Learning To FLY (First Love Yourself)

By Samantha Ushedo

You know that girl who seems to “have it all” – the amazing career, tons of friends, the perfect boyfriend, the toned body, and an awesome wardrobe to match? 

I was that girl.

A modern-day Wonder Woman, if you will.

All throughout my life, I was the girl who had it all together.   I set goals and I consistently demolished them.  When I set my mind to something, I made it happen.   People were constantly asking me, “Sam, how do you do it?” and to them I would reply, “I’m a bit of an over-achiever”. 

And yet, despite having all the ingredients of success, I was neither happy nor fulfilled.  I was burning the candle at both ends in my pursuit to happiness and looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places.  My measure of happiness and success was determined by how much money I made, whether I had a boyfriend, how many friends I had and how I looked. 

From the outside, it looked like I “had it all”.  On the inside, I was miserable.

Where were the happiness and worthiness I thought all my goals and achievements would deliver?  I realized I could no longer live like this, so one day, I got fed up.  I broke up with my boyfriend, moved apartments, changed jobs and enrolled in nutrition school.  Everything was finally starting to fall in to place.  And then slowly but surely, the misery started to creep back in.  And with it, cystic acne that not only covered my entire face and neck, but also my chest and back.

It was like the Universe was saying to me “you’re not meant to be doing this anymore sweetheart and unfortunately, the only way you will listen is if we send you a message you can’t ignore”.

Message received.  Loud and clear.

I can acutely remember the nights I cried myself to sleep wishing desperately to wake up and find out that my skin woes were nothing but a horrible nightmare.

Or the uncontrollable anger I felt when perfect strangers would stop me on the street to offer unsolicited advice on how I should eat, live and cleanse my body in order to cure my condition.

And the incredible shame I felt when I would tell people that I was a nutritionist and yet I looked anything but the picture of health and vitality.  I mean, who would ever take health advice from someone who looked like me?

I was desperate to “fix” myself.  Doctors, naturopaths, supplements, detoxes, diets, psychotherapists, self-help books, yoga, mediation – you name it, I tried it.  And each time I’d try something new and it didn’t work, I’d beat myself up for not being good enough, smart enough, or working hard enough.

It took 5 years, a debilitating skin condition and almost $30,000 (yes, I totalled it up) trying to fix myself, to find that external something that would solve all my problems before I realized that everything I was doing was simply treating a symptom of a bigger issue, which was that I didn’t love or fundamentally accept myself.  I was living my life based on the need for outside validation, approval, and affection. Every choice I made in my life was coming from a place of fear, rather than love. 

Fear of failure.  Fear of judgment. Fear of not being loved. 

My experience taught me that we can exhaust ourselves trying to change our external circumstances to achieve some external results, but at the end of the day, if you don’t go within, you go without.   When we learn to flex our self-love muscles and choose love for yourself over fear, that is when the true healing begins. 

You may not have cystic acne like I did, for you it could be something different entirely. But I want you to think about that thing in your life that is constantly plaguing you, looming over you like a big, black cloud.  That thing you’re struggling with, that is keeping you stuck and unhappy.  And if I can impress one thing upon you today, let it be this: the first and sometimes only step you need to find the success, happiness and fulfillment (in any area of life) that you seek begins with first loving yourself.

I learned the hard way that no one does it all.  We each, if we’re lucky, will have our chance to leave our mark on the world   Rather than trying to emulate Wonder Woman, focus on what’s wonderful about you instead.  Have the courage to accept yourself exactly as you are and believe that you are worthy regardless of what you have, do or become.  You are worthy right now. 

Just like you would join a gym or hire a trainer to strengthen your physical muscles, you can exercise your self-love muscle in much the same way.  Through practice, commitment and consistency.  When you become aware of the way you relate to yourself, learn to cultivate self-compassion and take action on doing the things that truly light you up inside, you are laying the foundation to develop a beautiful relationship with the most important person in your life…yourself.

I invite you to go boldly, audaciously, and joyfully in the direction of love.  Because if you want to soar in health, in love and in life, you must first learn to FLY. First Love Yourself.

