After seeing the theta healer a second time and feeling freer than ever from the negative cycles of thinking I had been stuck in, I continued to work on building off of the release I felt and was happily able to get to a place where I truly forgave my partner. I had said it years before, but there is a difference between saying you forgive someone and actually forgiving them. So, this part of our relationship was where my focus was for a while afterwards, and so I wasn’t even aware that these realizations about Jesse, our relationship, and their implications were probably reaching out into other areas of my life.
Last time, I left off on some important questions that have been percolating for the last year and a half, there in the back of my mind but not fully formed, the answers unreachable because the questions were foggy. These thoughts surrounded my lack of self-worth, something that if I thought about for longer than 10 seconds I could have said was lacking, but I was denying. It wasn’t until recently, when I was reading Brené Brown’s truly touching and mindset-shifting book, “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You Should Be and Embrace Who You Are”, that those other questions came bubbling back to the surface of my consciousness, much more formed now and ready to be answered. I was ready too.
Brené talks a lot about worthiness at the start of the book and how many people feel as though they aren’t worthy of love and belonging just the way they are now. That’s the key. The way they are already. At first I was thinking to myself, “Oh, this doesn’t apply to me. I know I’m far from perfect, but I definitely know I’m worthy of love.” I went through at least a third of the book like this. As I read further though, I started to recognize myself in the examples she gives.
Her definition of perfectionism is really what made me see the truth: that there is definitely a part of me that has been striving to be perfect (and perfect in the eyes of others), not just because I enjoy making other people happy, but because I don’t feel like I’m worthy of their love or belong with them if I’m not perfect. And that idea of perfect is usually built based on what I feel other people think fits the bill. Her example surrounding body image really hammered it home. I realized that I have always thought about fitness and weight loss not from my own perspective of how it will make me happier, healthier, and stronger, but how it will make other people view me positively, love me more, and make me feel like I belong. If you have similar thoughts and feelings of shame surrounding your body image or any other aspect of yourself or your life, they are coming from a place of not feeling worthy of love and belonging. It took me 30 years to realize this.
It goes deeper than forgetting to take care of our own needs because we are so focused on others; it’s about feeling like we don’t deserve to have our needs met as much as the next person, as much as the people whom we care for. Somewhere along the way, without realizing it, we start to feel like we don’t deserve love, caring, and support in the same way and the same volume that we give it out.
The pervasiveness of this feeling began revealing itself to me, and I started to see the ways it has shaped how I have behaved for much of my life, and it was at this point that I started to connect the dots. It dawned on me that things throughout my life had fed this feeling. The full impact of the comments of that mean girl in Grade 7 was a surprising one. I thought it was ancient history with no lasting effect; now I see that it was one of the first times I was made to feel like I didn’t belong just for being who I was, which was apparently “annoying”.
My first serious boyfriend breaking up with me because he just wasn’t happy with me anymore. He couldn’t give me any reasons for why he wasn’t, so I internalized it and blamed myself. I must not have been good enough, perfect enough, otherwise he would have stayed.
Remember that past relationship where it was reinforced in me that my physical attractiveness was my most important attribute? For the first time I noticed the scars that it had left, ones that I had subconsciously chosen not to look at before. In his words, how I looked was a reflection of him (yes, he actually said that to me), so I thought that I needed to fit his image of “perfect” all the time or he would leave me too. I lost myself there, for a long time. This was one comment, one time, and I’m sure he didn’t realize the impact it had, but as I’ve said before, it doesn’t take much to wound a person.
While I was reading Brené Brown’s book, the full picture of my struggles with self-worth started to come into focus. And then I remembered my session a year previously with the theta healer and her soul-shaking question of, “Do you think that part of the reason you got sick was so that he would have to prove how much he loves you every single day?”. Maybe this spread beyond my relationship with Jesse and into my others as well. Woah. Yet again.
I recognized that my entire history had led me to this realization. It was like puzzle pieces clicking into place until finally I could see the full image.
