Last summer I was on "The Wendy Williams Experience" for the third time. During a commercial break in my interview about the medicinal properties of Grade A shea butter, my company’s primary ingredient, Wendy looked over and then inquired, "So, who is this man?" Taken off guard, I responded, "What man could you be speaking of. sis?" With that investigative Wendy tone, she then declares "Girl, you look great. You must have lost, what, about a 100 pounds? You’re glowing and you look at peace So do tell, who is he?"
My response was simple. "You know what Wendy, you are correct. This year I did fall in love – but with a woman. She’s fabulous, girl! She’s gorgeous, brilliant, enterprising and exciting. I’ve known her for 38 years. After all this time together, you would think she would have been my best friend a long time ago but I always took her for granted. I abused her body, mind and spirit. I subjected her to complete foolishness and emotional chaos that you wouldn’t believe. It was horrible how I treated this wonderful sista. At one point, I almost completely destroyed her."
Blushing, I paused and then continued with timid reluctance, "But you know girl, I was blessed to be able to spend a lot more time with this dynamic diva as of late and I have fallen head over heals. It is the most powerful love I’ve ever had with any human being. My love for her is so awesome that it has enhanced all of my relationships and I can love my family and friends in a healthier, more righteous way than ever before. My love for her has enhanced my business, stopped disease from growing in my body, raised my standards in all aspects of my life and brought me true tranquility."
ìWow, she sounds like a bad sista.î Wendy replied.
"Yes she is. I think every woman should get to know her."
Do you love yourself? I ask women this question in my groups across the country and the answer is almost always an emphatic yes! But I want you to slow down and truly consider your answer before you respond. Remember, love is an action word. If men treated us the way we often treat ourselves, we would start crying and say, ìYou don’t really love me! You treat me badly.î Well, do we treat ourselves badly?
Do we disrespect ourselves, make poor life choices on a constant basis, subject ourselves to demeaning situations, say yes when we really don’t want to, gorge ourselves with unhealthy food, have sex without a condom and with men who don’t give a hoot about us, use drugs, neglect our children and call ourselves all sorts of demeaning names and allow others to do the same? We’ve all been guilty of self-defeating, self-debasing behavior to a greater or lesser degree at some point in our lives. And then we lie to ourselves and other people, with this resounding affirmation, ìI love myself!" Do you?
Wouldn’t it be easier and more honest to say, "For so many cultural reasons, both past and present, both macro and microcosmic, I am struggling with loving myself in a healthy and constructive manner. I recognize that I, and my mothers before me, have been subjected to both societal and intimate oppression which has contributed to my unhealthy self-concept that tends to manifest itself in a cycle of unhealthy behaviors. Although I recognize this, I refuse to be a slave to it and I am ready to embrace change. I have the desire to love myself and step into my greatness. With the help of God, I am moving in that direction day by day."
For those of you who may be skeptical and just don’t want to deal with the fact that we, as women, have some issues with self love that need to be addressed, let me remind you that Detroit is the most overweight city in America. Black women are disproportionately represented in breast cancer, lupus, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, STD and HIV infections, as well as depression, drug abuse and bi-polar disorder. The divorce rate in our community is at an all-time high as is foster care. I am not blaming sistas for high divorce rates, I am saying that our low self-esteem plays a role in it. Nor am I saying that loving yourself will keep you from getting breast cancer but it would dramatically affect HIV infection and STD rates and cervical cancer which is directly related to HPV virus. Loving ourselves would greatly diminish rates of autoimmune deficiencies like lupus and psoriasis. Loving ourselves would keep us from using drugs, both prescription and nonprescription, alcohol and food to self-medicate. Loving ourselves would give us the strength to courageously face our shortcomings and conduct some very needed self-evaluations which would lead to an overall higher quality of life.
I understand this because I have struggled with loving myself for almost my entire life. Although I am a counselor and have spent most of my professional career at schools, jailhouses, substance abuse and rape crisis centers teaching others how to recover from trauma and love themselves I failed at turning all of this prophetic advice inward. Embarrassingly, I was a mess. I struggled with obesity at 260 pounds and a serious eating disorder. I stayed with a man for almost 15 years who had so many extramarital affairs I lost count and abused me in almost every way imaginable. At the young age of 33, I was told that I was in the early stages of lupus and if I did not put an end to this insanity, I could die. My full story, ìMommy Takes America,î is featured on www.sheago.com.
