Freedom From Trauma: Letting Go to Take Care of You!

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It is difficult, to sum up in words, what I have learned over the past few months. I feel these new discoveries have the potential to shape my healing process in dramatic and positive ways going forward.

The last decade of my life I became increasingly sick as I painstakingly etched out my self esteem through repeated battles of pointing out injustices, cutting ties, and cultivating compassion for myself. Little did I know that a seed had been planted and a garden had begun to grow among the neglected weeds of my life. I began to hear the desperation in my voice to be heard and validated. My voice became so loud with rage and insistence that it was rendered inaudible and often met with disdain and annoyance. And although I was not effective or influential on most occasions, resilience and strength began to grow inside of me. My garden was a mess of weeds, with buds peeking out among the brush. It wasn’t anything convincing to others, but it began to inspire me with its irrefutable evidence of life. Among the heavy layers of clothing I had donned to protect myself from life’s storm, was a steady beating heart that had survived it all. It dawned on me that this growing garden was uniquely mine, and although it had been watered and tended to very little, there was still enough love to make something beautiful of it.

As the storm raged on with my family, and we became more fractured, there was the budding reality that I had never learned the art of “focusing on myself”. I’ve been to many therapy sessions where I am lamenting the loss of my family and unknowingly clinging to their chaos simultaneously. It hit me like a ton of bricks last night that my lack of self care was tied to past trauma and that disengaging, figuratively, meant certain “death”.

Growing up, I lived for years with the fear that my step-father was going to hurt me or my sister. Every day I remained hyper vigilant, trying not to breathe wrong, or make any mistake to avoid accidentally awakening the “beast” that resided in my step-Dad. My days were spent “paying close attention” to the environment and reading the moods of those around me in order to ward off any potential situation that might provoke a violent reaction from him. I did reach out to adults in my life, but was told, in so many ways, that what I was seeing wasn’t really “true”. I wasn’t allowed to ever express anger, because in doing so, I felt it would place me in “grave danger”. Seeing my sister thrown to the floor once and feeling helpless and scared, scarred me. I learned to squelch my emotions and burry them deep within my body, bottling them up, often holding my breath through these times. Forty years later, I still have the habit of doing the same thing and it’s causes chronic pain and anxiety.

Fast forward to this week, I again faced another family drama where one of my nieces has ended up in jail and another in rehab due to meth use and a potential pregnancy. I quickly recognized the old patterns of devaluation and invalidation when I used my voice to confront the issues surrounding the crisis and felt silenced. I am an adult now and although I am away from the direct threat of physical assault (which was primarily hail pulling and shaking), the emotional damage of lies, gaslighting, devaluation, and abandonment actually has hit me harder than any past physical assault. I have spent many days this past week in significant pain, sobbing violently, feeling as if I were being repeatedly stabbed in the solar plexus. This lead to an instability with my mental illness of Bipolar 1 and I lost track of time for a few days and experienced suicidal ideation as well as rapid cycling. And yet, through the difficulty, my heart kept beating and my persistence to love and be loved remained.

I decided to walk away from the family that I love for now. I have tried walking away several times over the past couple of years, but I could sense that this time was different. I am not certain if it was the fact that I had reached my limit or if it was the budding acceptance that I had no real influence over those I desired connection with. In any case, I knew that this time, the hold that my family has had over me in the past few years, was beginning to loosen its grip.

I sat down with my therapist yesterday and due to my request, we limited the time spent on talking about what had occurred with my family as I knew it would re-open the fresh wound and I wanted to be able to drive home without being in a state of constant “panic”. Through broken tears, I shared that I knew my family had been sick and that because I was the one openly confronting it, I often was discouraged from doing so through gaslighting (acting as if I am “seeing or hearing it wrong”, or “overreacting”, or presenting inaccuracies in details), dismissal, and devaluation. The crisises that came up in our family were constantly being downplayed. This caused me immense pain because my nieces and nephews all have become extremely sick as a result. My sister, who I feel is the most sick in our family, will block communication, character smear, lie, stonewall, etc. This has been going on for years as their addiction issues have become worse and two of five of her children are now so sick they are disabled. I have known, in my heart, for some time now, that I had lost my family. I had begun the process of accepting that I had no influence or control to change the situation. I tried desperately to convince my mother of things, but ended up being gaslighted and devalued in the process. The only thing for me to do was to disengage so that I could stop drowning, due to thrashing about in the water, fighting it. I needed to “float” and begin “focusing on my life”.