The last piece of the puzzle was that excitement that I mentioned feeling at the thought of getting sick with something terrible, for years before I was diagnosed. Once that final piece found its home, the most profound realization dawned on me: I had felt excitement at that prospect because if I were in that situation, I would be able to receive love and support AND feel worthy of it. That is what I was excited for, the prospect of a situation where I would feel worthy of love and support and wouldn’t feel guilty about receiving it; where I wouldn’t have to worry that someone was judging me for the attention and love I was receiving, and where I therefore wouldn’t have to feel ashamed about receiving all of it, because who the hell judges a cancer patient? It felt like the only time it would ever be safe to receive that level of love and caring.
I realized that for me, love and support was linked in my mind to “attention” and that seeking attention was a bad thing, a thing other people would find annoying. Love and shame had somehow become locked together in my mind.
I thought I believed myself worthy of love. I’m lucky to have lots of people who love me and support me, but I never realized that there was a part of me that didn’t feel worthy of that love, that felt like I needed to work for it, to be perfect, to make everyone happy so that they would love me at all instead of believing that they would love me no matter what. It was like a literal slap in the face when I realized I believe that part of the spiritual reason I got sick was so that not only would people around me “have” to show me love and support, but so that I could justify receiving that love and support without feeling guilty, so that I could feel like I deserved that treatment and didn’t need to feel ashamed of it or judged. The lesson I needed to learn from this experience is that none of that is true.
If you believe in the connection between the mind and body, that what you think and feel is affecting your cells on a physical level, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to consider that my way of thinking about illness like this likely played a factor in my diagnosis. There are a large number of complicated facets that contribute to a cancer diagnosis, and in no way do I think that I wouldn’t have gotten cancer if I could have just changed my patterns of thinking around self-worth. But it does make me wonder about the messages I was sending my cells, that I was excited to get sick; how were they affected by that message?
Sometimes shit just happens, but I believe things usually happen for a reason, and that reason is sometimes that the universe is sending us a lesson. Finding the lessons, the purpose in cancer, has been so beneficial to me in so many ways. It has allowed me to stay positive, but more importantly, it has allowed me to turn one of the worst things that can happen to a person into something that has brought more personal growth into my life than I even knew I needed. I feel as though I have become me through my cancer experience. I needed to learn how to do that, how to be authentically me and not anyone else’s version of me. And this is where the worthiness comes in. I needed to learn that I am worthy of love just the way I am and that I don’t need cancer to justify receiving that love. There are other reasons for me too: to be healthier going forward in my life so I avoid other issues later on, so that I can help others with my experience, so that I can be the best and happiest me there is, just to name a few. But my learning around worthiness, recognizing and valuing my own self-worth, and passing that message on to others are the biggest and most important.
Some people might be upset or offended by this, by the idea that we get sick partly as a result of needing a desperate kick in the pants to make necessary changes and learn vital lessons, and I would have been too at the beginning, before I realized everything that I learned and how much I’ve grown and changed. If you are angry or you disagree that is totally fine; it’s your story, and you get to decide how you feel about it and what you do with it. But if you are feeling dejected and sad and are looking for some hope, start looking for ways that you have positively changed as a result of this. Look for friendships and new connections you have made that you wouldn’t have otherwise (looking at you, Pink Hat Thrivers 🤗). Look for new things you have learned about yourself, like how you can do hard things! And most importantly, realize your worthiness. You are worthy of this beautiful life; you deserve to have a life you love, you deserve to go after your dreams, and you deserve to find and receive deep, true love. So am I 😊 (<— Even here, I was compelled to add an emoji to lighten things up; I’m afraid people will judge me for seriously saying that I deserve all of these things. I’m working on it!)
It would have taken me a long time, if ever, to realize all of this. This was one of the most beautiful gifts cancer gave me. No one deserves cancer, but it teaches us things that we can benefit from. It makes us stronger, makes us more purposeful and purpose-filled, and it changes our perspective for the better for the rest of our lives, if we let it. Now that I have learned this, I can work on reminding myself constantly that I am worthy and that I don’t need a crisis like cancer to be so. I will say it again for the people in the back: we do not need to be sick to be worthy of love, of being cared for and supported, to deserve love just the way we are, to feel loved and cared for without feeling shame.
Love doesn’t need justification or defence. It took me my whole life and a cancer diagnosis to realize this. I don’t need to work for people’s love, and I don’t need an “excuse” like cancer to be deserving of it. And neither do you. We are worthy, just the way we are.
Happy Healing ❤️