How to fall in love with you… the first date
To fall in love with ourselves we have to get to know ourselves first. I remember reading a quote somewhere that said a great marriage was one where the conversation never ended. This is what we want with ourselves: the conversation. The getting to-know-you part of the courtship. The intrigue, and then the honesty. One of my greatest healing tools has been my journal. Begun in 1984 when I was 11-years-old, I’ve unravelled the stories of my life into a collection of exercise books, binders and now beautiful Moleskine notebooks. But what I‘ve discovered over the years is that the act of keeping a journal isn’t enough to make you fall in love with you; there are many years of journal entries that I now consider superficial and surface, ramblings about my relationships or my neuroses about work or friends or some other thing that was occupying my outer world. And the key word here is occupying – I always managed to keep myself distracted by stuff other than me. Writing it all out in a stream of consciousness made room for deeper enquiry, but I just never went there out of fear, leaving me skimming along the surface for years, always at the mercy of the whims of others.
One of the gifts (and I feel comfortable using that word now) of my bereavement was the opportunity it gave me to dive below that surface while supported by my therapist. As I began to do the hard work of healing, I turned to my journal every day as a way to record the process and vent the hurts that were surfacing, in turn nurturing a richer and more honest relationship with the page. Not that I ever lied to myself – I just avoided looking at the Stuff. You know the Stuff? The issues I covered up with a bottle of wine; the feelings I swallowed down with a bar of chocolate; the worries I placated with a menthol cigarette. I read my journal back and marvel at how something that was supposed to be all about me was all about everyone else, and what they were doing and feeling. And how that was affecting me. External, external, external.
I sometimes wonder what would have become of me had I not endured such a devastating bereavement, but that thinking never gets me very far. This has been my experience, and the key to uncovering all I needed to heal. This can be translated and applied by starting an honest conversation with yourself. When we push ourselves to be honest, and not hide behind the distractions or fear, we can begin to see ourselves as we truly are and find a place of loving kindness to carry ourselves. So start with some quiet time alone – no phone, no internet, no television, no other people, just you and a notebook & pen – and make some conversation. Start with some small talk, then take it up a notch. These have been helping me lately:
1. There’s a life coach-y technique you can use, to get to the bottom of your feelings about a particular situation or person or memory. Ask yourself: ‘how do I feel about this?’ and write an answer. Then ask yourself again: ‘but how do I feel about this?’ And write another answer. Then do it again: ‘but how do I feel about this?’ and continue on in this way until you have asked and answered as far as you feel you can go. Often if I feel myself getting stuck when I’m writing an article, a blog post or a longer piece of prose, I start a new line with the words ‘But what I really want to say is…’ and then let rip. Either technique helps me cut through the surface clutter and into the real issue underneath.
2. Pull back from using your journal as a chronicle of the day’s events. Instead, chronicle your feelings from the day.
3. Keep checking in with your needs. When PMS strikes, I have a tendency to see everything through an overly-emotional veil, but underneath all that melodrama are very real, very tender emotions. By regularly checking in with how I’m feeling (see no.1) and what I need (more time alone, more fresh air, a call with a friend, an afternoon to play), I (usually) manage to write my way through the crazies and find some (self) support.
4. For many of us it can be hard to do something as seemingly ‘selfish’ as writing in a journal – do it anyway. Let it rip. Indulge yourself. Be honest. No one else is reading. These are just a few ideas to get you started if you yearn for more connection with the gorgeous fabulous being that is YOU. Treat yourself to a new journal — lined or unlined, whichever you prefer — find a quiet hour when you won’t be interrupted and just see what happens. Use coloured pens and doodle in the margins. Write yourself a love letter. Craft lists and manifestos. Be open to surprising yourself!
Susannah Conway is a photographer, writer and e-course creator. A Polaroid addict and very proud aunt, her first book, This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart (Globe Pequot Press), launches in June 2012. She’s also co-authored another book, Instant Love: How to Make Magic and Memories with Polaroids (Chronicle Books), coming out in spring 2012. You can read more about her shenanigans on her blog at SusannahConway.com and connect with her on Twitter.