How I learned to love myself healthy
Four years ago, my life shattered open, and it got a whole lot worse before it got a whole lot better.
During my Senior year of college, I wasn’t able to receive any financial aid due to a technical issue, and my family was going through economic hardship. I decided to take my first semester off to buy time so that I could work and figure out how to go back to school. As much as I tried to compose myself and hide it, I was completely devastated. I didn’t know if I would be able to get the degree I worked so hard to earn, and the ghosts of past events that I never processed were emerging in my psyche full force. From leftover trauma of my parents drawn out divorce, to experiencing health related issues, to hurtful fall outs with my childhood best friends, to going through periods of long distance with my boyfriend, I was about to explode.
That Halloween evening I decided to drink my problems away and ended up blacking out. The next morning I couldn’t remember anything. My boyfriend, Christian, was there for it all and had to recount the evening events back to me. He told me that I had spent the entire night yelling at him, saying the cruelest things imaginable. I yelled that I didn’t love him, that I hated him, and that he was the worst person I knew. I was mortified. I didn’t feel any of those things towards him. In fact, I love him and cherish every moment I get to spend with him. I was hit like a brick wall with the realization that those words weren’t meant for him. I meant them for myself. It hit me that I didn’t love myself.
In fact, I hated myself.
Amazingly, Christian didn’t leave me. He stayed by my side, and told me how much he loved me. In his loving eyes, I could see all my own pain reflected back to me. I had been holding so much inside that I wanted to forget. Years of suppressing traumatic events that happened in my childhood and adolescence were firing out of me in explosive ways, and I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I had to face my suffering head on, and battle my self-hate with self-love. I knew, that morning, that if I didn’t learn to love myself, I would hurt the people around me and lose the person I loved most.
I decided to start my journey of self-love by investing in my health. Up until this point my relationship with my body was a constant pendulum. As a teenager, when events happened in my life that literally turned my world upside down overnight, I channeled my negative emotions into eating and partying. In college, with newfound freedom, and access to a gym, I tried to micromanage my eating and exercise habits because it gave me a sense of control. This need for control became dangerously obsessive, and I ended up exercising my body to the point of a serious injury. After going to both extremes, and learning that I took out my emotions on my body and food, I knew I needed to find a way to treat my body kindly, and develop a healthy relationship with food.
So one day after work as I was browsing through the health and fitness section in Barnes & Noble, a book shined out to me like a beam of light. It was so completely different than anything I had ever seen. It was not about how to go on a juice cleanse, or about kale being the answer to all the world’s problems. Instead, it was called “Loving Yourself to Great Health,” and it changed my life. In this book, co-written by Louise Hay, I learned how nutrition, food, and positive thoughts are all interconnected. It taught me to practice self-acceptance through affirmations, and inspired me to welcome pleasure and ease into my body rather than treating it with pain and punishment.
From there, I began to incorporate healthy practices into my daily life like journaling, cooking, and meditation. After successfully going back to college and graduating, I desired even more knowledge about the intelligence of my body, and wanted to find a way to move that brought me joy. I decided to go through a Nia White Belt training. Nia is a holistic fitness practice that combines Martial Arts, Dance Arts, and Healing Arts. It was during this training that I discovered the healing powers of movement. In fact one of the mottos in Nia is “through movement we find health”. Nia showed me that nobody is ever broken, and that we are always whole. In this training, I allowed myself to be expressive with my body without judgement, and uncovered the stories and messages my unique body contains. Nia gifted me with the ability to feel present and connected to my body which was something I had never experienced before.
The year following my Nia training, I worked at a natural food store, and fell even more in love with the power and potential of health. As a store attendant I expanded my knowledge of whole foods, supplements and herbs. As a deli cook, and baker I increased my ability to prepare delicious vegan and vegetarian dishes. I educated myself on different dietary theories, and even experimented with being plant-based vegan for a year. All my hard work at building healthy habits was paying off, and they really were becoming a part of my daily routine.
Yet, as impactful as these practices were, they did not heal the immense anxiety I was going through, or make the depression I was experiencing disappear. In fact, it was after I started my journey of self-love that I entered the longest and deepest state of depression I ever had, and had the most panic attacks. However, it was because of these habits that I was able to gain the courage and strength to face some of my deeper issues. They replaced the substances and habits I used to use to numb my pain, and opened up the opportunity for me to heal soberly. They allowed me to hold space for my emotions, listen to my body, and become aware of what I needed to let go of in order to move forward.
I believe our minds don’t let us confront certain things, until they know we are ready and in a safe place. Because of the distance I had from my home, and because of the habits I created, I was finally safe. Every day, it felt like all the stuff I buried within me was rising up. The hurt, confusion, and sadness came out in tidal waves of tears, and sometimes I cried for days on end. I called in sick to work on multiple occasions just to spend the whole day in bed grieving. Sometimes, it was so scary, I really didn’t know if I would ever make it out. There was one point where I even had a poster in my bathroom that said “if all you accomplish today is waking up, you win.” But you know what? Each and every day I held on to the belief that self-love was possible for me, and it became my guiding light.
Through these dark times I learned that self-love is not just the practice of eating well, exercising, and being mindful. It’s tough love too. I reached out for help, I told my mom I wasn’t okay, and needed to find a therapist. I talked with Christian about my depression and anxiety (which I never did before), I opened up to my friends, I set boundaries, I said no to events that would set me back, and I picked myself up time and time again. I fought for myself tooth and nail, and I won.
Today, I virtually have zero anxiety or depression days. I am able to communicate and manage my emotions easily. I am able to cope with feelings of uncertainty with healthy practices. I feel empowered to make the right food choices for my body. I am engaged to Christian, and we have a loving, nourishing relationship. I move my body daily in ways that bring me joy, excitement, and strength. I know that life is long, and there will be many ups and downs. But, because of this journey, I have cultivated the resiliency to adapt to and overcome life’s challenges. Because of this journey, I have developed belief and trust in myself to direct my life in a way that is aligned with who I am. Today, I can finally say that I love myself, and mean it.
This journey is the reason I am a Health Coach. After going through hell and coming out on top, I want to show other women that they can do it too. I know how life saving and transformational self-love and healthy habits can be. I also know that those two practices go hand in hand and can not be sustained without the other. That is why I want to empower women to reclaim their self-love AND take ownership of their health. Too many of us receive messages that we aren’t enough and that we aren’t worthy. Too many of us are taught to give our trust away to health magazines, diets and outside sources in knowing what is best for our body. But here’s the truth: you were born enough. You are worthy of living your truth, and following your dreams. You have the wisdom inside of you to know what is best for you and your body. However, I also know that believing these truths is tough. I know that the journey of loving yourself, and creating sustainable healthy habits may challenge you to confront things inside yourself that you don’t want to. That is why I want to do anything I can to make it easier for you, and to support you in the process.
I am here for you if you ever need a boost of inspiration, or a Health Coach that is 100% dedicated to helping you achieve your wellness goals and cheering you on towards your best life.
xo Anna Maria ox