My doctor, an African American man who had been with me through the course of my marriage, took my hand and said, ìStop! You have been in this office too many times for things that a married woman should not be in an OBGYN for. Stop! This man doesn’t love you and it’s killing you, literally. You’re young, you have your whole life ahead of you if you don’t die an untimely death messing around with a fool. Three years ago, you were hit by a truck and you taught yourself to walk again. You can teach yourself to love again too. Just stop.
"Just stop." I repeated with some frustration at the over-simplication of his remedy. Men have a tendency to speak in simple, less complicated verbiage that drives us nuts. ìJust stop. That is your prescription?" I repeated incredulously, waiting for a more mystical answer.
"Yes," he replied and walked out the door.
Wow! Loving yourself. It’s not free, but it is the less expensive prescription and it will save your life. Women ask me all time. ìWas losing all that weight hard?î Yes, it was hard, but not as hard as going on ridiculous yoyo diets every other month, subjecting myself to continuous disappointments while lying to everyone and saying nothing’s wrong, buying new clothes ever year and crying myself to sleep. Yes, losing 100 pounds, getting off drugs, ending a destructive relationship is hard, but love is the antidote. Let’s talk about how to move in that direction, as there are so many of us who have the longing in our hearts, but lack the understanding and wherewithal to get there.
Dr. Robin Norwood listed the following recovery steps in her book, ìWomen Who Love Too Much.î Over the past 10 years in the counseling profession, I have found that when in the process of recovery, no matter what you are recovering from food, drugs, a bad relationship, these steps will help to guide you in the right direction if you submit to them with your whole heart.
1) Go for help. This could be getting a good book like ìAll the Joy You Can Standî by Debrena Jackson Gandy or ìIn the Spiritî by Susan Taylor. It could be calling a private prayer line or seeking out a psychologist. I went To Bally Total Fitness and in my own way cried out for help. Mouchettee Muhammad received this calling and gave me trial membership and some strong, encouraging, consistently uplifting words. If you are hurting, go for help.
2) Make your own recovery your first priority. This means that you have to be firmly resolved, unmoved and committed. You know, that word that men are so afraid of. Many of them are afraid to commit to us, but are we are afraid to commit to ourselves? Think about it. Are we asking them to do something that we, ourselves have not yet accomplished? Make a commitment to yourself. Nothing should keep you from your desired goal of recovering from that which ails you. Malcolm X put it best, ìBy any means necessary.î Get busy!
3) Find a support group that understands. This could be your sorority sistas, your prayer sistas at the church or a formal support group like AA. As I expressed earlier, I went to Bally in Southfield. Before I knew it, I had found a warm, receiving, family environment of solace. Sometimes in the middle of the day, when I feel my blood pressure rising, I go to Bally. I am doing something good for myself in a positive environment. The key is to seek out and embrace a supportive, loving atmosphere for the germination of your self-love seed to grow.
4) Develop your spiritual side through daily practice. Pray and meditate. Find quiet time. Create an altar in your home. Get creative.
5) Stop managing and controlling others. All that energy can go to you. Let go!
6) Learn not to get hooked into games. Oh, they will take you there, won’t they? It’s your choice. Choose peace, not drama. Don’t start the games and don’t engage in them. All that energy should go to your recovery.
7) Courageously face your own problems and shortcomings. Don’t just acknowledge your issues. Work at them. The old adage ìKnowledge is Powerî is short sided, Actualized knowledge is power. Knowledge is nothing without action. Take action, sistas.
8) Cultivate whatever needs to be developed in yourself.
9) Become selfish. If you are engaging in self-destructive behavior, you are not selfish. It’s an illusion. You are selfless. Become selfish. Loving yourself empowers you to love others more meaningfully.
10) Share what you have experienced with others. In addition to my nonprofit organization, I started a free woman’s group at Bally in Southfield for women recovering from trauma. We meet every Sunday at 4 p.m. You are welcome to attend.
Ladies, let’s just be real. In this life, you can’t change anyone else. You can’t change your man, your mama, your friends. Even our children, although we rear them, have their own minds and ultimately are in control of their own destiny. But with hard work and dedication, the one person you can change is you. You want to create change, you want to lose weight, get off drugs, be in a happy relationship. Let your point of departure be yourself. You will find success, happiness, health and peace at unchartered levels. Your body is the temple of God so God dwells in you. Look within. Love yourself.
Anoa Stephanie Gollman is the owner of Sheago Cosmetics, an organic body care company on Detroit’s east side. Her products can be found at Zerbo’s Health Foods, Whole Foods Markets and Plum Markets nationally. You can also sample them in the lavatories of Seldom Blues, The Fish Market, Lola’s and The Detroit Breakfast House.
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