Excerpt from Finding Your True Self (out of print)
Know That You are Enough
The process of learning to be in relationship with myself has been a crucial part of finding my True Self. There have been times when I felt so satisfied being “with myself” that I honestly did not care if I ever invite a man to share my life. Ironically, this ability to cope with—in fact, enjoy—life alone is what has made me ready for the right loving relationship. I learned this truth the hard way, from my struggle with staph osteomyelitis (staph infection in bone and muscle) during my first marriage.
In 1982, when I was diagnosed with this debilitating infection, I fully depended on my first husband for inner strength. Whenever I felt an internal lack of resources to draw from, I wanted to be physically close to him so that I could draw on his strength. At the time, nothing about this pattern seemed out of the ordinary.
The pain from this bout with the disease was more excruciating than anything I had ever experienced. My temperature was 1040. I truly did not care to go through another long recovery. It seemed easier to simply leave the physical plane. My inner strength was lower than it had been in years. My husband was not too understanding and was unable to provide his usual infusion of strength. One day, I had an amazing insight–I was expected to find the strength to recover from within. An internal light bulb had gone on. I could finally see that drawing strength from another person was incredibly ineffective. It worked only when my husband was physically available and supportive.
Once I had the insight that I needed to be the source of my own strength, I knew that I would never be that sick again. I felt empowered by this lesson. I really “got it.” Uncovering this truth about life was huge turning point for me in finding my True Self and in establishing a relationship with all of my selves. Now I can be in a relationship with another person, not because I can’t cope with life alone, but because self-love naturally moves toward creating the right loving relationship.
Know What You Want in a Life Partner
To know what you want in a partner, you have to know yourself. What qualities does your True Self have? What characteristics of another will enhance your experiences in life? Self-love and self-knowledge, and detailed clarity about what you want in a life partner will help you avoid the mistake I made in my second marriage.
After my first marriage, I went to counseling, read countless self-help books and attended personal growth workshops. I listened to a self hypnosis tape to improve my self-esteem. I also made a commitment to attend twelve-step meetings, probably my biggest investment in myself.
When I met my second husband, I had spent two years in weekly Al-Anon meetings. In those two years I had made considerable progress, but I was not ready for another relationship. I was sensible (or so I thought!) in taking my time getting to know this man. I had seen my mother make a huge mistake in marrying her second husband after they had known each other for only six weeks. Well, I certainly would not make that mistake.
I lived with the man who became my second husband for over two years before we married. Looking back, I would have to say that I actually made a bigger mistake than my mother. After two years, I knew this man really well. I had seen his rage firsthand. I had experienced his lack of emotional support. I had spent endless hours listening to his bitter account of how life had mistreated him. And I married him anyway. I knew him, but I didn’t fully know and love myself. How could I know what I wanted in another?
Naturally, hindsight is 20-20. But now that I have learned to be in a loving relationship with myself, I can see the warning signs in someone I am dating early on. Years ago I had a page posted on my refrigerator from a Melody Beattie (author of Co-dependent No More) calendar that said,
“I may always be attracted to frogs, but I can learn not to jump into the pond with them.”
As I continued to see what I didn’t want in a relationship, I defined more clearly what I did want. At one point I had affirmed to a friend that I “just wanted a boyfriend!” And that is exactly what I got. Well, in my mind, boyfriends come and go. When I took a closer look, I realized that I really want a life partner, someone who also wants to be in a committed relationship.
I have written about the qualities that I want in a permanent relationship. Here are some of the qualities that I want in a life partner: maturity and responsibility, integrity, high self-esteem, emotional openness, spirituality, intelligence, commitment to personal growth, and a positive outlook on life. You will find a slightly different version of this list in Barbara DeAngelis’ book Are You the One for Me? Her book helped me to identify some of the patterns that I was repeating.
Not long after I read DeAngelis’ book, I recited my list to a man I had just met. He commented, with surprise I might add, that I certainly expected a lot. Now that I love myself, I can see that I have all those qualities, so why wouldn’t I expect them in my life partner?
At the level of the True Self, we all have these qualities and more. My commitment, then, is to continue to resolve my own emotional issues so that I express more of my True Self. I will then be prepared to be fully loving and present in an emotionally healthy relationship.
My story is not uncommon. I know that many of you can relate because you have already been there. I also understand that many of you have moved beyond this place where I am still learning. We share the same struggles. It is what brings us together as compassionate beings. I’ll close with a quote about attitude, which is so very important.
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts, it is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing that we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.
I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you.
Be joyful, be grateful, live in peace,