I was talking with my ex-spouse, who is my main support, and in our brief exchange, another piece of the puzzle was handed to me. It hit me light a ton of bricks. As many people have told me over the years, he offhandedly says to me: “You need to focus on yourself”. Instantly, I felt a great deal of embarrassment and shame and I abruptly turned and went into my bedroom, shutting the door. I flopped myself on my bed, shielding myself with my blanket, and the tears quickly began to surface. I felt stupid and so ashamed. He was right, and yet it made me feel exposed and vulnerable in this instance. I’ve been on this earth for 47 years and I still have not learned yet how to “focus on myself”. Why is this? And then, it was as if the curtain in this dark room was ripped from the rod, allowing light to flood in, and the answer instantly came, along with the tears and frustration that I have been holding in for so many years. I have not been focusing on myself because I simply never learned how. In this instant, I felt exposed and timid, as if I were perhaps all of six years old. I felt small, insignificant, and not particularly safe. It dawned on me that I had learned to deny my own emotionally expressive self as well as continually remain “on high-alert” to keep myself and others “SAFE”.

The puzzle piece slid in perfectly, bringing the picture into more focus. I could see that when my niece fled to my house for safety three years ago, due to the drug use and her husband’s abuse, my C-PTSD was activated and I again became hyper-vigilant about their safety. It was nearly as if I, myself, were the one in crisis and in danger. I became am investigator and began focusing on the chaos erupting in the lives of my sister and her kids. As I regained contact with my sister’s now adult kids (as we had disengaged before because of the drug use), they would at times, although rarely, reach out during a crisis and it would re-traumatize me once again. Often, the trauma was exacerbated by my sister’s blocking of communication, stonewalling, lying, etc., and it was reinforced by my mother’s enabling of her behavior. This was both devaluing and dismissive for me, even if unintentionally so. It has been three years of this cycle and I would try very hard to disengage, but felt powerless to do so. However, in this last week, with the new awareness that the inability to “let go” was a “deeply rooted” coping mechanism that helped me “survive” in my youth, I may have stumbled across the single most important piece of the puzzle that will finally enable the healing process.

I can see now why I have not been able to “let go” and why I have not learned how to “focus on myself”. I had learned to always scan the horizon and look for potential dangers. My sister’s home situation, which has been in crisis for years, was the perfect scenario for the continuation of my ineffective coping mechanisms. I latched on so deeply to my older niece’s struggle because, she too, has spent so much of her life entrenched in the trauma of trying to keep her mother and others “safe” while often being invalidated and gaslighted in the process. It broke my heart when my niece shared with me that she constantly worried about her parents safety and well being and felt the need to “be there” to take care of both of them. Her focus on her parents lead her to abandon an opportunity of rehab that was presented to her, ultimately sacrificing her own health. She has since become disabled and very sick and is now sitting in jail as we speak. It is beyond heartbreaking and a lot of the problems in my family truly come down to surviving trauma, but not knowing how to cope with the aftermath of it.

I admit that my trauma has lead me right into the fire over and over again, and often times into a burning home that wasn’t even mine. I have no real influence anymore in my sister’s life, nor her kids. I do feel both my Mom and sister are struggling with their own level of sickness which often includes denial and devaluation of others because they wish to remain “status- quo”. I decided remaining engaged with my family and watching the ship sink, while pleading with someone, anyone, to take a raft, was not going to help me heal. In fact, it has made me so sick, I am not well enough to help myself. I am unable to work.

In any case, all of this is exhausting and my therapist has requested that I limit how much and how often I write because he wants me to heal and “focus on myself”. I left his office, half grinning in curiosity, saying “That sounds good. Focus on just me for awhile, Geez, I don’t feel I have ever done that”. Sure, I have had hobbies and have gotten involved with a job, etc. But, I have always been focused on tending to the emotions of others and trying to keep others “safe” or investing in them without considering myself, like I did with my husband and ex-fiancee. I placed their life before mine and often ended up hurting a great deal as a result. I take accountability for this life-long maladaptive coping mechanism, and am excited to begin a new endeavor of truly developing myself outside of the influence of anyone else. I will be grieving my family in their absence, but going back only serves to hurt them and me. It puts me in a position where I not only lose my dignity from fighting so much to be “seen and relevant”, but I also lose valuable healing time where I miss the opportunity to “water and tend” to my garden.