Samantha Ushedo

Samantha Ushedo

Begin Again

By Madison Garrett

I’m sitting on the front porch of my apartment as the storm rolls in slowly from the west. From my vantage point with a mug of green tea in hand, I can see two sides of the storm: the before and the during. The before is my apartment complex: dry, not yet changed by the approaching rain, but crackling and tingling under the weight of what it knows is coming. The during, just off in the distance, is dark, menacing, irrepressible, and all-encompassing. The storm is coming and coming quickly; I can hear the thunder cracking and I see the lightning jump from cloud to cloud. 

What I cannot see, however, is the after. 

A darling friend has just left my apartment to go meet up with her boyfriend, most likely for the last time. An hour ago, we were eating store-bought spaghetti and farmer’s market bread in my living room, chatting about our lives, when she asked me, out of the blue, what it was like to go through a break up.

For the first time in the ten months since I had been broken up with, I broke down sobbing in front of another human being. Unable to contain myself, I burst into tears, burdened by the rawness and the honesty of the question, the heartbreak my friend was about to encounter, and remembering mine all over again. 

Last October, I stood exactly where she now stands. I remember it with savage clarity: the helplessness, the powerlessness, the inability to change his mind, and the desperation with which I fought to keep him in my life. 

The feelings of not-enoughness, of weakness, of wretched, unwavering, unavoidable confusion. 

I spoke to her quietly, with a voice cracking under the weight of so much emotion.

“It’s anguish.”     

My sweet friend watched tears stream shamelessly down my face. 

“It’s anguish,” I said, “but I can tell you with absolute certainty and with every fiber of my being that it is the most worthwhile anguish imaginable.”

There is a rawness that comes in feeling so much, I explained to her. I was unused to heartbreak, inexperienced in the art of grieving, and overall confounded by the reality I was now facing. I was heart sick and heart sore, skipping out on a week’s worth of obligations, choosing to watch Friends in bed or go on long, tear-filled walks with myself. I filled up journal after journal of questions of self-worth and asking that oh so inconvenient question: why. 

It is okay to hide for a little while. It’s okay to be all mixed up and it’s okay to not be okay. It’s necessary to mourn and grieve and be still in the midst of your sadness. I needed to nurse my tender heart and let it feel every mixed up emotion that it felt, even when I didn’t want to. Letting go of the sweet boy I loved felt like standing on the plank of a pirate ship. I knew I couldn’t stay on the boat. No one was pushing me off and no one was going to force me to jump, but I knew that I couldn’t stay there. I had to decide for myself if I wanted to stay on board a boat that wasn’t going anywhere or if I wanted to jump off and believe in the unknown waters. 

And now here I am, nearly a year later, sitting on my porch, watching a storm, and slowly letting go of fear for my friend. In its place, I’m growing more and more excited. 

This season ripped me apart and ravished my heart and turned everything I knew upside down. It was like an earthquake that shook up my life, unseating everything without a firm foundation, showing me what was permanent in my life as well as highlighting the fragments that needed rebuilding. It was like a wrecking ball that knocked down any apparition of perfection, forcing me to be vulnerable and weak and sad and messy- everything I always did my best to avoid. It was a season of walking through the wilderness, of not being able to see where I was going, of constantly deciding if I wanted to be where it was safe or where I would grow.

I had to start talking about my pain. Which, for the record, is NOT easy for me. But I had to start speaking out loud those lies that I believed so that someone could speak the truth over me instead. I had to set my pride aside and bravely pull back the curtain and show dear friends the messiness of my heart, choosing to honor them with my vulnerability and choosing to let them be the kind of friend that I needed. My heart had been broken, and now was the time to undergo heart surgery: to sift through my emotions and my insecurities, to courageously let my heart be opened up and softened, and to bravely begin to use it again. 

Yes, this season is anguish. But it is the most beautiful and pure and righteous form of anguish possible. 

