Occasionally I have a topic I want to write about and then another blogger or YouTuber I follow publishes something on the same topic. Though we might have different audiences and our views on the topic aren’t identical, I still automatically feels a bit like a copy-cat and ultimately hold off on publishing my post. Earlier this week I was thinking of a few of the blog posts I’ve postponed writing or publishing specifically because of this situation and I noticed a theme: My Self Love Journey. So I thought I’d roll a few of these things into one post.
Due to a few recent events (which I won’t go into detail about), I’d been reflecting a lot on the concepts of self love and self care. I’ve been going though my journals and looking at everything that has change in my life over the past 5 – 10 years. The different career circumstances I’ve been in, the different personal ones, and how I reacted and felt throughout all those life changes. And most of all, how different that is to my current situation (professionally and personally) and my current feelings and reactions to things that pop up in my life. The change in my natural reactions to everyday situation is probably the most significant change I’ve made in my life. Back when I was hating myself and feeling low in life, anytime something negative happened it felt like a personal attack. Everything felt more dramatic. My reactions were very emotionally driven. As I learned to love and take care of myself (and be happier), I stopped taking things personally. I roll with the ups and downs way easier and I can recognize how something makes me feel emotionally, without reacting to it in an overly emotional way.
It’d be easy to credit that to simply “growing up” but the reality is getting older in itself doesn’t make anyone act less like a child when things aren’t perfect. I know plenty of people my age or older who act like a spoiled, snotty children when they’re unhappy. This type of change takes work and thoughtfulness, though the passing of time can definitely help too.
My 30s have been all about learning to love myself—I’m going to be honest, it’s a big 180 flip from how I treated myself in my 20s. Between years of internalizing negative things that were callously said to me as a teenager, bad relationships, and just low self esteem, I became the meanest person in my life. My inner dialogue was unacceptably harsh—to the point where if I’d treated any of my friends the way I treated myself, I’d have zero friends. From roughly the age of 13 till about the time I was 31, 90 percent of what I said to myself were things like: “you’re not skinny enough,” “your head is too big for your body and your face looks fat and squishy,” “you’ll never be skinny enough,” “you’re utterly unlovable,” “no one likes you,” “you’re too screwed up to be loved,” “you’re not as smart or talented as you pretend,” “you’re a fraud and someday people will realize you suck and you’ll get fired,” and “you’re not good at anything.” For years I felt untouchably by mean girls and bullies because whatever awful things they came up with to say to try to hurt me, I’d already said worse. No one knows how to hurt me nearly as well as I do.
I’ve touched on how incredibly mean and hateful I use to be towards myself in past blogs, so I’m going to move on to the moment I realized my views towards myself was the biggest hurdle in my life towards being happy: My 30th birthday. My 30th birthday was a bit of flop. We’d had a huge snowstorm so many people couldn’t come, there were some people who came who I really didn’t want to be there, and I was trying to recreate my 25th birthday because it was one of the last birthdays that I’d really liked (never do this, it leads to disappointment). I’m not sure what moment of that night became the catalyst for self reflection, but something clicked. It would have been great if I’d woke up the next morning and said, “you know, it’s time to make some changes and tackle a few issues you’re obviously going through,” came up with an actionable plan, called my therapist and started working on self improvement. But I didn’t. I just kind of had the underline feeling when I woke up. It was in my head but I put off dealing with it for about 6/7 months.
I got the idea from a few YouTubers who had done 100 Day Sober challenges earlier in the year and the more I thought on it, the more it sounded like a really good idea. I’m not saying everyone needs to go sober or alcohol caused my negative feelings towards myself but it did let me 1) more easily ignore things I knew I needed to fix and 2) let me really wallow in my unhappiness. I also felt like when I was drinking more, I wasn’t often surrounding myself with the best people for helping me grow and accomplish my life goals. (You can read all about my 100 days sober project here.) Being sober forced me to deal with things I’d put off, it made me more clear headed, and gave me time to get some much needed perspective on what I want to be doing in life.
One really important thing happened when I went sober for those 100 days. I started recognizing my inner voice and realized how horrible it was. A little after I completed the first month of the challenge, I had a night where I felt real low and my inner dialogue got real mean. But for the first time in over a decade, instead of accepting the mean things I was saying to myself–I got angry about it. I wouldn’t accept a friend talking to me like that, why am I accepting myself talking to me like that? And then I started actively working on changing the things that I said to myself. I wrote goals and positive things to say to myself all over my bedroom. I have a set of pens for writing on glass and my mirrors and all my bedroom windows are full of dorky, positive, loving things that I see, read, and started telling myself every day. And it sounds incredibly sappy, but it worked. I started hating myself a little less as the days pasted. It started seeping into other aspects of my life.
Now days I do drink alcohol again, but not often. I might have a drink once a week and I hardly every go out to the bars. I haven’t gone to happy hour in so long, I’m not 100 percent sure the last time I did. I feel really good about it. Mentally and physically, I just feel really good when I’m not drinking much. Recognizing how good I feel when I’m not drinking, and then only drinking occasionally is a pretty big lifestyle change from my youth, and one of the corner stones of my self care philosophy: stop doing things that make you feel like shit. I also still write positive phrases (I don’t like the term affirmations) on my windows and mirrors. I’ve started picking a “word of the year” (this year is believe). And I’ve added in habits that actively make me feel good.
These are lifestyle changes I made that keep me feeling healthy mentally and physically (except the running isn’t really a change; I’ve been a big runner for many years). It’s my personal check list to make sure I’m taking care of myself. Keeping myself healthy makes me feel loved and happy. It’s annoyingly simple and idiotic that it took me ’till my 30s to realize that I wasn’t living a lifestyle conducive for my own health and happiness, but my old life was definitely feeding into my own personal negativity.
One of the hardest aspects of the changes I’ve made is navigating my new lifestyle and my old social circle. There are a few sayings that I read this week that really hit home for me about this very thing. First, “Friends are about quality, not quantity.” I fall somewhere between the lines of extrovert and introvert. I love having a small group of quality people in my life, instead of trying to maintain relationships with acquaintances just so I feel like I have a large social group or loads of people who think I’m great. I feel shitty about friendships where it feels like I’m the person always initiating hanging out. So I’ve let those friendships die off. Second, “We all have growing to do and the people in your life are either people you grow with or outgrow.” It feels so incredible harsh to say out loud, but as I’ve made changes in my life to love myself more and live healthier, I’ve faded out people in my life who I no longer have much in common with. Sometimes you just outgrow people. I’m thankful everyday for the small group of super amazing people I’ve surrounded myself with. My friends, my boyfriend, and my family are some of the most supportive people in the world and they make taking care of myself and practicing self love a little easier.
In my 20s, I was my biggest super villain. In my 30s, I became my own superhero.
GRETCHEN IS A WRITER-BASED IN PORTLAND, ORE. SHE GOT HER START AS A JOURNALIST WORKING ON THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND RESTAURANT BEAT BEFORE MOVING INTO COPYWRITING AND ADVERTISING WORK. SHE CURRENTLY BLOGS AND WORKS AS A FREELANCE WRITER.