Sometimes, we need a storm, with a downpour of rain, to water the garden and to penetrate the stale and dense air that is keeping us trapped. I cannot change others, but I can change myself. I can protect myself and keep myself safe. I can heal and rebuild. All is not lost.

I did set my intentions on healing. I never knew I had this much to heal, nor did I realize that the path would lead me to walking away from my family. I do not know what the future holds, only that I have today and I want it to be peaceful. And so, I will start with myself. And, I will keep myself safe, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

It is impossible to know who I am or my true potential when I am in constant crisis, reacting to the pain of others. I can only begin the process of developing myself outside of the historical patterns of my family. I don’t believe we are ever meant to remain in the trauma that caged us. I didn’t foresee, long ago, when I timidly said out loud: “I want to heal, I want to be free”, that the journey would lead me here. But it has. And, despite the relapses and the complete mess of this process, the weeds are being pulled and my garden is starting to take shape! There are indeed plants budding.

I will always be boldly honest about my mistakes and my own abuses towards others while entrenched in my pain. I am deeply accountable to that and I regret so much of my own communication that was not only hurtful, but was potentially harmful. Addressing my own “ugliness” has been one of my motivations for change. Often trauma cages us, causing us to have a “chip on our shoulders”, it is the way we protect ourselves. But, what protects us early in childhood, is crushing, isolating, and debilitating later in life. I think the greatest thing we can do for ourselves and others is to be accountable for the messes we have made and to those we have hurt, no matter if they have hurt us as well. And then, go forward protecting the peace in your life by distancing from those people and situations who continually “activate” the trauma whether it is with intention or not. You can love people from a distance and not get too close to the flames to “catch fire”. I still love my family very much, but if I am going to have a garden that one day is mine, I have to remain engaged in it, not get swept away in something that isn’t even mine to begin with!

Peace everyone. I hope my journey and what I am learning helps others who are struggling. We are not our trauma or our negative ways of coping. And we all have amazing gardens to grow. I hope yours smells ever so sweet and you discover newfound joy and love in the process!

“My Desolate Sea” and The Gifts it Gave To Me

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I am massaging the stillness that is ever present within my struggle. I am increasingly aware of its existence budding within me, no matter how much I distance myself from it when in pain or I dismiss its potential to heal me. The human mind, which is hard-wired for survival, is conditioned to attend to the habitual sound bites that often keep us contained in rituals of distraction and preoccupation. We continually get pulled into these weathered and worn spaces because familiarity feels safe. However, sometimes the hyper-vigilance and patterns that helped us survive in the past are the very patterns now responsible for denying us our freedom. Turning towards myself and sitting in the stillness, I am able to carefully untangle the knotted up yarn of my life that had once been seen as unmanageable.

Creating the space for the stillness to expand and evolve will more than likely be one of the greatest challenges of my life. And yet, I know that the gifts of doing so are beyond my current comprehension. Humility, self-love, forgiveness, compassion, peace, and joy are a few of the gifts that not only come from the release of attachment, but also offer emancipation from the self-imposed shackles that have limited my sense of freedom and my capacity to love. The realization that much of our suffering is “self-imposed” is what ultimately puts us in the driver’s seat and behind the steering wheel. The world will always offer displays of depravity and suffering, and yet, acceptance of that reality frees us from struggling against it. When you feel as if you are drowning, the best course of action is to acknowledge it, and surrender to the reality of “what is” by floating on top of the water saving your energy to tackle the next storm. Some waters are choppy and fierce. Your ability to submit to that reality by floating will be what empowers you in the end.

And, oh, how I have been struggling as of late, embracing the sorrows of the world! I’ve been fighting the waves, expending all my energy , swimming against the undertow. I cannot count the amount of times I’ve been washed up along the shore completely disoriented, humiliated, and in despair. And many times, I have been alone in the madness, often fighting with myself. I was doing anything and everything but floating!

