A Labor of Love – Learning to Let Go and Love Yourself

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20 years ago was almost my last day on earth. It would have been the date on the other end of my dash. The end of me. It was almost my last day, and sadly, it was of my own doing.

1996 Atlanta Olympics
24 yr old me, 6 weeks before THAT DAY. I wasn’t alone (pictured with boyfriend who became hubby), I had people in my life, and I look happy here at the Atlanta Olympics, but inside I was lost.

Where I sit now, I look back at my 24 year old self and I would like to smack her. Hard. I would also like to hug her. Harder. What I want to do most though, is to tell her she is worth loving. That to forgive others means nothing if you never forgive yourself. I’d like to remind her all that she has to live for but to make clear that taking all those things away would still mean she has someone to live for, herself.

It is hard to believe that there was a time I was so deeply troubled that I thought to die would be best for everyone. That the pain in my heart couldn’t ever heal, the guilt and shame in my soul would never be cleansed.

That was then.

Then I was unable to let go of all that had transpired in my life up to that point. All the bad things that had happened to me, all the life choices I had made that left me ashamed and guilty. Choices I made that went against my own moral code, my relationships with others, my feelings of being a worse mother than my own mother; all these things led me to the deepest, darkest abyss of the soul that I could find. I was trenched in depression and couldn’t climb out.

I had tried to seek help. Minimal help was given as well as prescriptions. Prescriptions that didn’t help matters, but exacerbated them. The pit became deeper, the darkness, darker. Until the day that the something that tried to claim me spoke louder than the part of me trying to stay. So I took a bottle full of the medication that the doctor had prescribed, washed it down with wine (cheap box wine that I can never be near now without having flashbacks of that day…just the smell alone makes me sick). I wrote long letters to the people I loved, I took some more pills and drank some more wine. And waited for the end.

A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives
A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives

The end didn’t come. My roommate, and my boyfriend (who has now been my husband for 18 years) came. The paramedics came. The defibrillator came (along with a small burn scar from one of the paddles that I can still see today in the mirror after my shower). The ambulance came, a few days in a mental health ward came and then I came home. Unwell.

An attempt would happen again very quickly upon returning home. The scars from that still show silver on my wrists. My brain was befuddled by medications that weren’t helping, my soul was conflicted by EVERYTHING. My few days in a psych ward did more harm than help.

So what changed? I did.

I let myself find one thing to live for every day. At the time, it was my two children (Bug hadn’t blessed us with her presence yet). There were a lot of days that I was only able to push through because of them. I went to a lot of therapy. I looked inside myself a lot.

I worked towards a better me, so that they would have a better mom.

I let things go. A lot of things; things I couldn’t control, things that I couldn’t change, things I didn’t cause. I was loved and so I loved in return. Love heals a lot. Even on days when I couldn’t find love from others, didn’t feel love for myself, the simple love of a pet pulled me through. (If you are struggling for love, go get a pet…rescue from a shelter, a pet who is also feeling unloved and unwanted. Changing their life changes yours.)

And then, I got cancer. And Lupus. I was given the opportunity to see what a life worth fighting for looks like, and so I fought for it. I fought hard. I WANTED TO BE HERE NOW! I still want to be here.

This is now.

Now I know I am worthy to be loved. I know that God doesn’t punish our life choices through hardships, that we find those entirely on our own. Now I know wholly and fully that I didn’t cause it, can’t control it and won’t cure it when it comes to certain issues. My mother’s alcoholism, my husband’s…I didn’t cause them and I won’t cure them. The guilt and shame I leave behind. My past is my past. It is over and the baggage from that doesn’t have to be toted around with me any longer. I won’t tote it any longer, because for me to be whole, I had to leave them behind. Things like abuse, molestation, and loss; they are part of my story but not my entire story. My story has grown. There have been added scars, more losses and failures, yes, but there has also been adventure, wonder, amazement. Joy.

A Labor of Love - Learning to Let go and Love YourselfI know now that happiness is a decision we make every day. We must choose to be happy. To let things go and to forgive ourselves for things we feel responsible for. When we hang on to things like anger, resentment, and guilt it is like drinking poison but expecting someone else to die. We cannot be free as long as we let the uncontrollable control us. We are directed to forgive those that trespass against us, but we often forget that we are also directed to forgive ourselves. To love ourselves as God has loved us. Why do we resist that? Why do we hold on to guilt and shame for things done to us? Why do we feel like we must be persecuted our whole lives for errors in our past? It doesn’t have to be that way!

If you are struggling, make a list of all that you have to live for. Your list will be longer than you realize. Focus on one thing from that list every day that you need the help. Every single day, remind yourself that the world is better with you in it and choose to make it so. If you can’t find it in your heart to do for yourself, do for someone else that can’t. Help the needy, the hungry, the poor, the downtrodden. If we look, there is always someone out there that needs what we can offer, but if we stay wrapped up inside our own miseries, no one is helped. Not them, not you. It is a wonderful cycle: helping yourself helps others. Helping others helps yourself.

I sit here and look back now and think of all the amazing things I would have missed if I had been successful. Bug wouldn’t be here. I would never have seen my precious granddaughter (who is named for me!), let alone spend the entire weekend with her like I have this weekend. I would have missed relationships, opportunities, miracles. I would have missed so many things, but others in my life would have missed out, too. My son, when he needed his mom to tell that he was going to be a dad. My daughter, when she needed a mom to praise her Presidential Honor Roll status for college. My baby girl, she would have missed life completely and life without her makes the whole world dark. But there are also the friends I have helped, the people who I have made laugh (or cry). Lessons I have taught, motivation I have given. Even strangers who needed something from me at certain times, be it work or assistance or just a smile. It is crazy to me to think that I have saved people’s lives, when there was a time I could barely save myself. Isn’t it weird how life works?!

So today, I sit here in love with myself. It has been long road, oftentimes full of potholes and obstacles, but always worth the journey. I am in my 40s and I can say that I love myself and I choose to be happy, today. Tomorrow. Always. I let it go and then I go on. And on.

You can, too. Let it go. Love yourself. It is work, but it truly is a labor of love. You are worth it. Start now.

Be well,

Charlotte Dawn