My birthday was on Monday, and to celebrate I thought I’d share some of the wisdom I’ve aquired over the past year on learning to love myself, being vulnerable around others and feeling comfortable in my skin.
1. It’s not what you do, it’s how you feel
I used to go out partying because I thought if I was a part of a big social gathering I would catch the feeling of having fun. But when I got sober, it took me two years to learn that the party was inside of me and drinking was how I felt vulnerable enough to release it. I had to learn to overcome my social anxiety so that I could have that feeling of vulnerability in a social setting again. After lots of therapy and internal work, I’m proud to say that I’m now able to go out drinking soda water and lime, feeling comfortable enough to work through my social anxiety to have fun not only in a social setting but to talk to strangers and make friends. I learned to become comfortable enough in my skin to feel good wherever I am, instead of expecting where I am to make me feel good. This doesn’t just go for social settings, but for working towards goals as well. It’s not what I do that will make me truly happy (how much success I have, how much money I make, etc.), it’s how I feel inside that matters.
2. You can’t avoid people hurting you
I’ve spent most of my life scared of people leaving, which created a lot of social anxiety and isolation in the past because I was terrified to open up and then lose them. I finally came to the realization this year that I feel my happiest when I’m connecting with others, and in order to do so I need to be vulnerable and accept the fact that people move in and out of your life. I like to think that if I get to know someone slowly and learn to trust them before I open up to them that there will be less of a chance to get hurt, but this hasn’t been my experience. No matter how independent I am and how much I come to trust someone, sometimes they end up leaving. And that’s just human nature. It doesn’t make me stupid for trusting them or them a bad person for hurting me, it makes us human, and neglecting that human connection for fear of getting hurt will only be more painful more in the long run. People come into your life for a reason and they give you lessons you’re supposed to learn while they’re in your life, so I’m learning to appreciate the time I have with them, and the gifts they gave me when they leave.
3. People want to support you more than you think
I used to think I could only rely on myself or my partner, so when my partner wasn’t around I poured myself into my work, worried constantly at night and felt generally overwhelmed because I felt so alone. But the more I started to reach out for support, the more I started to see that people care about me and it feels better to talk to others about what you’re going through than carry it yourself. When I went through a breakup recently, I thought that I was going to feel so isolated because my main support system was gone and I didn’t have intimacy with anyone else on that level. But actually, I discovered that the more I contacted people, even those I barely knew, the more people were willing to be there for me, and even open up to me about their own issues. Now I feel even happier than I did in my past relationship, because I have so many other forms of support than I thought I did.
4. No matter how much you love someone, your happiness needs to come first
As a woman conditioned in a society that tells me to take care of others, this has been a hard lesson to learn. When I love someone, whether they’re a partner or a friend, I often want to put their needs before mine. But what I’ve learned over the years is that no matter how much I love someone, I need to set boundaries so that I can take care of myself first. If I’m not getting what makes me happy, I can’t be there for anyone else because I’m just going to become resentful. This can be a hard decision when my needs are based around the person I’m trying to support, such as them treating me poorly while I’m trying to be understanding because they’re struggling. The bottom line is, though, if I’m feeling drained around someone because they’re not there for me in the way I’m there for them, I need to switch the focus to myself.
5. Role models are good for your self esteem
This year I started to build a mental list of role models that push me to be the person I want to become. These are women who aren’t fearless or perfect, but who freely admit that they’re scared and flawed and do what they want to do anyway because it makes them happy. I love women who are open and unapologetic about who they are, like Chelsea Handler, Elizabeth Gilbert, Glennon Doyle Melton and Cheryl Strayed. Watching Chelsea on Netflix, listening to Elizabeth’s podcast, Magic Lessons, reading Glennon’s book, Love Warrior, and sitting down with Cheryl’s movie, Wild, are all ways I feel empowered to be the woman I’m striving to be through hearing about the struggles and life lessons of women who have been where I’ve been. Not only do these women’s stories make me have hope for my future, but they make me feel good about who I am.
I hope these lessons on learning to love yourself are helpful. I feel so lucky to celebrate another birthday with all of you. If you’d like to send me a birthday present, please consider donating as little as a cup of coffee monthly to our Patreon so I can give back to the volunteers who spend their time and energy helping me run FLURT.