7 Steps to Loving Yourself Unconditionally
By Deepak Chopra, M.D. (/bios/deepak-chopra)
A mother loves her newborn child without reservation, and romantic love, in its first stages of infatuation, can make the beloved seem perfect. But most of us doubt that love without reservation, completely forgiving and accepting, exists in our everyday lives. Looking in the mirror, all of us see too many flaws and remember too many past wounds and failings to love ourselves without also putting a limit on it.
I’m looking in the bathroom mirror like so many times before. I feel contempt and disgust at the person in the reflection. That person is nothing but a loser and the “L” made from her hand placed over her forehead says it loud and clear. That person is a waste of space on this planet.
That person is me. That person cannot go one damned day without drinking. No matter how hard I try, I HAVE TO drink everyday. No matter how many different ways I try to stop, nothing works.
My brain cannot figure this out. I am not stupid. I graduated cum laude from college. I am not homeless. I am married with two boys and have a home, two cars, a dog and a job. I am not abused. I come from a supportive and loving family and have many dear friends. So what gives?
I am an alcoholic. I find this out when I check myself into rehab. I put myself there when I missed my shift at work and just couldn’t do this anymore. Drink everyday starting in the morning, sobering up for my husband’s lunch at home, drinking again, passing out on the sofa using my kids coming home from school as my alarm clock to get up and get ready for work, still partially drunk or hung over.
That’s what I remember about my drinking. Fun, huh? Life of the party? No, I was a closet drinker because I was so ashamed about how much I drank, how often I drank, my black-outs and my pass-outs.
This journey has been the best thing that every happened to me. I wouldn’t be the person I am today had I not experienced what was meant to be. I wouldn’t have a god of my understanding in my life today, guiding, protecting, teaching and loving me had I not had these experiences. I wouldn’t have learned to live from my heart and shut off my head had I not bottomed out. I wouldn’t have the self-love, self-worth and self-respect I have for myself today were I not an alcoholic.
In order to expand the love you experience now into unconditional love, a spiritual element is involved. There’s a path to unconditional love, as with any spiritual aspiration, and on this path success depends on allowing the goal to unfold naturally. The world’s wisdom traditions have provided many road maps, but here I’ll offer a few common elements without religious overlay.
Step 1: Make Contact with Your Inner Self
This implies paying more attention to self-care. Through meditation, self-reflection, or contemplation, and the experience of quiet at least a few minutes every day, you make contact with your inner world. You learn to appreciate and enjoy it.
I have been blessed to have been introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous which started my new journey through life. Because I did what was suggested in AA which was to attend meetings, get a sponsor, work the 12 Steps, read the Big Book, and be of service, I have a new life and a purpose today of sharing my experience strength and hope. And because I have a Power Greater Than Myself over to whom I can turn my will and my life, I have can be grateful and humble.
I have learned to live in the present moment, not dwell on the past, nor fear the future. I can be mindful, respectful, compassionate and loving today which means I no longer have to battle my ego nor be the selfish and fearful human being I once was.
Living this spiritual life in AA has opened up new doors for me practicing meditation and yoga and taking a genuine and heart-felt interest in humanity and our planet. But I still am a human being with weaknesses and defects; I still find myself at times in my old behavior. I still like to eat the occasional Twinkie or Big Mac, I can still curse at you and flip you off in traffic, I can still think of lies I to tell you and things I want to hide fro you, but I can still love myself for who and what I am, and I definitely don’t have to beat up on myself nor take a drink.
You see, when my old behavior, my negative behavior, surfaces, I get this shitty and uncomfortable feeling in my gut. It doesn’t feel good and definitely doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t serve me. When that happens I know that I am not in the moment and I am not one with my god. So I get myself back in the moment, get grateful, and get humble and remember where I came from, where I am now, and remember who is in charge. Not me. I cherish these feelings, embrace them, then let them go. My life and my behavior once again gets happy, joyous and free.
Step 2: Honestly Face Your Inner Obstacles and Resistance
Most people don’t like to face their weaknesses (http://www.chopra.com/ccl/break-on-through-a- meditation-for-overcoming-obstacles) and flaws because they judge against them. But you are only human, and you will find that your sense of insecurity and anxiety represents feelings from the past that can be healed. In fact, they want to be released if you will give them a chance.
The first step in healing is to look inside and let the process of releasing begin. Healing can proceed along many avenues—from therapy and support groups, to energy work, massage, mind-body programs, and various Eastern medical approaches.
