Loving Yourself

Anxiety has a way of attacking a person’s self-esteem.  It leaves you feeling weak and incompetent.  It makes you feel worthless.  It literally sucks the life out of you, throwing you into a vicious cycle of self hatred and anger. How do you push yourself forward and overcome something so difficult when you don’t believe that you deserve to be happy? Where do you draw strength from?

Happiness means everything to a person. Without it we are just existing. Happiness is where life is lived and joy is birthed. I am not talking about superficial happiness, I am talking about the kind of happiness that brings peace to your very soul; but how can we truly be happy when we aren’t happy with ourselves?  The answer to this question is one that I have spent most of my journey trying to unearth.

For a long time I looked for outside things as well as other people to make me happy.  If I graduated college with good grades I would be happy.  If I lived with my boyfriend I would be happy.  If I got a job I would be happy.  If I got married I would be happy.  If my husband did what I asked of him I would be happy. If I had children, of course I would be happy.  All of these things I went on to do and they did indeed make me happy, but with each one of these milestone moments in my life taking place, I was always left feeling unsettled. The joy that I felt in each one of these moments was always followed by sadness and doubt.

I felt saddened by the fact that I was totally incapable of living in the moment and freeing my racing mind from the anxiety that consumed me. I doubted my ability to find peace.

I imagined on my wedding day as I took my vows, that in doing so my anxiety would be swept away with a simple “I do.”  I would be free from pain because I was making a loving commitment to God and my now husband.  I said “I do,” and cried tears of joy but as I walked down the aisle with my husband’s hand in mine, fear still followed.

I imagined that I would hear the sound of my daughter crying as she entered into the world, making me a mother for the first time, that on the tails of her cries my fear would be carried off into the past. Those cries instead awakened me to new fears that I had not known until I became a mom.

I had always expected some beautiful moment in my life to whisk away my anxiety the way a wave would pull a shell from shore burying it deep on the ocean’s floor leaving the sand smooth and untouched as if that shell never existed. I often looked to my husband to rid me of the storm that was constantly spinning through my body. I blamed people or events in my life for making my anxiety worse.

After years of searching I had found the answer and it was one that I didn’t like. The only thing that was making my anxiety worse was me. The only person that was going to rid myself of the anxiety that had taken over my life was me. I had to stop looking to other people and things, awaiting some miracle that would pull the turmoil from my mind and body. I had to do it myself. I couldn’t just pray anymore waiting for a magic fix from God. I needed to pray, but more importantly I needed to listen. Praying does you no good if your heart isn’t open and ready to receive the answers.

How do you move forward though when you don’t like the person you have become? When you come across a person that you don’t care for, or better yet that makes your skin crawl, you can always walk away. You can choose to not have that person be a part of your life. What happens when that person is you? There was a time in my life that I literally wanted to crawl out of my own skin and run away from myself because I couldn’t stand to be with me.

You are like a flower in the wind. The wind may bend you, but it will not break you.

The words of Carol echo in my mind. Something clicked inside of me when she spoke those words to me. My eyes were opened to the reality of who I had become.

I was a person who suffered from anxiety. I hated the way that I felt, but after a decade of suffering I was still here fighting. My determination to find answers and win the battle had never died. That had to say something about myself.

I began to look around at the life I had created. I was married to the most amazing man with two beautiful and healthy daughters. I owned my own house that I had turned into a home. I had great relationships with my family and friends. After graduating college with honors I had found work easily. I was coaching gymnastics at a level I never imagined possible. No matter how tired I was and how bad I felt I never gave up. I never gave in to any temptations or took the easy road. I never stopped trying to get better. I never settled and used my anxiety as an excuse.

Instead I was pushing forward trying my best to achieve the happiness that deep down inside I knew I deserved. This was a start, a slow one, but a really good one.

I always say that the brain is really easy at being tricked, and it is. It will believe the thoughts you put into it. Maybe not right away, but over time it will. I began to focus on the good qualities in myself that I was just beginning to allow myself to see. I gave myself permission to appreciate myself and how far I had come. I finally saw it. I was a flower in the wind and I will not be broken, ever.

Practice makes perfect and I made it a daily effort to look at the good in myself. There were days that it was really difficult to love myself, but sometimes you have to fake it until you make it right?

I was 19 when Nicole died and my world came undone. I am 32 now and I can honestly say that I love myself. I love who I have become and I am truly grateful for the path that God has lead me down. I am just thankful that my eyes were open and willing to see the way.

