I never really liked myself.
I didn’t grow up the way others did around me. I was born in Ukraine to a Russian mother and Arab father. They had an intense relationship that often resulted in violence, from what I recall.
I was bedridden when I was young. I had a bone disease and couldn’t walk for over a year. Then we moved to the US, and I was in a wheelchair, crutches, etc. While other girls my age were enjoying their life, I was learning how to walk.
I grew up introverted; my best friend was my mom. However, she got married and had two other kids. I was always jealous of them; I felt like they’d taken my best friend from me. My mom was 18 when she had me; she never made my school lunches or gave me the birds and the bees talk. Our relationship was different. I envied how much effort she put into my sisters.
I don’t blame her; I was good at being on my own. I thrived in it. The problem was, I didn’t like myself. Not one bit.
I didn’t have dreams to be a doctor or a desire to get good grades and excel in sports. Instead, I begged to be homeschooled. I stayed up until 4 am reading books, and boys weren’t a thing for a while. Nobody really paid much attention to me, not until I dropped the tom-boy look and started giving a crap about my appearance.
I grew up quickly. I moved out at 16, worked various jobs to financially support myself, forced myself to go to college. I dated guys that gave me an ounce of attention, and I hated myself for it.
I really didn’t like myself.
I hated the projection of my life. I missed the comforts of my youth, of being able to stay up late lost in a book without a worry in the world. I missed my mother’s soothing touch whenever I’d catch a cold. Even if you enter adult life young and prepared, you’re never really…prepared.
After going through an emotionally abusive relationship with a guy who was way older than me and completely and 100% wrong for me, I decided to take a dating hiatus and get my life together. Surely there was more out there for me, right?
The first step was taking control of my life and learning how to like myself.
My relationship with myself was nonexistent at this point. I wasn’t in tune with my body, my mind, or my needs. My life didn’t feel like it was my own. I didn’t know who I wanted to be; I didn’t know how I wanted to spend my time. The only thing I did know is that I wanted freedom—the freedom to figure it all out.
. . .
Write it out.
I was lying in bed one night. My heart was racing because I had just left my ex’s house; we were still hanging out despite not being together. A part of me thought life would be easy if everything stayed the same. Life would be easy with this person, I’d work the same job forever, live in the same place forever, complain about his inability to be a good partner forever, but it would be easy.
Did I want easy? Absolutely not. I wanted to be challenged. I wanted a partner who was irrevocably in love with me, someone who would cater to my needs rather than me catering to his 24/7. I wanted a partner who was smart, thoughtful, and romantic. Someone I could boast about and show off because I was proud to be on his arm.
I wrote it down.
Did I want to stay in the same environment? Hell no. I lived in Washington, in a suburban area that was, for lack of a better word, kind of ghetto but kind of nice. I didn’t like it. I wanted more. I wanted to move.
I wrote it down.
Who did I want to be? I had no idea. Did I like my job? No. I worked hard for it, I had put myself in an accelerated tech program, and I worked IT for a startup. I was making good money. I didn’t like it. I wanted more.
I wrote it down.
. . .
Be your own best friend.
After I decided to change my life, I jumped into action. I made a plan to move to California; I worked 3 jobs relentlessly to save up money. I spent time with nobody outside of my mom and sisters.
I preferred it that way. I was becoming obsessed with myself and my future.
I watched movies that I enjoyed, ones that I could never watch when I dated men who were completely unable to compromise and would force me to watch stuff I could care less about.
I took myself to cafes, something I always enjoyed but neglected because my ex’s hated coffee, or a cozy ambiance, or whatever other excuses they had up their sleeve.
I listened to music that I liked and even found new artists that fit my style. I always hated releasing control of my music in the car, yet I did it anyway.
I was doing things that brought me obscene joy; I was becoming my own damn best friend.
It felt great. I might have been alone, but really, I wasn’t. I was with myself, and my solitude was sweeter than any company I’ve ever had before.
. . .
Fall in love with your body.
I never had image issues until I had image issues.
I’ve always had an athletic build; I did boxing for 4 years when I was a teenager. I went to the gym fairly regularly, although I didn’t really know what I was doing. I did pole fitness for a year, which boosted my confidence significantly.
However, one night I was changing, and I took a look at myself in the mirror.
I was not a fan of what I saw. I didn’t feel good. I didn’t feel like the best possible version of myself.
I started taking better care of myself; I went to the gym every morning at 3 am before work at 6. I learned about nutrition and how to take care of my body. I ate food that nourished me; I went to the gym with a plan. It wasn’t about looks; it was about feeling good in my own skin.
After all, your body’s a temple. Treat it like one. You don’t need to start heavy lifting twice a day and go on an extreme diet, but ask yourself; Are you nourishing yourself? Are you taking care of your body? If you woke up and you suddenly were 60 years old, would you regret the way you treated your health?
I used to seek validation about my appearance through my partners. They seldom complimented me, but when they did, I ate it up like a ravenous animal.
I wanted to seek validation from no one. I wanted to be my own muse. My own artist. The only person whose approval I truly sought out.
Little by little, ounce by ounce, you’re going to start falling in love with the skin you’re in, the body you have, and the curves you were blessed with.
. . .
Become the author of your life.
Instead of sticking around to see how life panned out in Washington, I moved to Los Angeles.
I started making decisions for myself before anyone else could butt into my life to try to do it for me. I didn’t want to date; I didn’t want to waste my life working a job I didn’t love; I wanted to enjoy my life.
I wanted to experience the kind of joy you experience when you go out of your comfort zone.
I remember driving to Los Angeles feeling more excited than I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I was in control. I was in the driver’s seat (literally). I was listening to my favorite music, my favorite podcast, my favorite audibles. My mom had packed me a huge bag of healthy snacks for the road trip; I was so excited I barely ate.
The air was hot when I drove through Lake Shasta. I stopped by a gas station to fuel up, and I was listening to a podcast, I don’t recall the title, but I distinctly remember her saying,
“You need to become the author of your own life. Stop allowing others to try to write in their own chapters. It’s your goddamn book.”
My life finally felt like my own.
I stopped in San Francisco for one night; it’s a beautiful and retro city. When I finally made it to Los Angeles, I went straight to the beach.
I slipped on a bathing suit and walked into the water. It was cold, nothing at all like I imagined it to be. I let out a sigh of relief.
I did this. I made it here. I manifested this. We did it. I told myself.
I liked who I was becoming. I wasn’t pining for attention. I wasn’t biting my tongue out of fear that my opinion would hurt someone’s feelings. I wasn’t compromising my own happiness for the sake of a friend or partner. I was prioritizing my wants and my needs. I was in an exclusive relationship with myself, and more importantly, I was really starting to like who I was.
. . .
I know many people who don’t have the faintest idea of who they are or who they want to become one day.
I have friends that jump from one relationship to another in the hopes of one of them helping them identify their purpose, or they believe that they’ll magically feel better about themselves if they just find “the one.”
The one is you. The relationship you have with yourself is the most important relationship that you’ll ever have, and if you don’t learn to love yourself, you’ll never know how to love another person.
Life gets better when you choose to put yourself first.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
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