Working the 12 Steps has helped me to discover what makes Dee tick. I’ve learned how fear-based I have lived and discovered why. I have unlearned all the bullshit to which I have been exposed throughout my entire life by a society of power-hungry go-getters, critics, and back-stabbers. I don’t have resentments, but acceptance and compassion for the negatives that surround me and my fellows. I still have hope.
I am still my own worst critic. Having been a people-pleaser, perfectionist, and over-achiever for most of my life is hard to unlearn but is proving to be the greatest gift I can give myself. If I can remember that my god loves me just the way I am, that I am just the way I am at this moment, that I have nothing to prove to anyone and answer only to myself and my god, I can cease to be so hard on myself.
I can scrape together a pile of Dee assets that makes me special and unique to this world, gifts that no one else on the planet has. I can remember that God has given me a special purpose and trusts me to carry out that purpose. Hey, yeah. I AM pretty special.
Step 3: Deal with Old Wounds
One could also call this advanced healing. As old residues of negative emotions are released, you find that you are stuck with resentments, hurts, and scars that must be dealt with. Beneath the scar such wounds feel very fresh. It takes help from someone else who understands the situation to go into these dark places—it could be a close friend, mentor, confidante, priest, or therapist. No one can do this work alone, I feel, but I’m not underlining any sense of danger or fear. The work can be done safely, without anxiety, and once you start, there’s a tremendous sense of exhilaration, even triumph in the process. Just find someone who has walked the path successfully and sympathizes with you fully.
I have found a group of like-minded people in AA and I have found that they genuinely care about me and ask for nothing in return. They do not judge. They have compassion. They are mindful and respectful. They let me speak my mind and guide me into my heart. They do not interrupt nor point the finger of guilt nor shame at me. I feel most comfortable being around the AA fellowship where I can easily be myself and be rigorously honest.
Having had many trusted sponsors throughout my years of sobriety has given me a new freedom where the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders. Working the 12 Steps of AA with these women has helped me to make sense of this life, but, more importantly, to make sense of ME.
I can now see and own up to my part in resentments, hurts and scars. I can embrace these feelings for helping bring me to this level in my life, thank them for coming, and then let them lovingly blow away into the clouds. I no longer feel so vulnerable, guilt-ridden nor ashamed. I no longer feel hate nor play the part of the victim. Everything happens for a reason and I can look at it in a positive way and grow and prosper, or I can sit on the pitty-pot and stay stagnant in this pile of shit.
Step 4: Forgive Your Past
You shouldn’t jump too quickly into forgiveness. It’s all too easy to pretend to yourself that you forgive old hurts (http://www.chopra.com/ccl/how-to-release-the-past-and-return-to-love) and abusive treatment, when in fact what you are eager for is to escape the pain. The absence of pain, achieved through healing, gives you the right foundation for deep, lasting forgiveness. Self-acceptance is required first, and the realization that you—and everyone around you—has been doing the best they can from their own level of awareness. This can be quite a challenge when someone has hurt you deeply, but you can’t fully separate from wrongdoing until you accept that others are trapped inside a reality they can’t escape.
We all have our demons, secrets, dysfunctions and darkness. Trying to put myself in others’ shoes when I feel they have wronged helps me to be more compassionate, forgiving and understanding. I do not know what kind of life anyone else on this planet has gone through.
I cannot judge you unless I have walked in your shoes. So I don’t. We are all just brothers and sisters doing our best sharing this planet. If I can forgive others in this way, I must forgive myself in the same loving manner. So I must believe that my life has unfolded and is unfolding in just perfectly. No finger-pointing, blame or guilt about what I have done in my past. No more hating and loathing myself for thoughts and actions that are now behind me. They have brought me to today. Self-esteem, self-worth, and self-love are now in my vocabulary…are now in my life.
Step 5: Accept where You Are Right Now
This, too, is a stage you shouldn’t jump into too quickly. The present moment isn’t free of the burdens, memories, and wounds of the past. They must be attended to before you can look around, breathe easily, and love the moment you are in right now. A good beginning is to catch yourself when you have a bad memory and say, “I am not that person anymore.” For the truth is that you aren’t.
Stay in the present moment right in front of your nose. Dwelling in or on the past, whether with good or bad memories, doesn’t serve us but should be used to help us to achieve a level greater than where we were then. Worrying or fearing the future doesn’t serve us either for it may never come and only drives us to shit on this precious moment in which we should appreciating now.
And in this present moment of appreciation and gratitude may come the humility that God is in control and will do the worrying for us, so to speak. He’s got our backs and wants us to enjoy His gifts fully. It takes so much energy to worry and fret, to be negative and resentful. Being positive is being free and faithful.
