Trigger warning: Mention of rape, sexual assault.
By Sarah Noelle
Over the last year, something very strange has started to happen to me. Something that’s been missing from my life for a very long time has begun to rear its beautiful head:
I’ve started to re-love myself.
Now, I know this may sound strange to some. Um, you stopped loving yourself? Why the h-e-double hockey sticks would you go & do something like that? Did something happen to cause it? What changed it back? TELL US!! Trust, I have asked myself all of these questions & many more over the last 17 years.
When I was 17, I had a very serious boyfriend. I was head over heels for this boyfriend. I gave myself fully to this boyfriend, knowing full well of the promise I’d made to my future husband to wait for whoever he was. And when, through some life circumstances, said boyfriend & I ended up having to part ways in August of that year, I was wrecked. But, I slowly picked up the pieces of my heart, went to summer camp for a month, sought God, began to heal my broken heart, & prepared for my senior year of high school. I decided that I was going to save myself for the man I was meant to be with from then on out. I had lost my first real love & wanted to now focus on me, & eventually finding my Unicorn one day that I was waiting for again. By October, everything changed.
You see, I was raped by a close friend that I had known for a few years. Someone I trusted. Someone I thought would never hurt me. And in that one brief encounter, in a matter of moments, my whole view of myself, & the world around me, shattered, altered, & shifted. I told myself it was my fault. I had brought this on myself. I had somehow put out there that I was free for the taking. Given some sort of vibe that this was okay. That if someone I trusted, someone I cared for, someone I thought respected me could do that to me, maybe I really wasn’t worth any more than that. That maybe that is how men were meant to see me, how I was supposed to be viewed. An object. A means to an end. An empty vessel to be used. If one of my best friends couldn’t honor my body, why should I bother honoring it myself anymore. And this uncontrollable beast who craved control was unleashed. I didn’t tell anyone, I couldn’t. I thought I had caused it. So, instead of reaching out, getting help, or not believing the lies running rampant through my head & heart, I just stopped loving myself.
I stopped caring what happened to me. I started acting like I was invincible & that nothing could hurt me, damage me, or break me, all the while I was hurt, I was damaged, & I was broken…but wearing a masked smile so no one was the wiser.— Sarah Noelle
I stopped loving myself at just under a month shy of 18 years old.
And no matter what I said, or did, or acted like to the contrary, I remember distinct conversations with myself in the mirror over the years, berating everything from my clothes to my body to my sexuality to my character to my incapability of being loved to my unworthiness & not enoughness. I called myself all the things that I had heard other people call me. I believed them, clung to the words, almost like a prize. If people were going to think a certain way about me, I was bound & determined to live up to it. I just stopped caring. Slowly, little by little, I became emptier & emptier. I focused more on pleasing others than myself, I let myself go, I whittled myself down, I put everyone else’s needs above my own, put myself in situations where I should never have been, & did things I never thought I would do. All in the name of not loving myself enough to just say no.Tobelieve within myself that it didn’t have to be this way.
I couldn’t believe that anyone would ever think anything about me besides the negatives. In the three years of not telling anyone about the rape, I got pregnant by two different guys & placed two beautiful children into the arms of their meant-to-be parents together 19 months apart. I was dead inside. There was no love left for myself. I had squandered it on one night stands, meaningless exchanges, heart wrenching circumstances, all in the name of trying to fill the holes in my heart & soul that would & could not be filled by my damaging decisions.
I wallowed in unlove for myself for a very long time. Much longer than I logically should have been able to handle. I am truly surprised now, when I look back at it all, how I actually survived some of it. It was some of the darkest hours of my life for over a decade of my life. About 2 years ago, I came to the end of my rope. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had become so empty, so exhausted, so out of sorts, I didn’t have any idea who I was, what I needed or wanted from my life, let alone how to go about starting to actually care about myself again, if at all. I reached out to a family friend who is a mental health professional to seek out someone I could talk to & he connected me to the woman who would set me back on the path to where I am now.
It didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t even happen in a year. It took work, & pain, lots of talking & tears, hashing out & reflecting, changing & coming to terms. Then actually looking at myself in the mirror, having to redirect or correct my thought patterns when the usual lies started coming up in my mind. And they haven’t completely stopped, I have just become so much more aware of them & have started to turn them positively instead of negatively & allow myself the space to call myself out on them & be okay, not wallow or get sucked back into them. It is a daily choice to choose happy, to choose to fight FOR myself instead of against myself.
It’s been a long, hard, difficult road. An uphill battle. But I have shown up. Even though, for the first bit, I still didn’t think I deserved to feel better about myself, I still showed up. I still put in the work, no matter how much it hurt or felt wrong. In some ways, I truly did fake it till I made it. I had to often force myself to be nice to myself. It felt strange, it still does sometimes. It’s a whole new set of skills that I have to relearn whilst unlearning all of the damaging things & patterns & sabotaging moves that had filled my head & heart for so long.
Getting back to a healthy place inside myself has been worth all of the work & then some.
Do I still struggle? Absolutely!
I have discovered though that it is okay to not be okay all the time. That the right people will love you just as you are, even when you don’t fully love yourself, & can’t totally comprehend someone loving you just as you are…especially yourself. But the most important thing I learned is something I heard a million times & never really got until about this last 6 months. I was always told that I could never fully love anyone else until I loved myself first. I would always laugh at that saying I was the exception to the rule, that that was just too selfish to me & that loving someone in spite of not loving yourself WAS true love; that I had plenty of enough love to give others without getting any on myself.
SPOILER ALERT: I really couldn’t fully love anyone else till I found love for myself again. And now that I’ve found that love again and it is growing exponentially every day (no matter how weird it feels sometimes!), I know now that the love I was offering was not my best because I was not my best. Therefore, I chose people who were not best for me because I think in some way I thought that if they were incapable of loving me that gave me license to follow suit & continue to not love myself.
Today, I challenge you to stand in front of a mirror & tell yourself, “I love you!” and actually mean it. If you can’t muster the ability to mean it just yet, know that even in your darkest of hours, when love seems like the furthest thing from your mind, know you are loved. No matter what, or by whom, or when, or how, or in what capacity: YOU ARE LOVED. Loving myself felt so wrong for so long but I am proof that you can learn to love yourself again despite all the odds stacked against you.
Follow Sarah Noelle (aka Sunshine) here www.sunshine-in-a-bottle.com or on IG, FB, Twitter at @sunshinebottle.
*this originally appeared on The Big Tough Girl Blog.