Love hurts. Love also makes the world go round. So which is true? The answer is both. And so much more. Love, actually, is not only all around, it’s also within us.
I recently was granted the opportunity to revisit the love I used to feel for someone special in my life. It had been 8 years since we last saw each other, and I hadn’t given him much thought for many years. We were together only for a few months, and after that we were on-and-off friends-with-benefits until he moved back overseas in 2015. We fell apart as a couple because we were both, well, pretty messed up. At the time I blamed it all on him, but soon afterwards it started to dawn on me that I had a little something to do with it as well. The relationship that we maintained until 2015 was incredibly confusing and often painful to me, and it wasn’t until he left that I started to address my role.
Growing up I was loved, but rarely seen and understood by my parents. Until the age of 13 I was constantly bullied and teased by other kids, and I never really quite fitted in. I searched – desperately – for ways to be seen, to belong, to have my worth confirmed, by others, especially men. As I entered my teenage years, and right throughout my twenties and thirties, my self-worth was linked to whether a man wanted to be with me or not. Sex was love, and love was sex. Even though I was the picture of independence and confidence on the outside, not having someone giving me physical love (attention, touch, sex) confirmed I was unlovable. Needless to say, I never found any self-worth that way, none at all. Instead, I felt helpless, angry and alone, and needy, oh so needy. I despised myself.
When I was left alone – once again – in 2015, the pain I felt was almost comfortable. Almost. That comfort, somehow, scared me so much that amongst all the negative self-talk and self-pity a voice – my voice? – managed to cut through: “Enough. No more. Take control”. And so I got to work.
It took me almost 5 years to start becoming the me I wanted to be. The me I was meant to be. The first decision I made was to prioritise me, and not get romantically involved with anyone. It was painstakingly difficult to change, and the baby steps I took were so unnoticeable it sometimes felt as if I was going backwards, which I probably did. I plodded along. I quit smoking, I stopped partying (which stopped the excessive drinking), read any personal development book I could get my hands on, listened to CD’s, attended seminars, and looked for people who inspired me. In 2018 I moved away from the town I had lived in for nearly 18 years and went vegan overnight. It wasn’t easy to leave everyone I knew and loved behind again (in 2000, at the age of 26, I left the Netherlands to live in South Africa), but I had to move forward and towards the life I wanted. The hardest thing to change was the dialogue I was having with myself. I had to learn to be mindful of every negative thought and perception I had of myself, gently correct course, and treat myself as if I was my best friend. For the first time in over 40 years I started to feel what it was like to be my friend, and honestly, it felt good. It was a point of no return.
Fast forward 8 years. Someone I loved as the “old me” contacts me and asks if he can come and visit. I am curious, about him of course, but also how seeing him again would affect me. What happened took me by surprise. I was not expecting to find that the connection and affection we had was still very much there, as if no time had passed. Old frustrations resurfaced as well, but with some conscious coaching I focused on gratitude and kept my grace. When we said goodbye I felt a bit sad of course, but I was also incredibly grateful – I had reconnected with someone who still mattered to me, I had done well and learned so much! My heart was no longer a prison – to him, and to myself. You see, when you need someone else’s love or affection to fill you up, to make you feel worthy, your heart is a dead-end. You desperately cling to that love, you will do anything to keep it there, because without it, you are nothing. So you hold that love hostage, and deprived of light and oxygen, it dies. But when self-love fills you up, when you feel “wholehearted”, your heart becomes a conduit, a channel through which someone else’s love can flow freely. I picture love like a river – it chooses the path of least resistance, it is sensitive to toxins and it’s only ever clear and healthy when it flows. I like love that way. By letting go of the need to control other people’s love, I have become wholehearted.
So here’s to love. We know that without love there is no passion, no pleasure, no hope. Love can also bring pain, of course. Love and pain are two sides of the same coin. Losing a loved one – to illness and death – can feel overwhelmingly painful. But like love, pain is meant to flow, not to be kept still in our hearts, where it will fester and cause bitterness. The secret to wholehearted living is to find your own source of love and self-worth within yourself and to set the love of others free, let it go, let it flow. Set yourself free.
Life is so much more beautiful that way …….and you will find that love, actually, truly is everywhere.