Self-love is the most difficult journey you will ever embark upon, but it's also the most important. Sometimes it's a journey straight through hell...but if you can survive and make it through to the other side, you will find yourself along the way, and you will be all the better for doing so.
Detail shot of "I Will Never Let You Love Me (Because I Could Never Love Myself" (2010)
It has always been easier for me to love others than it has been to love myself. For almost 30 plus years, I built a semblance of a life around finding the best in even the worst people (even when it wasn't there), all the while struggling to see any value in myself...no matter how apparent the signs. It's amazing what can be hidden directly in plain sight if you're living in darkness, and for so many years I did. For the majority of my life I filtered out any good thoughts or memories while also managing to snowball any criticisms or negativity thrown in my direction. Saying I didn't love myself would be an understatement. For much of my life, I genuinely hated myself. It's amazing the monsters we can build in our heads if there's not someone there to save us from ourselves. What I didn't learn for so many years was that the only person that could save me from those monsters was the same person that created them...me.
Studio shot of "I Will Never Let You Love Me (Because I Could Never Love Myself"
We all have our very legitimate reasons for our struggles for self-love, myself included. I know why I feel the way I do and that many of the feelings I have are valid because of conditioned behaviors and thoughts paired with neurological variances and traumas. The problems with those legitimate reasons is that they quickly become giant barriers that grow into seemingly unconquerable monsters. For so long I only sought love from the places I was destined to never find it. It wasn't that love wasn't out there for me, it's that I was specifically looking in all the wrong places...and the first place I needed to begin looking was within. The problem with looking within, and the reason so many avoid it, is that you may not like what you see. For many years I hated myself and didn't believe I really deserved love...from anyone. For that reason, the last place I wanted to look was within myself. I sought it in all the wrong places and what I was chasing really wasn't "love" to begin with, just a misguided misconception of the ideas of love because I couldn't comprehend what real love actually was. If you had hit me over the head with it or dangled it right in front of me, I would not have recognized it. That's how lost I truly was.
The one saving grace I have always had in my life though has been my art, always raw and vulnerable. For many years it was the only thing I knew that remotely resembled love and the only thing I had a relationship with. In 2010, I created what I still consider to be one of my masterworks titled "I Will Never Let You Love Me (Because I Could Never Love Myself)." The title adamantly reflects my complete and utter feeling of hopelessness for so many years. That hopelessness was often what felt like the only thing inside an otherwise empty vessel.
"I Will Finally Let You Love Me (Because I Learned To Love Myself" (2016)
At more than one time in my life, I have found myself at the end of my rope. When you hit that point, the only thing you are really fighting for is survival. Everything else is put on hold until you can at least secure that one pivotal battle. Life is very much a rollercoaster filled with ups, downs, and plateaus. There is no one point in life where it just levels off and everything stays the same, good or bad, except perhaps death. For this reason, it's a constant work in progress if you make that conscious choice to keep fighting...to keep holding on. If you're not careful, it's incredibly easy to backslide...to fall apart or come crashing down. It seems like it takes so long to get things on track at times, but just a split second to lose it all...to hit that drop off the back end of a peak that sends you straight to the rock bottom of a personal hell. If and when you hit that point and you don't have self-love as a weapon to fight your darkness, you're in for a world of trouble, and often times I was.
Studio shot of "I Will Finally Let You Love Me (Because I Learned To Love Myself" With Braska
When I hit my early 30s I started contemplating just how much time I had wasted not living and holding on to all the hurt and hatred deep inside of me. I had let out small amounts here and there, somewhat like a balloon with a tiny leak, but what I really needed was to burst in order to heal. Sometimes you just have to go for broke and if every single thing you have been doing has not been working out, perhaps it's time for a drastic change, and that's precisely what my life demanded if I was to finally start living at 30...a fresh start.
Any time I had released any of the negative, it was often through other negative coping mechanisms, thus further exacerbating an existing problem, if not creating entirely new ones. I was essentially bleeding from one wound while simply creating another to distract myself. It wasn't really healing...just a diversion at best. At some point, you have to start healing or you're going to bleed out. That fresh start often means starting from the bottom and that often scares people away from the very idea. I had to see it as an opportunity...an opportunity to become anyone or anything I chose to be. In my case, I just wanted to be happy with myself...to love myself in a way I never had. Beyond that, everything else, including external love, was really just a bonus. Self-love was the key though...the master key to unlocking every other door in my life.
Detail shot of "I Will Finally Let You Love Me (Because I Learned To Love Myself"
In 2016, I really started focusing on my personal journey out of hell. Consumed in the fires of that hell, I was presented with an opportunity to start fresh and rise from the ashes. I had given myself the permission to do so, and that was massive. That meant letting go of everything not meant for me, unloading all of the heavy baggage (my own and that of others) so I could find myself...so I could free myself.
Throughout this journey, my art has been my compass and my travel companion. In 2016 I decided it was time for a sequel to that 2010 painting, so I created "I Will Finally Let You Love Me (Because I Learned To Love Myself)." It was 32 years in the making and long overdue.
Studio shot of "When Nobody Else Would Love Me (I Had To Learn To Love Myself)"
It's so easy to summarize a story focusing on the highlights or to paint yourself as the hero when you are the one telling it. I do know one thing for certain though. I am not the hero of my story...at least not entirely, and certainly not yet. I've spent the vast majority of my life as the villain or complacent observer in my story. I think we all have. The journey is not over and I'm not over the hill...not yet. The journey of self-love does not end. It goes on.
In 2019 I created "When Nobody Else Would Love Me (I Learned To Love Myself)." I'm really not sure where my journey will take me next, but I'm doing my best to continue cultivating that self-love from within and to become the best man I can be, whatever and whoever that may be. Some days are a struggle more than others, but I'm still here...I'M STILL HERE. My quest continues and my art serves as my journal of my adventures along the way. As my love grows, I leave pages here and there for passersby that may require a bit of nourishment or encouragement on their own personal quests for self-love. It's a difficult journey, the most difficult journey, but the most important one you will ever take. I hope I can offer you a little love along the way.
Happy Travels and Godspeed-