TLDR: the self in “self-love”
TW: sexual assault
It was the summer of 2019. Coming all the way from the United States, I was proud of myself for navigating in Israel and getting to the hostel all by myself. I put my stuff down and got settled into my bunk. One roommate woke up and asked me where I was from. “New Jersey,” I replied. There was a sense of freedom I never had before—no schedule, no itinerary. I could do anything, and that was dangerous freedom to have.
I did a bar-hopping event with other hostel guests. I do not drink, but I wanted to see what the night scene was like in Tel Aviv. Coming back with my new friends, we hung out in the lounge area. Soon, I was alone with one person. He came on to me, saying how he was attracted to me. Before he could make a move on me, I admitted to being inexperienced when it came to love, sex and relationships. But I was open to trying because I believed there was no consequence to my actions. I was in another country and free from America’s societal expectations of how a woman should behave. So I went into the experience full throttle. I quickly learned that I was mistaken. There were several consequences.
Feeling like a badass, I woke up the next day hungry for more adventure. When you are hungry, you find a way to eat. I experienced so much so quickly and with great intensity. Unable to process everything and not being in therapy as I had been before, I was experiencing a lot of emotions that I didn't quite understand. I was crying over men I barely knew, and my inability to stop engaging in a culture I no longer wanted a part of.
During one of my many escapades, I was sexually assaulted. Consequently, I experienced a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms to feel safe in my body. I looked for safety in men and craved physical intimacy. I kept claiming to my therapist that I loved myself and I truly believe that I did, but my actions did not align. I was putting the needs of others before my own and distracting myself to the point of passing out. I was over-committing to leadership positions and continuously engaging in relationships that were not healthy for me, nor did they make me happy.
Finally, the spring semester came and everyone went home because of COVID-19. This was one of the best things that could have happened for me. Long story short, at the beginning, I had a fast built connection with someone I had met off of a dating app. Unable to meet in person due to the severity of the pandemic, we had to rely on getting to know each other online through texting and facetime. I had never actually taken the time to get to know someone in a romantic sense before. However, our connection resulted in a disaster. He distanced himself causing me to fall into my old thought patterns, leaving me confused and hurt. I thought I did everything right, but what I learned was that it did not matter if I had. It takes two people to be in a relationship and both people need to be present, which he was not. I took time to heal from the heartbreak, and I took time to focus on my summer and completing my college courses.
During my final semester of college, I focused on myself and my academics. I felt good. I was thriving. Then, I met someone. I did not really think about what I wanted with this person, and it threw me into the deep end. I regretted it and tried to take it back. I just wanted to be friends, but this was no longer an option. So I did what he desired and to no fault of his, I was forced to navigate a lot of feelings that came up with having relationships with men. We ended up blurring a lot of lines between friendship and something more, which triggered my brain into asking, “Why won’t he date me? Am I not good enough?” After a long, hard road and effort from both of us, we have a beautiful, blooming friendship that I am so excited to continue exploring. So how did I arrive here? How did I achieve this thing called self love that everyone and their mother preaches about? How did I create a love that is invincible? A love that no longer puts me second and no longer tells me I need a partner to be worthy. A love that does not tolerate disrespect, and a love that expects a lot more than the bare minimum. I fought. I worked tirelessly on my growth and understanding where my thoughts were coming from. Yes, all feelings are valid. But it is important to take things a step further and figure out what is bringing up these emotions. What can I learn from this, and how can I apply it moving forward?
I went to therapy, which I was fortunate to have the privilege of being able to afford such an invaluable resource. I took baby steps. By observing my actions and my impulses I became more aware of myself and others. I started changing my behavior little by little. Learning to love myself was and is a full-time job. Day in and day out, I changed my behavior to do things that were for me and that brought me joy. I learned my boundaries and how to advocate for myself. There is not one step that will suddenly transform you. This is a relationship with yourself, which is similar to marriage in which it takes constant and consistent effort. Existing in this newfound love, beyond grateful, I cried in my car. Blessed with knowing that not only am I whole on my own, but I am beautiful. I am powerful. I am me. A big factor might be that I graduated college, and I am no longer tied to college expectations. Additionally, I took control of my health again, and I reclaimed what was stolen from me-- autonomy over my body. I have never been happier, and I know the love I have for myself will only grow stronger.
I fear nothing. I know after everything I have been through, I can stand tall. And that no matter what happens, I will do what is right for me, and I will walk away from situations where I am not respected or valued. It is a blessing to have gotten to this point, and I am proud. A different proud than the pride of the girl who arrived at the hostel that one summer night in 2019.