Learning to Love the “I”
All love given returns. I will learn to know that others love me.
Statement ten is another statement that many women in early recovery find hard to comprehend. We often come into sobriety with a deep sense of self-hatred, and we can't imagine how others could possibly love us. Drinking may have damaged or destroyed our relationships. Others may view our sobriety as transient, expect us to revert to our old ways soon enough, and keep their distance. If we have any idea at all of what it means to love and be loved, it is often a skewed perspective. We simply can’t understand how these words could be true.
We frequently see this statement as being externally focused. We place the emphasis on the love of others as necessary to make us complete, without realizing that we must be open to that love for it to matter. This belief may be a remnant of our unwillingness to take responsibility when we were drinking. We have become so accustomed to viewing our lives as being ruled by other people’s actions that our first instinct is to think that this, too, depends entirely on others. Alcohol has been a silent third in our relationships for so long that we often can’t imagine how to love or be loved without it. We don’t stop to consider that the way we treat ourselves plays a large part in how others treat us. Self-love is the key; we must love ourselves before we can truly accept the love of others.
All love given returns
I think the number one idea that we must let go of in order to understand this part of the statement is the idea that there is an immediate reciprocity to the love we give. I have often heard women despair about "getting" the statement because of failed relationships; they have given love and it has not been returned by their partner. They think the statement is false, or does not apply to them as a result. We have a tendency to think of love in only the romantic sense; we forget that it has a much broader definition.
In Buddhism, love is an expression of compassion and sincere respect for life. It is this concept of love that helps us to understand not only the statement, but how we can make it a truth in our own lives. The first step is to have compassion for ourselves, to have respect for our own lives. In seeking sobriety we have already shown that we have these qualities within us; now we must nourish them and allow them to grow.
Ayn Rand wrote, "In order to say 'I love you', one first must be able to say the 'I'". This statement suggests to me that before we can truly love someone else, we must first love ourselves. This inner love can be hard to find when we are first sober; it is often a feeble flame hidden deep within. When we treat ourselves with compassion, we find that flame strengthening. The more we show respect for our sobriety and our lives, the more brightly the flame of inner love burns, until it becomes visible to others.
We have all had the experience of meeting someone who has an aura of warmth about them. When we develop our sense of self-love, this is how others will come to see us. It is this outward expression of our inner love that allows others to truly love us. When we approach our lives with love for ourselves and, by extension, compassion for others, we draw that positive energy back to us. We find ourselves with better health, a better emotional state, and more lightness in our approach to life. When we love ourselves, we can connect with and feel the love of the entire world.
I will learn to know that others love me
Understanding the second part of the statement flows naturally from acceptance of the first. When we dwell on self-hatred and negativity, we can't see how anyone else could love us. This negative energy can be felt by others, and tends to discourage them from trying to get too close. Those who truly do love us often do so with mixed emotions. Our inner pain becomes their pain, especially when we act self-destructively through our addictions.
When we open ourselves to compassion and respect for ourselves, we find that it is easier to lower our shields and accept that others love us. We believe ourselves to be lovable, and others can tune in to that joyful inner self. It has been proven that people most often respond to a smile with a smile; when we approach life with love, we find others treating us with more kindness. Loving ourselves allows them to love us as well.
This doesn't mean that finding our inner love will create a utopia around us. Not everyone will respond to us with a positive attitude; sometimes, people will just be mean. This is the reality of life. What nurturing our compassion and respect for ourselves will do is allow us to pass by those individuals without taking on their negativity. When we look for the positive, we will find the positive.
Zora Neale Hurston wrote that "love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place." Treating ourselves with compassion and respect allows light to shine into that hiding place. When we bathe our souls with inner love, we allow ourselves to see that the love we give does indeed return; loving ourselves allows others to love us without reservation. Recognizing our inner goodness allows us to accept their love without question.
You are worthy of love, both giving and receiving. Abandon your hiding place, have compassion and respect for your life. Learn to love the "I" in I love you. Your life will be richer and more positive for it.