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Letting Go

tattoo

 

Let Go, Let God.  This is a tattoo that I had gotten back in 2009 right before I had become pregnant with my first child.  This happens to be a tattoo that I wish I didn’t get, or at least that I had chosen a different spot to put it. Don’t tell my dad I said that. Out of the five tattoos I have this one is definitely the most inspiring. It beats out my Marilyn Manson album covers or even my way too bright orange tiger, but still I have a bit of regrets with it. I think that has to do with my choice for it’s location.  It is on my wrist and I am constantly catching sight of it out of the corner of my eye, thinking it’s a bug, causing me to swat at it. A little ridiculous, but nonetheless a positive mantra to live by.

I got this tattoo following my struggle to get pregnant. Throughout my battle with anxiety I was constantly repeating this in my head, “Let Go, Let God, Let Go, Let God.” Like most things this was so much easier said than done. This period in my life was a time where my anxiety was making appearances by the minute and I was constantly telling myself to let go and trust my faith in God.  I have joked more than once that this tattoo should have said, “Let Go, Let Renee,” because like most anxiety sufferers I was a serious control freak.  I needed to feel like I was always in control.  On the outside you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell I was this way, but it was a completely different story on the inside.

I wanted to be in control of everything down to how many breaths I took. While in a conversation with a friend I would mentally plan when I was going to take my next breath and when I was going to shift my weight. I would calculate each move in my day. I felt like a robot, literally. I moved like one, thought like one and felt numb on the inside, just like one. Well here’s the thing, in overcoming your anxiety you have to give up your need for control. Insert gasp here for all you control freaks out there.  Being in control was a false reality, one that I was gripping onto for dear life and yet to heal I needed to let go.

I am a big believer in God, but yet putting my whole heart into trusting him was a big challenge for me. What if I didn’t like his plan? What was I to do then? I had a plan in my head that I envisioned and I was going after that plan.

I was chasing after this “perfect” feeling. In my mind if I was anxiety free I would feel perfect. Yes really, I would feel perfect. My body would feel great and I would never get headaches. I would never feel sad or angry or disappointed. I would never feel anxious or on edge. I would never have a bad day. I would do everything right and no one would ever be upset with me. My heart rate would stay at a normal steady rate no matter what I was doing. I wouldn’t get sore after a good workout. I would never make any mistakes. I would be perfect.

Could you even imagine how exhausting it is to chase the feeling of perfection day after day? And then imagine the disappointment each day that perfection wasn’t reached. When you chase something that doesn’t exist it is like running on a hamster wheel. You are going nowhere and in the end you are exactly where you started, just now you are really tired and completely defeated.

Around the middle of 2012 I was home sitting on the couch. My oldest was at gymnastics and my youngest at the time was taking a nap, so I was trying to enjoy a rare moment to myself. I was reading through a few Psalms in the bible hoping that something would pop out and bring hope into my heart. Psalm after Psalm I read and felt nothing. I finally closed the bible and literally got down on my knees and prayed. I prayed to God asking for guidance and strength. I prayed that he would lead me down the path of healing. I began crying as I felt a weakness overcome my body. For so long I had tried to be strong and with each failed effort I was left feeling weak and worthless. I soon found myself begging God for an answer, for my heart to be healed. I had been suffering for so long and I didn’t know how much more I could take before I would break.

Jeremiah 29:13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

I have this verse in my room and I have read it so many times. There would be days that I would read it over and over as it stood atop my jewelry box, but it never really made sense to me. On this day in my living room as I was down on my knees this verse came to life. For the first time in over a decade I felt a peace overcome me. For a brief moment my mind was quiet. In the stillness of my mind I had found the answer. I needed to let go. I needed to let go of the desire to do things my way. I had all the tools right in front of my face, I was just too stubborn and angry to use them the right way.  God had already shown me the way, I just needed to follow.

I needed to stop chasing after the perfect feeling because it didn’t exist.  I was human and in this beautiful world I was birthed with perfect imperfections.  Feeling wholeheartedly was the only way to really live and in doing so I had to open myself to all feelings, good and bad.

This was it, I put my boxing gloves down and declared mercy.  I couldn’t fight anymore.  My way was not the way.  I had tried it for too long and it clearly didn’t work.

Once I let go and stopped fighting the answers began to come in more clearly.  I was finally ready to let go.

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