A secret: I had to teach myself how to receive love.
Born fifth of my mother’s six children, I was unexpected – an ill-advised accident, given the difficulties my mother had in previous child births. Conceived during a tumultuous time – after the father of her first children abandoned her, beaten and penniless – I was the unfortunate result of a depraved interlude with a man she didn’t even like, but because of me, would marry.
Unlike her other children – sons tall, fair with blue eyes, both talented musicians; and dark-haired, dark-eyed daughters whose beauty dazzled all they met, one frail bodied (born with congenital heart disease), the second an artist, and model – I had no remarkable talents, bore my mother’s wavy hair and green eyes, and my father’s receding chin (an unflattering combination) and rebelled against all things feminine, preferring my fists to common niceties when resolving conflict.
As I grew, I acquired nicknames like Stretch, or Moose, or Linebacker (my father’s term of endearment), and without the wiles of my sisters, my mother grew concerned about me. Worse than my lack of physical attractiveness though, according to Mom, was the fact that I had a brain. “Men,” she’d tell me, “don’t like smart women.”
Every day, my mother would just shake her head, as if not understanding how I could turn out like this – a daughter of hers – and mutter: “No one will ever love you.”
Of course, I set out to disprove her – married young, and when that failed, married again, had kids, sacrificed everything to demonstrate that I was indeed marriage material: loveable.
Until, after seventeen years, my second husband told me: “I do not love you. Have not loved you for ten years. Only stayed for the children.”
My mother’s legacy is true, I told myself. No one will ever love me.
I tucked the knowledge back inside and stumbled about for a few years, jumping from one abusive relationship to another, until I decided to stop and take a step back. What was I trying to prove? I wondered. Why was I so desperate to be in a relationship? Mom’s words floated back to me.
I needed a new mantra – one that supported healthy choices, and negated the old, self-fulfilling belief.
I needed to know that I was loveable. But how does one replace such insidious conditioning?
I began but swearing off outer relationships in favour of building one with myself. I tried to do things that would make me feel loved – bought myself fresh-cut flowers every week, made myself healthy meals, gave myself gifts of chocolate, and while it all felt good on the surface, it only deepened the realization that I really didn’t know what it felt like to be loved.
Flashback to my childhood, and realize that I was born into chaos. My mother jumped from a physically abusive marriage into the arms of my father, whose abuse, while not physical, was emotional and psychological. I was an unwanted addition for my sisters, who were, themselves, reeling from the fallout of a divorce that saw their brothers torn from them as their father kidnapped and then disappeared with them. By the time I was born, my oldest sister was facing death, and I can only imagine that I was one more burden on the back of a broken down family unit. Love was not an easily accessible commodity.
No wonder I made such bad choices in partners: I had no conception of what love was. I vowed to change that program.
I knew, through stories that my mother told, that when I was born my father adored me (I was his first). She said that she’d never seen a man fuss so over a baby – always wanting to hold me, feed me, even change my diaper. While I could not remember any of this, I believed that the knowledge existed somewhere within me, and that if I could access this knowledge, I could change my pattern.
As a lover of babies, I knew that feeling of absolute wonder and joy that comes with holding a newborn, and I set to imagining what it would feel like to be so cherished: to be held in such high esteem, loved unconditionally. Every day, I visualized myself held in loving arms, allowed my body to feel the comfort of love surrounding me, imagined melting into its folds, and embracing the possibilities of love received.
I did this for a year, until I came to a place where I recognized that we are all loved, that there is harmony to be had, and that the love I sought flowed from within, as well as from a greater source. I had been looking in the proverbial wrong places.
“Your husband adores you,” someone said to me the other day. “It just radiates from him. You are so lucky.”
My husband does love me. I feel it everyday, in the way he attends to the little things, puts me first in his thoughts, has never spoken ill of me, would never do anything to hurt me.
It has taken me a long time, and many trial runs, but my mother’s words no longer haunt me. It is safe to receive; I am loveable.
Writer, avid reader, former educator, and proud grandmother, currently experiencing life through the lens of ME/CFS. Words are, and always have been, a lifeline. Some of the best adventures, I'm discovering, take place in the imagination.