Step 6: Form Relationships where You Feel Loved and Appreciated
The path to unconditional love isn’t meant to be lonely. You should walk it with people who reflect the love you see in yourself. You are likely to look around at some point and realize that not everyone among your family and friends are in sync with your aspirations. Without rejecting them, you have the right to find people who understand the path you’re walking and sympathize with it. They are more likely to appreciate you for who you are now and who you want to become.
Isn’t it wonderful that we are not all like-minded? That we all have our own thoughts, feelings, beliefs and opinions that are right for us, in this moment. No one is right. No one is wrong. We are all on our own journeys and if my beliefs don’t serve you, walk away, as I shall when your beliefs don’t jive with mine. I don’t have to start a war with you nor kill you and all those who believe the way you do. I can just move on and let you live in peace, sharing this planet, and respecting you and your ideals. Life would be pretty boring if we all thought and acted the same.
But the feeling of acceptance and comfort that comes from being with like-minded people is like apple pie…comfort food…that nourishes the soul; it’s such a gift, an intended gift from my Higher Power, given me with the hopes I am open and aware enough to see and experience it.
I am finding that the more I allow myself to just be me, to open up to others, to be rigorously honest, there are way more like-minded people who come into my Dee Bubble. And when I can remember to get out of self, to give you the mindfulness, respect and compassion that you deserve, we have a win-win relationship, bonding, gift.
Step 7: Practice the Kind of Love You Aspire to Receive
Long ago, around the time I wrote a book called, The Path to Love (https://www.amazon.com/Path- Love-Spiritual-Strategies-Healing/dp/060980135X), I encountered many people—most of them women —who were constantly waiting for “the one” to show up and sweep them off their feet. But the only way to realistically find “the one” is to be “the one” yourself. Like attracts like (http://www.chopra.com/ccl/intention-attention-no-tension-3-tips-to-master-the-law-of-attraction), and the more you live your own ideal of love, the more your light will draw another light to you. This single point, I am told, has helped most people find their love.
If you spend time every day with one or two of these steps, you will find a practical road that takes you to more love than you have in your life today. The steps unfold naturally once you begin to devote attention to them. You were born to be perfectly loved and completely lovable. The loss of that status is what’s unnatural—not wanting to return to it—and the return means reconnecting with your true self. The path has been walked successfully for centuries, so I hope you take heart and join the fortunate ones who aspire this high. There is no better time to begin than now.
Today I am living a spiritual life which happened to come from hitting a bottom in my active alcoholism. Many find this spiritual life in many ways, on their paths and journeys, with their Higher Powers. I find such joy sharing my experience, strength and hope with them as they share theirs’ with me.
More so than not I am living what I have learned from Alcoholics Anonymous, but could have been learned in many of the other awesome and helpful support groups we have available to us. I encourage everyone to find a support group, or even a person, that can help you to be the best you that your god intended you to be.
We have all been given our journeys and it’s up to us what we’re going to do with it. I have learned that choosing negativity uses way too much energy these days and doesn’t serve me. So I choose to be positive, optimistic and loving. I choose to go with the flow of life that my Higher Power intended me to experience. So as my Higher Power is in the driver’s seat, I enjoy riding along in the passenger seat learning, meeting, experiencing LIFE just as it was meant to be.
And the icing on the cake, the rich butter-cream goodness that takes me to a whole new level and brings me even more joy that I could have ever asked for or even know existed, is that I get to share this goodness with you and everyone who enters my Bubble. I do this by going to AA meetings, by opening the restaurant door for you, by smiling at you in the parking lot, by writing this blog, by creating art to offer you with the hopes I can bring hope and optimism, self-love and self-worth to your home, but, more so, into your heart!
I encourage you to get back to me with your thoughts and feelings. We are all in this together and are on this planet to love and help each other. With much aloha, Dee Harris
For those of you who would like to see the Art with a Message of Inspiration that I have created just for you, please visit my website at www.DeesignsByHarris.com. Mahalo and enjoy!
Want to go even deeper? Learn to improve your internal dialogue and create a more positive outlook at our emotional freedom workshop, Healing the Heart (http://www.chopra.com/programs/healing-the-heart). Experience support as you are guided through our 5-step healing process and leave feeling more connected to a complete state of mindfulness. Click here to learn more. (http://www.chopra.com/programs/healing-the-heart)
About the Author
Deepak Chopra, M.D. (/bios/deepak-chopra) Co-Founder
Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, and a professor at UCSD. Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 80 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. For the last three years, Greatist.com recognizes Dr. Chopra as one of “The 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness.” The World Post…Read more (/bios/deepak-chopra)