In her book Real Love, Sharon Salzberg wrote:
People tell you to just love yourself, but they don’t tell you how.
I think I connected with that line originally because it’s true. There’s a lot of popcorn philosophy out there that isn’t backed up by methodology. When I was working to put my life back together after a five-year suicidal binge with drugs and alcohol, I didn’t need someone telling me to love myself. I needed someone to give me the tools to do it.
Far from having all the answers, I have discovered a method of self-love that has filled my life with more joy, presence, and contentment than I ever could’ve imagined. Rather than telling you to love yourself, I’m going to share with you how I did it so you can see what resonates with you.
One of the first pieces of self-love that actually made a difference in my life was meditation. To say I was skeptical at first would be an understatement. As I share in my book, I only agreed to do the morning meditation with my then-girlfriend, Mira, to make her happy. But as I got further into that short meditation (called “Good”), I finally surrendered, and at the urging of the calm, quiet British voice, I chose to have a good day for the first time in many years.
That experience started me on a meditation journey that included learning the Loving Kindness meditation (also known as Metta). A big piece of that practice is treating everyone the same way you treat those you love the most. I can sit and watch my three-year-old daughter, Vivian, for hours as she plays with her toys. As I watch her, I know I’m just radiating love.
Seeing everyone with that same level of love? That’s tough, especially when you don’t like someone or don’t even know them. You also have to love yourself in that same way, which was a challenge for me in moments where I’d lose my keys or spill something on myself. When stuff like that happened, I’d catch myself saying “you idiot” in my head.
Would I ever say that to Vivian, or to my wife, or even to a stranger? Of course not. So why would I say it to myself? Reframing my self-talk in that way was a game-changer.
Meditation not only helped to heal my mind, but it also brought physical benefits like better sleep, calmness before big meetings, and more presence in my conversations. Going vegan worked the same way: I enjoyed the expected physical benefits like lower cholesterol, weight loss, and higher nutrient levels which I blogged about here, but I also saw immense benefits emotionally.
I reframed eating from “I’m depriving myself of something” to “I’m nourishing my body with the best foods.” With that simple shift, I came to love eating. After doing more research (and watching Earthlings), veganism became part of my identity. It wasn’t just how I ate — it was what I valued as a person.
I emptied my house of any and all animal products and bought a vegan car. For me and my wife (who also went vegan), it brings us joy to know that we aren’t participating in something to which we are morally opposed. We’ve decided to take a stand on this issue and show our daughters that when you value something, you show it with your actions, not words.
Rewriting My Narrative
The first thing I do every day is to write in my gratitude journal. I write what I’m grateful for, then list some affirmations. It puts a smile on my face and sets a positive tone for the day.
I’ll be honest: I thought affirmations were useless, woo-woo nonsense until I started doing them. At first, I simply wrote: I love and respect myself. The problem was that I wasn’t sincere. I didn’t respect myself, but I wrote it down in the hopes it would happen via osmosis.
Well, it didn’t happen by osmosis. I had to put in the work to bring truth to those words. I wanted to lose weight, be devoted to my wife, become more effective at work, and make up for the time I’d lost during my downward spiral. As I pursued these goals, I inched toward the place I am today, where I can now look in the mirror and say: “I love and respect that guy.”
As my book has made its way out in the world and people are responding to it, my affirmations have changed. Now I write down: I’m brave. I’m courageous. I’m helping people.
My therapist said it well: I’ve done a great job of integrating all the bad stuff in my life over the years. Now is the time to start integrating all the good stuff. So, I’m learning to accept these messages of support I receive and honor them through the way I live my life.
Exercise & Reading
I got off my butt and started moving again. I found Erica Verta on YouTube and started doing yoga in my home. I later learned that yoga is functional therapy, which is helpful for trauma survivors who need to reacquaint themselves with their bodies without being touched.
I also found Rich Roll’s podcast and was inspired by his level of fitness. I started going to the gym, running 10Ks, lost 60 pounds, and got six-pack abs… not bad for a 47-year-old!
Hand-in-hand with exercising is reading. I’m a self-proclaimed nerd, so I research everything I learn about that I’m interested in (that’s how I found out yoga was functional therapy).
I didn’t allow myself the time for exercise or reading earlier in my life. I was too busy looking for distractions: work, partying, drugs. I was physically incapable of sitting still long enough to get a workout in or read a book. Now, sitting still is time for learning and improving myself.
The more I read and the more I exercise, the more confident I become. Whether it’s a book or an audiobook, I love reading about spirituality, self-help, nutrition, and culture. Before, I couldn’t sit still long enough to read. Now, I don’t go anywhere without taking a book.
In December 2017, I sold my stock in the business I’d help to start so I could spend more time with my family. Seeing my daughter, Vivian, for ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening (if I was lucky), wasn’t cutting it. I came up with an audacious number I needed to be able to walk away from the business. When I sat and thought about it, though, I realized that number was all about my ego, so I reduced it by 80% and sold my shares.
We sold all our belongings except our bed and traveled for ten months with Vivian. When we were ready to settle back down, we bought a townhouse almost a quarter of the size of the home we left and perfect. We’re way happier with less stuff, and our family is much closer living in a smaller house.
I consider vulnerability to be a form of self-love, so I decided to practice being vulnerable in the wake of my book being released, an enormous act of vulnerability in itself. I joined a men’s therapy group that helped me share and also provide a safe space for others. During my years partying and doing drugs, I wasn’t a good person, and I ended up ostracizing a good friend of mine named Joey.
I recently reached out to Joey to apologize and share my book. I did so without any kind of expectations. I simply wanted to open myself up and see what happened. Much to my delight, Joey reached back out to me, we reconnected, and our friendship has never been better. It may not always work out this way but freedom can be found in the act of putting myself out there. How the world reacts to it is not on me but it’s nice when it works out.
Learning to Love Yourself
I can’t tell you exactly what it will look like to love yourself. We all have to discover that for ourselves. What I can tell you is that everything you just read combined to make me into a man I never thought I could become when I was in the middle of my drug-fueled descent.
My guess is that if you try some of the things that helped me (and add in your own ideas), you’ll find a practice that makes self-love more understandable, beneficial, and achievable.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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