I was 19 when my first long-term relationship began. It started at the end of my first year at college and ended during the end of my final semester. During those two years, my personal relationship with myself was constantly fluctuating — a lot like my weight. I was incredibly naive in my relationship; I believed that things, as messy as they could get, would work out if two people really wanted it to work.
It’s important for me to say that this relationship in particular didn’t make me feel less about myself. Nothing was said or implied that made me feel unworthy or begin to feel uncomfortable with the way I looked. Dependency did that. Needing another person did that. Not feeling like I could be myself did that. I was in control, but I began to not know any different. I was scared of what life would be like without this person, so when they disappeared and quickly was with another, I looked inward and began to blame myself and how I wasn’t enough, inside and out.
After we broke up, like in every ending to any story, I felt horrible. I ran away and shut the door and retreated. I did what I thought would be good for me; I went to class, I made myself up, I put on party dresses, I went out with friends. But a lot of it felt empty. I felt empty and I hated myself for allowing another person to carve out my soul and leave me with nothing. I blame myself for all of that; for being dependent without realizing it, for not speaking out against those signs that all those magazines tell you to watch out for, and for letting myself get so lost along the way.
It wasn’t until I realized a few months after the breakup that I was still being dependent; I wasn’t loving myself because another person stopped and I couldn’t understand why. Even when they weren’t in my life anymore, I was still being dependent on them for my own idea of what my self-worth was. I was looking for approval in what I wore, what I looked like, and what I wanted to pursue because I spent so much time feeling like I needed to be a person’s specific type. The self-love I had got mixed with the love I had for another person and I couldn’t figure out the difference.
Self-love isn’t a switch one can just switch on one morning; it’s next to impossible to just wake up and decide today was going to be the day that you’ll stop letting the toxic thoughts you have about yourself end. It’s a constant uphill struggle.
My self-love couldn’t come from a diet (didn’t try one), losing weight (hardly weigh myself ever), or getting into a relationship quickly after (wasn’t going to happen). There wasn’t much I could do in regards to something ending — I couldn’t convince someone to stay with me and there wasn’t a switch I could hit to make myself feel better — but I could work hard on bettering myself.
Bettering yourself means different things to different people. For me, that meant doing what I wanted to do and being the person that I want to be — someone I feel like I lost in another person. Some people thrive when they are working out or enamoured with someone new, but my version didn’t include getting a gym membership or reaching for a hand to hold. I spent more time with empowering women, talking about life and love and everything in-between. I said yes more. I said no more. I demanded and fought for what I wanted. I started speaking more openly about my struggles and issues. I wrote a lot. I found my tribe. I wore bright red lipstick and dressed up for myself. I stared at myself in the mirror and tried hard on looking at my body with love, and the parts that I didn’t love, I began to accept them for what they are. I started writing more and found something I truly love. I looked at other girls not as a way of comparison or competition, but as people that I can be inspired and empower by. The most important thing I began to do after my breakup? I put an end to seeking approval from anyone.
In their own unique way, all of those things helped me learn how to love myself.
I don’t give the credit of learning to love myself down to the very core to my my breakup or any other person or thing. The feelings of inadequacy in my relationship were catalysts to this ever-changing version of myself, but the love I had for myself — for my mind, my body, and everything else that makes me, me — I had that all along, and it’s all mine.
This was originally posted on Medium.