Love Yourself First


Some lessons you just need to get engraved into your skin to remember them.

This summer I feel like I’m emerging from a birth canal. The world around me feels bright and new, and I feel wet and slimy and vary between staring wide-eyed and wanting to cry. On Monday, after fifteen months of separation, my divorce finalised. My last day of day job is next Friday. Three days later, I move into the first ever apartment where I will live alone. A dating relationship is at an end. I got my final royalty cheque from my former publisher. I decided not to move to California.

It’s no wonder I feel a bit reborn.

On Monday at the courthouse, there was one case before us that had to adjourn briefly.  The magistrate called us up, and because it’s a no-contest, no-fault thing, we were asked twenty or so questions and told to fill out a form. Boom bam, baby. While we were filling out the form, the previous case returned. The plaintiff took the stand to testify, and every relieved feeling that had been swirling in me vanished in a puff of  smoke.

Within a minute, the woman was sobbing on the stand. Her grounds for divorce? Cruelty. And her testimony was one of the more brutal things I have heard from another human being. Within two minutes, I could tell she was in full PTSD flashback mode. I had tears dripping into my lap. My friend who came as my witness and my ex husband on either side of me were tense and teary as well. By the time we finished the form and could vault out of the courtroom, all three of us were wide-eyed and swallowing hard.

It’s probably a testimony to the state of my relationship with my ex that when he said, “Aren’t you glad I’m not an abusive asshole?” and I responded by throwing my arms around his neck, that was a totally normal thing to do. He’s a good man. We just weren’t right for each other. And I think both of us are thankful that we were able to high five and hug out our parting.

He left to go have a party. And on the on-ramp to the highway back north home, I turned to my roommate and said, “I want to go get a tattoo.”

I’m planning two large pieces for later this year, and I’d intended to get my back piece first, followed by a partial sleeve. But on Monday, I knew I needed to get a different one first. We drove to downtown, to the tattoo studio my roommate goes to, and they had walk-in time. Three hours later, I walked out with my first tattoo.

My roommate says she needs at least six reasons to get a tattoo, and I like that way of thinking.

Mine is the ogham transliteration of “mo gaol ort,” which means “my love on you” in Gaelic. Here are some of my reasons.

1. This was the inscription on my wedding band, which was entirely my doing. I picked the jeweler, the design, everything about it. It always felt more like mine than a product of our marriage — or a symbol of our marriage. I’m not sure from whom the love was supposed to come in the context of our relationship, in retrospect.

2. I’ve always wanted an ogham tattoo, and this will be the first of at least two.

3. It is a reminder of the good times in my marriage, and a reminder that there were good times. It is a reminder that good times do not necessarily reflect the right relationship.

4. It is a reminder that in that relationship, I was not my truest self. Because of that, I was unable to give myself fully to the relationship, and there was no way the relationship could be successful when I myself was stunted.

5. It is a reminder of the things that matter desperately to me, and a reminder to keep myself focused on those things if I hope to find or create a fulfilling life.

6. Most importantly, by inking the words “mo gaol ort” into my skin, by my own accord, with deliberate and purposeful agency, it is a reminder to love myself. That any love within me must first be my own, for me. It is a reminder that I deserve that. That loving myself is the single most important thing I can do to be a whole person. Whether alone or in relationship to others, loving myself is a prerequisite before I can extend love outward.

Today I read a pair of articles about what it means to “hold space.” To hold space means to allow another person to exist, react, grieve, grow — all without judgement or offering unsolicited advice. It means we journey beside them without trying to guide them. At the end of that article, it links to another very necessary piece, because in order to effectively hold space for anyone else, you have to hold space for yourself first.

Many of the lessons in that second post are layered into the ink that now dwells in my skin. It’s okay to walk away. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to ask for help. Listen to yourself. Find inspiration. Seek out meaningful experience. Create. Acknowledge your emotions.

Taking care of ourselves is the first step.

One thought on “Love Yourself First

  1. This post hits very close to home for a lot of reasons. I won’t say much other than, good luck with your new course. That is so great you were able to walk away from your ex with hugs and something that happens less than it should. As you said, sometimes a relationship just doesn’t work. And congrats on the tattoo!!

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