Just like the storm will inevitably end, the anguish my friend feels will end too. But we cannot put ourselves on a timeline. You are never “too much” and you are never “not enough”  and you are never behind schedule. Those lies are easy to believe, but you must fight them. Replace them with this truth: you are becoming gold. This pain is not meaningless, I promise. From inside the storm, you cannot see what comes next. But take it from someone who has been soaked by the heavy rain and now walks freely: spring is on the other side. A season of newness, of rebirth, of beginnings waits for you. The soil is dark and wet and ready for growth and a new you is ready to burst forth into existence. You are being scrubbed clean of brokenness and you will emerge victorious, renewed, refreshed, and revitalized, ready to dream, ready to love, and ready to begin again. So muster every ounce of courage you have and jump off that pirate ship into your new normal. It is the boldest thing you could possibly do.

Madison Garrett

Madison Garrett

From “The One” to No One

By Brooke Cockrell

There I was standing across the man I was in love with, the man who I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with - hearing him say that he didn’t love me anymore.

With those words, the world around me became cloudy, unclear, and completely turned upside down. 

---

Let me backtrack to about my 7th grade year when I first remember feeling insecure as a result of verbal abuse. I was endlessly bullied for my weight and race and even managed to get a hate MySpace page created about me. Those years of abuse quickly turned into self-harming and a long battle with an eating and body disorder. 

Years of struggling with my body image and never feeling like I measured up

Using whatever I could get my hands on to help give me some sense of wanting

I so desperately desired to be desired

That was my reality. Using temporary means to heal a very real and deep wound.

Then came love.

A very real love.

One that heard my story, my struggles and said “I love you, I’m here for you”

This was it - this is what would finally fix me.

This is what would heal that wound.

As a very young and immature 18-year-old dating an older guy telling me the promises of marriage and future together I became consumed.

I looked to him for validation

I looked to him to fill me - to complete me, because that's what I was always told, love is when other person completes you.

I lived in the lens of tunnel vision

All I saw was the end - the day he would propose, we would get married, and then we would start a life together

I didn't see the fighting

I didn’t see how I was pulling him down

I didn’t see how our intimacy was hurting not helping us

The end was a crash and burn type

No reasons

No chance of working through it

I was just cut off from this man who was my everything

And faced with the reality that this man who said he would be there for me till the end was walking away from me

The days, months, and years, following my breakup was so dark - so filled with insecurity, depression, fears, and heartbreak

But time went on and so did life. And I remember driving my car one day and thinking “Brooke, either you can end this right now or you can continue driving. You may not know how long it will take to get to your destination or the detours you will have to take along the way, but you know that eventually you will make it.” 

So I continued driving.

Driving towards a life that

became the journey of rebuilding myself.

Other than a select few, I separated myself from the people I had known for years

I spent time trying to find healthy escapes rather than resorting to hurting myself

I spent a lot of days alone

I spent a lot of days with my nose in a book or with hand cramps from journaling

And eventually I became myself - the Brooke I was created to be

I became strong

Confident

Independent

Not afraid to be alone

And the guts to say no to disrespect

This journey to finding myself has been a long one - 965 days to be exact and honestly it will be a journey I’ll be one until I take my last breath

Everyday I strive to learn something new about myself

What makes my heart quicken

What irks me

What fuels inspiration

To learn from my mistakes but never dwell in them

To move forward even if it’s just one step

How to love myself better

How to love others better

To continually evolve.

I can try and take the credit - but I give it all to my Creator. He was there in my darkness and came to my rescue in my vulnerable, messy, desperate, and helpless state.

And it is in His love that I found my worth.

He showed me what true love is.

That He is the only person who can complete my heart because He is the one who made it

That only He can heal those wounds

That humanly love is not about completing each other, but about complementing each other

But the most important thing my God showed me was

My worthiness of being loved

How precious I am

How important and valuable I am

And no matter how many times I fail, how many breakups I go through, how many mistakes I make, what words people use against me

I was, am, and will always be worth loving

People need to understand the weight of their words - and I mean that in terms of positive and negative use of language. We as humans have this incredible weapon of our tongue that has the power to either build up or destroy the people around us.

That's why Love You, Love People is one of my favorite stances by SWL.

It seems simple, but in reality loving yourself is one of the hardest things in the world, and something I still struggle with. And I’ve learned that you can never love someone with that real genuine life changing love until you learn to love yourself.