The past few years of my life I fought tirelessly against several waves of loss that left me feeling broken and in despair. I had a life-long, good friend take her life, an entire family lost to addiction, and a loss of independence and employment due to struggling with a mental illness. Because I am stuck currently on Medicaid, I have struggled to get adequate medical care under a system that is incompetent and is ill-equipped to deal with the demands placed on it. On a larger scale, I am watching my divided country “duke it out” on social media while homeless people sleep on the cold, concrete streets of Los Angeles. It seems that the world is crumbling before me as people turn away from each other with professions of progressivism and purity. Humanity has its depravity, despite its immense capacity to heal itself. The reality that many turn away from one another instead of bending towards each other in times of crisis, intensifies the despair I feel on a daily basis.

Some people would suggest gratitude, distraction, or any other endeavor to cope with  feelings of hopelessness. I am trying acceptance and acknowledgement. I do, however, feel grateful for what this struggle is teaching me. Here, in the midst of chaos, I will share how my struggle has blessed me, in certain ways. I wish life had dealt me a different hand, but I know things could have been much worse. Life is difficult by nature. I will put my faith in floating. I am 47 and despite everything lost, it is time to “settle in” to this lifetime. It is passing and time waits for no one.

What my struggle has gifted to me:

  1. My mental illness of: Bipolar 1, PTSD, ADHD, Hyperawareness OCD has gifted me insight, sensitivity, persistence, and tenacity. Living with this struggle, and with the stigma of it, I have often been misunderstood. I have had to work harder to refine my ability to communicate to others my reality and struggle. I also have had to deal and cope with a fair amount of invalidation and discrimination, as well as dismissiveness from others, including places of employment. The pain from this was immeasurable, but it has left me with a desire to inform and educate.
  2. My experience of receiving SSDI and relying on social programs, like Medicaid, has been an eye opening and gut wrenching experience that has renewed my commitment and passion to serve those in need. I have felt powerless and vulnerable trying to get my healthcare needs met in a system that is utterly broken and incompetent. My heart breaks for those who are unable to advocate for themselves or who lack the stamina or health to get their needs met. The system is BRUTAL. I know in time I will be able to speak from a place of truth and experience when addressing these issues. No matter how hard this struggle has been for me, I have been granted the gift of lived experience. I don’t want this gift to go to waste and I hope to help others in time.
  3. The loss of family due to addiction, has made me more aware of the illness and the variables that often perpetuate it. I’ve learned a lot about self-forgiveness, compassion, and patience. I have gained more knowledge about the limitations of our current healthcare system in addressing the epidemic of addiction and what approaches might be more successful if implemented. I have also learned to surrender to what I am unable to personally control or change. It has been a long and difficult road, but I am slowly letting go of the notion that I might be able to make a difference. It has been my experience year after year with my family, that little has changed. Surrendering to “what is” and recognizing the limitation of my influence is a gift that hopefully will free me and one day help others.
  4. The loss of employment, due to my illness. has taught me the valuable lesson that I am not defined by my vocation. Learning to find value and identity in other endeavors outside of employment has allowed me to recreate my life in ways where all parts of myself are honored. It has made me realize how much our society ties our worth to our careers and how most of our time is absorbed by our experiences in employment. This space in my life where I have been disabled has again afforded me with the lived experience of directly interacting with governmental programs. Often, the experience has been devaluing and difficult. Still yet, I am grateful to have experienced what many of our citizens face, a harsh and inefficient system that is anything but personal and caring. This experience has made me motivated to be vocal in hopes that change will one day be on the horizon.
  5. Collectively, all of my experiences of loss have made me a stronger individual. I would like to think they have been preparing me for something larger in the end. We will see. In any case, the last decade it rained relentlessly without much of a break. My life seemed to fold in on me and I feared it would nearly collapse. I was suicidal for nearly three years. I hung on even when I believed there was no point to do so. And although, the rain still comes, I have realized that I am still here. Blood is still pumping through my veins and I am still able to do so many of the things I value. Despite, the many stories of heartbreak that I could share, I am still here, standing. I have a lot to write because many of my stories are actually very similar to the heartbreak of others. Many of us have lived with the beast of addiction either personally or in our families, many have suffered with a mental illness or a disability, many have been devastated by a job loss, many have experienced abuse in their relationship with a partner, many have lived through poverty….. And, many of us have felt utterly alone in our experiences. We are not alone. My experiences of loss have gifted me with the strength and passion to share with others. Let us be the light for one another.

