Decide to Thrive:
Last year, when I walked into a store in early February and saw all of the Valentine’s Day red hearts, candy boxes, and cards, I realized with a shock that I had a valentine, after 26 years of being alone. I had just started a relationship with a man whom I thought could be my soul mate and was looking forward to a romantic Valentine’s Day with him. What happened that night and in the next three and a half months sent me on a journey to the deepest part of myself.
It wasn’t easy but it taught me a whole new way to not just cope with Valentine’ Day, but to actually thrive.
He planned dinner at an upscale restaurant, and we went on a hike that afternoon. He was strangely distant, and I wondered why. We got to the restaurant and I asked him what was going on. After some evasion, he admitted that something I said on the phone the night before seemed like I was pulling away and not interested in anything beyond a friendship. I was puzzled because I honestly couldn’t remember saying anything like that. Maybe I had been unconsciously trying to slow down the pace of the relationship. Things were moving fast and although I was very attracted to him, my body needed hormone therapy to be ready for intimacy.
We talked a bit more and it was all very upsetting for me. I couldn’t eat my dinner and was very dismayed at the thought of losing him. I finally told him of my hormone therapy timetable and of course, he had an answer for that. It shocked me that I was having a very detailed conversation about sex with him on a night that I hoped would be sweet and romantic. We left the restaurant and I could no longer hold back the tears. We made plans to see each other the next night because he was going out of town for two weeks. I sobbed all the way home and almost turned around several times toward his house.
We became lovers the next night. At first, it was fantastic. The sex was like a drug for me. He showered me with gifts, and we planned a vacation together. All was well until I was in the camper with him in the middle of nowhere. He dropped his benevolent Dr. Jekyll mask and Mr. Hyde showed his ugly face. The relationship was punctuated by his cycling between the two. After four months of intensity, exhaustion, walking on eggshells, and some good times, I broke up with him. He sent me threatening text messages and stalked me.
This was something that happened to other women, not me.
Last summer I was exhausted and trying to recover. I acutely felt the loss of companionship. I was single again in a world of couples. Even worse, I felt like I had lost the person I used to be. My blood pressure had skyrocketed, and I alternated between nightmares and replaying scenes from the relationship and every other relationship I had before that. I felt like I was hollowed out and I didn’t know who I was anymore. I couldn’t focus and couldn’t sleep because my mind would not settle down.
With the help of a dear friend, I started doing research into character disorders, including narcissistic personality disorder and other Cluster B disorders. I began to understand him but what was my part in attracting and staying with him? I found the answer in two books by the world expert on recovery from Pathological Love Relationships: Sandra Brown, founder of The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and Public Pathology Education, and the author of the award-winning books, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved.
What I had been experiencing were symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
But beyond that, I learned there were hard-wired personality traits that painted a target on my back for predators. Brown calls them Super Traits: agreeableness, cooperativeness, conscientiousness, self-directedness, and believing everyone can change with a little help. As a Reiki practitioner and energy healer, I have all those and more. I learned how these made me vulnerable and how to protect myself. But I had to go deeper into the issue of self-esteem.
From growing up in a dysfunctional family, I learned that I didn’t matter. I learned to keep quiet, not have needs, and be a good little girl. I knew I had to work on developing healthy self-esteem, but I put it off because it was too hard. After my relationship with the predator, I had no choice but to do the work. I spent the summer using online self-help modules that went deep into my family issues and left me exhausted.
I came to learn that perfectionism, the critical internal voice, the sense of not belonging, were all tied to not feeling good enough. I did work with a photo of myself as a two-year-old and learned to re-parent myself. It is not easy, and it is ongoing, but I am starting a new life.
Now that I’m learning to love myself, I’m full of hope and optimism about the future. When Valentine’s Day shows up this year, I won’t be thinking of last year’s evening with the predator. I’ll be treating myself to flowers, getting together with my single girlfriends, having a nice dinner, a relaxing lavender salts bath, and more.
So, this Valentine’s Day, decide to thrive and not just cope.
Make a list of all the things you love about yourself. Look in the mirror and decide you are worthy. The most important person that deserves your love is you. Without loving yourself, warts and all, you can’t expect anyone else to really love you. So, every February when you see those red hearts come out, think of all the love you deserve and give it to yourself in ways that feel nurturing.
Self-love is the beginning of all love.