation most every day and a couple of months ago I pulled up a random video on YouTube. The guide’s subject was “self-love” which, because it seemed obvious, intrigued me. My thinking was, “How can someone not love themself? Why is this something that needs to be learned and practiced?”
So, naturally, I began practicing and now I’m hooked. Through practice, I’ve learned to love myself better which in turn allows me to take deeper care of myself and enjoy ever-mounting wellness. Hey, pain can really do a nasty number on us and it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of self-contempt. We battle so many demons each and every day. One of them shouldn’t be ourselves.
We need to be our own best friend, no matter how much physical pain we’re in or how isolated, anxious or depressed we feel. Let’s face it, self-loathing just makes us sicker. The good news is that if we’re strong and brave enough, we can all do better with self-love. I know because I’m on my way.
Through self-love meditation tapes, I’m learning boatloads – and am convinced that we can all benefit. I’m talking about things like truly loving our authentic-selves, unconditionally, inside and out. That means loving our good traits as well as what we consider the bad ones. Loving ourselves for what we’ve achieved and what we haven’t yet, while letting go of unrealistic expectations. Also letting go of judgment of ourselves and others. OK, this is tough stuff, but I’ve learned over the years that women in pain are pretty tough customers!
Another biggie is taking a close look at our inner dialogue. There’s constant chatter inside our heads – and what we say is powerful and we come to believe it. The problem is that many, if not most of us with pain, are in a constant state of tearing ourselves down. We need to flip that negativity on its head and with practice, build a positive inner dialogue. One that gives us health and well-being.
Another self-love top of the list item is practicing gratitude. At night, no matter how hard the day, I like to say five new things that I’m grateful for – and I’m amazed at how that list often doubles, even triples. The items can be as seemingly insignificant as having felt the sun on my face for a brief moment or hearing my kitty purr when I woke. These moments are gold and I no longer take them for granted.
Perhaps most difficult is practicing gratitude for our bodies despite the pain. I find it miraculous to think about all my body does well every day, every moment, without me even being aware of it. We can fall into the trap of shaping our identity as well as our body experience around our pain and the suffering it causes. In the past, I’ve been guilty as sin of flat-out forgetting that my body could actually bring me pleasure because there seemed to be nothing but pain in my world. Now it’s different.
We’ve all heard this next one a million times, but I never really listened till I practiced self-love. We give it lip service, but do we really understand that it’s impossible to love someone else without loving ourselves first? And for our caregiving friends, I believe it’s impossible to help another without first helping yourself. I’ve had the most loving and giving partner for 38 years (only two with wellness) – and I know without a speck of doubt that I wouldn’t have that devotion without possessing a strong foundation of self-love.
It’s important for me to remember that what I put out into the world will be, by and large, returned. I welcome my day with a smile. I’m kind and truly like to help people, animals and the planet. In fact, I’m known for my bubbly good nature. Despite that, often when someone hears my chronic illness story they’re stunned and remind me that I have nothing to smile about. Clearly they haven’t gotten the memo that self-love is transcendent and carries the day.
On a dark note, suicide is something I grappled with for several decades. Forever it seemed I was certain that’s how I would finally escape my pain and agony. But I’ve never acted on that notion. Why? Only one thing has ever made sense to me. I love and respect myself too much.
Eating well, exercising and laughing are included on my action list of self-love. In our inner world of pain, not to mention the bigger current climate of disconnect and unkindness, it’s nothing short of revolutionary to love ourselves. The damnedest thing, though, is that we can.
Do it. Right now. Love the one you’re with.
Cynthia Toussaint founded For Grace in 2002. It is a non-profit organization headquartered in Los Angeles dedicated to bringing awareness to gender disparity in the treatment of pain. She is also a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.
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