There was a time in my life when depression had swallowed me whole. I remember a time not too long ago when I was in an abusive relationship where my partner continually communicated to me that I wasn’t “good enough” to commit to “yet”. He wasn’t sure if I was “worth it”, he stated. I stayed on trying to prove my worth to him because I did not believe yet in my own worth. I was seeking his approval. Leaving him  was one of the first steps I took towards myself. I wrote the poem below titled “The Desolate Sea” during the days when I was fighting to be “seen” by him .

Oddly enough, the losses I experienced forced me to turn inward and evaluate myself. In doing so, I began cultivating self-compassion for my flaws and celebrating the essence of myself: the things that made me “beam” with joy. Over the last year or so, I sought solace in nature, often marveling at the beautiful mess of the forest, its lush ferns and mossy limbs covering every inch before me in a frenzied and chaotic fashion. There were broken and decaying limbs on the forest floor where large evergreen trees towered over, hosting a few birds in their lovely branches. It was all of this new life coexisting with the old and decaying that helped me embrace my own beautiful mess. There was no organization to the forest and it was still absolutely inspiring. It made me feel okay to have all of those parts, the old and new, coexisting inside of me and yet still feel purposeful and whole.

The following poem, “The Desolate Sea”, stems from one of the “parts” of me where I felt unloved and even, broken. I am including it in this post because I do feel we all have parts of ourselves that, at times, can be self-loathing or even full of insecurity. I’ve grown a lot from that time in my life. The losses in my life have helped me to see the essence of myself from being stripped of so much. Life can be lonely and there may be periods where we isolate from others and feel that no one can relate to our struggle. Life is difficult for everyone by its very nature. My poem, written in the days when I was desperately seeking the validation from my ex, demonstrates that life eventually moves forward. Tough times often result in growth! It also reveals that what I accepted in the past, is not what I would ever accept today, or in the future. The struggle of life is real, while the embracing of the self can be a continual gift. I hope you enjoy the poem. Wishing you light along your path!

My Desolate Sea

It’s difficult to say

No one loves me enough to stay

All wish to run away

 

Trouble finds me

Surrounds me

Binds me

 

I want nothing more

than to be set free

 

People misunderstand me

Loathe me,

Hide from me

 

Chances taken away

With each passing storm

 

Now the one I love

The one who I say

Was sent from above

 

My angel, My Lover

 

May turn and leave

 

I’m too heavy

Life is too short

And when their passing through

It’s me they’ll abort

 

For many years

This brought anger, hurt, tears

Now understanding and sadness,

Relinquishes my fears

 

I understand His Woes

His love caught in the undertoe

The massive destruction

Coming, blow by blow

 

As the relentless ocean

Raises it floor

With Sand and grit

It snarls and spits

Foaming once more

 

Soaking and drowning

Day by Day

How could I ask anyone to stay?

 

Too much, Too much

I understand

My heavy heart

Can see the untold plan

 

Grief that is intolerable

Difficult to bear

I stand there

I stand there

 

Each day, Each dark night

The waves are crashing with delight

And when the storm settles down

I can hear another, begin to crown

 

I try to stop them

With all my might

With words, with love

I stay, firm and fight

 

In the aftermath

It’s usually me

Left alone

In this desolate Sea

 

Pleading to be set free

Hoping this is not my eternity

 

The Dark Side of You: I Have Issues, But I am not THE Issue!

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Stolen Space

I bared, He stared,

At all of me there

In the space we shared

That cost very little.

His hands would mold

My skin of gold

My spirit, He stole

By His constant drivel

His lips, they brushed

My corpse of dust

Animated in lust

At one time, a riddle

He walked away

Unable to stay

Unwilling to say

Why he rid of Her.

***Trigger Warning: Narcissistic Abuse, Physical Abuse.

We’ve been broken up for almost three years now. It’s been two years since we were last intimate. I’ve had contact with you on and off, still searching for answers and sorting out the reality we shared. I’ll admit, I have issues, but as time and distance brings our past into greater focus, I don’t believe I was THE issue.

