Learning To Be My Own Cheerleader
I’m in my therapist’s office, crying. My birthday is on Thursday and I’m having body image issues.
I could have easily said, “It’s Monday, and I’m having body image issues.”
My therapist asks: “What is this really about?”
At my core: fear of abandonment; I don’t know how to love someone without being terrified of losing them.
When I was younger, I learned that cuteness was currency. I was adored, in my little fur coat and curls. Over the years, I saw my value only in how others saw me: “Aren’t you a little doll!” “Sit there and look pretty.”
I once said to a suitor, “I don’t want to like you.” I was noncommittal; whenever we’d hang out, I’d think, I’m probably not going to see them again. I held on to myself, dismissing any fears of abandonment because I told myself I didn’t care that much.
Now I do like him; now, there’s something to lose. As with most children who grew up believing love is conditional, I’ve resorted to self-destructive criticism. When my insecurities are spoon-feeding me lies for breakfast, I worry about all the things that are out of my control. Which is to say, everything — except my own reactions, compromised by my lack of self-care.
Insecurity, my inability to accept the things that are out of my control — these things eat away at everything the other person loved about me, until neither of us recognizes me. And then it’s over.
I find myself standing on my own, with the ground shaking underneath, as I learn to be my own cheerleader. It’s terrifying ... even more so when I’m questioning who I am. I want someone to tell me who I am and what I’m good at so I can be that girl. I stare down my to-do list and feel overwhelmed. When did I learn, and subsequently unlearn, what the next right thing is that I’m supposed to do?
I look everywhere for an answer to that question. Is it, be like this person or that, take up this activity, spend more time or less time with this person, buy this thing or that thing, wear this, don’t eat that — actually, don’t eat anything. Go for a walk, or better yet, a quick three-miler.
I look in the mirror and try to see past the fact that I feel less than the sum of my parts. I listen to the story this body is telling — the story of birthing a precious baby girl, of supporting the weight of the world until it literally broke my back and required surgery.
My dandelion tattoo reminding me to make wishes, and my runner girl tattoo, a symbol of perseverance. The bow, delicately inked onto my ring finger, whispering, love yourself first.
Laugh lines from stories shared over cocktails, tan lines from pool days and beach days with loved ones. This body has given love and received love, and has, through abundant patience, miles and swearing, gone from a size 14 to a 6.
Arms that have held my child as she sleeps. Hands that have stroked the hair of my dearest friends as they’ve shared their grief, and high-fived those same friends in triumph. This body shows up for me, and I have a responsibility to protect it, even from myself and my critical eye.
Love myself first. My whole self, not just the parts I feel like nurturing. Each time I speak harshly to myself, I’m letting me down. I’d never talk to anyone else that way, and whether I feel like I’m worthy of self-kindness or not, my criticism has a cost. The insecurities I’ve developed. The helplessness my friends feel when I’m so deep inside my own head I can’t see myself the way they do.
This self-harm has rippled out, and hurt others. But maybe that means self-love can spread just as easily, and if I start treating myself with more kindness, so too will the people I value most in the world.
So I’m making a deal to be kinder, gentler, more appreciative and more affirming of myself, and I invite all the amazing people in my life to call me out when a harsh word accidentally slips out. There is enough hate in the world already without me adding to it by turning on myself.