Adventures in Self-Love: Where do I begin?

"To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance." - Oscar Wilde

People who’ve only known me for the last couple of years find it hard to believe, but I used to be a fairly miserable person. Perhaps even people who knew me then didn't know it; I was very good at wearing masks. If I added it all together, I’m sure I’ve lost years of my life to patterns of self-loathing and destructive behaviours. Countless days when I could barely get out of bed (and sometimes didn’t) and I had no real dreams or ambitions to speak of.

Compared to how I feel today, it’s hard to recognize the girl I was back then. Last week one of my co-workers asked how I always manage to be so cheerful and one of the users at the charity I work for nicknamed me “Happy Sarah.”

My life certainly isn’t perfect. I’m definitely not cheerful all of the time. There are still days when I think hateful thoughts about myself. When I get wrapped up in what other people think about me and let it define how I feel about myself. When I lose faith that I’ll ever reach the big goals I’ve set out to accomplish

But, for the most part, I’m happy. I love my life. I live with a big smile on my face, wearing tutus and bejeweled cat ears. I spend most of my time feeling brave, joyful, and supported. And all of these changes began a few years ago when I made the decision to start loving myself.

It was something that happened excruciatingly slowly and all at once. Maybe that’s how love always is, whether it’s with yourself or someone else.

I can remember sitting on my bed a few years ago. I opened to the first page of a new journal and wrote, “Today I’m starting a new relationship with myself. I’ll going to be my own darling. I’m making a commitment to fall head over heels in love with me.”

I’d started reading bloggers like Gala Darling and Kris Carr and I was walking around with this nagging desire to change something. I wanted a life that sparkled like theirs did. I was sick of defining myself based on who I was in a relationship with or what others thought of me. I wanted to radiate with that inner glow that seems to beam from anyone who’s truly content with themselves. But for months that’s all it was. Something I wanted. Because I didn’t know where to begin.

Life didn’t change overnight after I decided to start romancing myself. It happened little by little.

That declaration was powerful because it meant I began actively seeking out ways to cultivate self-love. Ideas that I might previously have dismissed as silly or too ‘out there,’ I decided to try out. Just to see how they felt.

I changed the way I eat. How I talk to myself. The way I interact with my friends. The activities I pursue. The dreams I allow to wander through my mind.

And my world began to open up.

Life didn’t miraculously become all sunshine and roses. In fact some of the darkest moments I’ve experienced still lay ahead. But those times were different, more bearable, because I’m different.

I didn’t realize it at the beginning, but through my self-love journey I’ve been developing the inner resources to push through difficult times. To create the life I dream of. To get up every morning and remember that I am enough, just as I am.

And sometimes I stumble and have to find my way back to myself. But it’s those first steps that are the hardest. When you don’t know where to begin.

Since starting the Self-Love Book Club nearly a year ago, I’ve wanted to make space to write more about self-love and what it can look like. This new feature will be a series of essays on my own adventures in self-love. How it touches every aspect of our lives, not just in theory but in terms of the practical things we can do to make our lives a little more magical. The idea is that we'll start each new week armed with ideas and inspiration for falling more and more in love with yourself.

So if you’re just starting out. Just beginning to toy with the idea. Perhaps getting over the idea that the whole thing is ‘whoo-whoo’ nonsense. If you’re ready to start romancing yourself, but don’t know where to begin, this is my advice:

Declare your intention.

Just to yourself for now. Perhaps in your journal. Or on the first page of a new notebook for this new beginning. Maybe scribbled on a hot pink Post-It stuck up in a hidden corner that’s just for you.

There’s no need to go out and scream it from the rooftop, unless you want to. In fact, sometimes it’s best to keep these new journeys just for ourselves in the beginning. Away from the well-meaning but misplaced scorn of those who aren’t quite ready for it.

It’s amazing how just this simple declaration brings something into being.  It opens your eyes to new ways of thinking. Leads you to new people to learn from. Inspires ideas for doing things differently.

I’d recommend solidifying this commitment to yourself through some sort of practice.

It might be writing morning pages or daily gratitude lists.

Or you might like the structure of a more formal program. My ecourse Romance Yourself is a 40-day journey to self-love that combines a daily practice with prompts and exercises that will allow you to create a deep, lasting relationship with yourself.

If you’re really struggling and feel incapable of helping yourself, remember that you don’t have to do this alone. When my own mental health problems kept me from truly living, cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressants saved me and were tools that helped me regain control of my life. Ask a trusted friend or do a quick Google search to find out what resources are available in your area.

No matter what stage you’re at on your own self-love journey, remember: it’s a choice to stay miserable and stuck hating yourself. But you can always choose differently. Just deciding to is the best place to start.

I’d love to know: what does self-love mean to you? Is it something you practice in your own life? And are there any topics you’d like to see me cover in this series?