Here are some telltale signs that convinced me that it is you who needs help:

  1. You continue to “pull me in” only to quickly discard me. This is a power play that Narcs use to maintain control by emotionally manipulating and confusing their victim. You have been upset at me for awhile now because I did not tow the line and instead confronted your games “head on” over and over. When we have reconnected, my intention has been to seek closure, question your sincerity, and define my part in our demise. I am beginning to feel that your intention has been to establish control, seek revenge, and to eventually wound me. I don’t like thinking this way, but it’s a pattern I cannot ignore.
  2. You’ve contacted me and overtly flirted while with another woman. You have boasted about your lovemaking to her and how she “thinks the world of you”, while in the same breathe, inviting me down to your home to be intimate with you. I declined. You have built me up, while trash talking your girlfriend, thinking it would win me over, and instead it made me less attracted to you. For nearly three years, you have told me you are “not in love with her” and you are breaking up with her in the near future, and yet you are still with her. Once you even mentioned that she is “so in love with you” and thinks that one day you are going to marry her. It is at this point I began to realize that you are playing her, and in that awareness, I feel as if I have been played as well. You are being dishonest to both of us for the supply you need to feed your fragile ego.
  3. You declined therapy over and over again. It was something you had promised that you would do, if needed, in order to get me to move back to the state in which you reside. I moved across the country to be with you and all I received were broken promises.  And you never followed through on your promise to go to therapy with me, when things got tough. I was willing to seek help and I pleaded with you to go to therapy with me to no avail.
  4. You stonewalled me, refusing to connect during difficult times in my life. It was during these times, when I was struggling at work, was very sick, and was dealing with difficult family issues, that you would not take calls. If you did, it was to reel me in while you were dating another woman. I began to see your disrespect and disregard for both me and her. These times helped to loosen the hold you had on my heart and my life and let go.

And so, It’s time to truly “let go” now and heal.  You messed with my heart and head so badly that it will more than likely take a couple of years until I am ready to date again. I’ve been single now over a year and have had no desire to date.  In future relationships, I will be very slow to trust and give my heart away. I don’t understand someone who can love me the way you did and then leave.

There were a few times when I “got in your face” and asserted control and you physically asserted your control back by choking me, suffocating me with a pillow, pushing me, etc. These times where infrequent, but they still shake me to my foundation. Over the last few years, I brought up the choking incident on several different occasions: while we were in bed, in e-mails, in texts, in conversations. Each time you laughed it off, saying you were acting and trying to intimidate me, that it “wasn’t real”. I shudder now to think if during one of those times I had questioned you, you had “lost it” again, and this time, mortally wounded me.

At one point last year, you sent me an e-mail stating that you were upset that I was guilting you over the choking incident and you sent links to pictures of what a “real choking” looked like. This was another incidence of you never truly taking accountability. I realize now that I should have left you as soon as it occurred, but I was in shock and unable to process the event. In fact, I am still working on processing it. It may never truly compute that you choked me while threatening to put a bullet through my head. So many things over the years have confused me and have kept me doubting my own reality and sanity. It will take a lot of time and energy to shed light on the past so that I can heal, hopefully to never make those costly mistakes again.

You have stripped me down in doubt and fear. I had issues before I met you. I have even more issues now. I was always one to see my issues and want to improve. I was naive and thought everyone was like me in that way. I feel unraveled and isolated in my experience of us. It seems complex, a riddle that is almost impossible to solve. And yet, I am leaving it behind. I am letting it go. I am healing myself. I am forgiving myself and shedding the shame that surrounds us.

I will pray for light. I will pray for the heaviness to dissipate. I will pray for the lightness to return in my step and laughter to release in joy from my lips. I will write it away, sing it away, travel it away, and hike it away. And as I shed you from my skin, I’ll release the shame and the guilt that is binding me from my freedom. My story isn’t over and I am in the midst of great change. I don’t want to be that “chained up little person still in love with you” (Gloria Gaynor, I will Survive). I still have life and love inside me and it’s not going to wait anymore. I’m grateful for the lesson you gave me in self-love. Had I not been gaslighted so badly, perhaps I would have never searched my heart so much. Thanks to the depth of your continual scrutiny and rejection, I’ve had stake out my own self worth and esteem. In the end, you will have been a catalyst for my “Greatest Love of All” (Whitney Houston), self-love! And, I don’t know of any other gift that one can receive in this lifetime that is more valuable than the gift of loving oneself, fully and completely! The gift was mine!

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