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Jan 24, 2017 12:07PM

Learn to love yourself: That’s where all love begins

By Annie L. Scholl
Recently I had a long talk with a relative I love — a boy on the edge of manhood. Just days shy of his 13th birthday, he was wondering what we have all wondered at some point in time: Will anyone ever love me?

Immediately I showered him with "of course," and told him how this person and that person in the family didn't fall in love until they were in their 20s. He seemed surprised, in a good way, but I'm certain most of what I said wasn't at all helpful.

After that conversation, I thought back to my 13-year-old self. I was in love with a boy then — a boy I was certain I would marry one day. But he wanted sex and I didn't (well, I wouldn't), and so we broke up. I remember sitting on my bedroom floor crying and listening to my Bread album over and over and over while looking at photos of the two of us.

I didn't think I'd survive that break up — or the next, or the next. But with each crack of the heart, I learned something about myself: I wasn't willing to do something for someone else just so they would love me.

But it's taken nearly five decades and the end of two marriages for me to realize something else about love: It's an inside job. We have to love ourselves before we can fully, deeply love another.
We have to be happy within ourselves before we can find happiness with another.

No one — no one — will ever complete us.

When I was growing up, my father would buy my mother expensive gifts on Valentine's Day, her birthday, Christmas — jewelry, coats, chocolates. Each one came with a beautiful card. I watched my mother open those gifts and read those cards, but nothing she received could fill the hole she had inside.

My dad couldn't. Gifts couldn't. Vodka couldn't. I couldn't. No one could.

My mom, I'm certain, never fully loved herself, so no matter how much love was directed at her — in the form of a kiss, a hug, a word, a gift — she never felt she was loved.

Sure, I hope my 13-year-old loved one finds love one day, but mostly what I want for him is to fully, deeply, completely love himself.

I want that for all of us.

This Valentine's Day, instead of (or in addition to) finding that perfect gift for someone else, I hope you'll consider turning some of that love on yourself. Here are just a few ideas:

• Write yourself a love letter. Tell yourself what you love about yourself. Send it in the mail. Open it when you really, really need to know what's so great about you.

• Heal your deep wounds. That's the greatest gift we can give ourselves — and ultimately another. Make an appointment with a therapist, a spiritual adviser — someone who can help you mend.

• Enjoy your own company. Go on a trip by yourself. Take a journal. Write. Reflect. Turn the cellphone off. Stay off of social media. Be fully present with you.

• Look in the mirror. Take a good long look. Look right into your eyes and say: I love you. Say it until you mean it. Say it as if you mean it. Scan your body. Find love for the parts you hate.

• Get a massage. Ring out all of the stress. Leave it all on the massage table.

• Take a day off. Don't spend it with anyone else; don't use it to run errands; don't paint that spare bedroom or clean out that closet. Spend it doing something you love — alone.

• Do forgiveness work. One book that helped me tremendously in this department was "Radical Forgiveness," by Colin Tipping. Find some way to forgive — yourself or others.

• Mind your thoughts. How often do you beat up on yourself? Call yourself an idiot? Criticize your body? Pay attention to your thoughts, and change those negative ones into positive ones.

• Tend to your body. Do whatever you need to do to be healthier. Take yourself on a walk, eat a piece of fruit, drink more water.

• Be kind to yourself, whatever that looks or sounds like to you. Treat yourself like you'd treat someone you love.

I surely don't have love all figured out. What I know for sure, though, is it starts right here with me.
Happy Valentine's Day.
Annie L. Scholl is a frequent Radish contributor.

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