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There are so very many things we need less of.
We need less judgement from people who’ve never walked in our moccasins. We need less single-use disposable plastic. We need fewer lawyers making decisions and more scientists. We need fewer power-hungry leaders and more reluctant ones.
When I think about what we need more of, I am hard-pressed to think of anything that doesn’t lead back to love.
So my New Year’s resolution is love.
If you’re the type to eschew resolutions, I understand. They set us up for failure, make us feel like we aren’t good enough, and practically guarantee incompletion or even regression. Resolutions suggest we are not whole and complete, but ever-striving works-in-progress. And if that mindset works for you, again, I get it. I believe we are all on a journey to our higher selves, always learning. But do we need to, once a year, revisit the same lessons of insufficiency, insecurity, and scarcity? What exactly did we miss from last year’s attempt?
What about just… love?
My primary work is with women, so I’m excruciatingly familiar with our capacity to exude love. We invite outsiders to our holiday spread, we painstakingly choose or create greeting cards that convey the depth of our appreciation for others, and we give until, well, there isn’t anything left to hand out. For many women, love is an ever outward flowing resource, often not reciprocated to the same degree, often not appreciated, sometimes not even acknowledged.
When I try to encourage women to practise self-care, they frequently explain that they do—they’ll take a bath or have their favourite food. With a gentle challenge, I explain that this is survival. Good hygiene is part of being healthy—and we need calories to live. Adding bubbles or salted caramel doesn’t make it self-care.
And when you’re in the tub and thinking about the grocery list, or eating your snack alone in your room so your kids don’t beg you share, that’s not self-care either. It’s another chore, another thing for which to feel guilty. It’s a start, no doubt. But it isn’t love.
Imagine this. You text your partner the grocery list so they can stop at the store before coming home from work, even though you had the day off. You ask your sister, who you helped move house last weekend, if she can watch your kids for an evening. You tell your friend that you just can’t be available for phone time this evening because she needs more energy than you have. And you tell your work that no, you absolutely cannot come in today, even though they’re understaffed, even though someone is sick.
Now you have the groundwork for love. Love for yourself. It takes a major foundation to love yourself, one that is constantly encroached upon. You need support, but more importantly you need to call on those supports. You need space and time, but no one will create that for you. You need to know, beyond question, that you are worthy of love. Other people cannot love us better, cannot love us enough to make up for our deficit. And anyone who told you that self-care or self-love is selfish simply wishes they had created that foundation for themselves.
Mothers especially but all parents offer the next generation a hazard, one they learned from their parents. You put everyone else first because you can, you have to, they need you, only you. And maybe at the end of the day there’s something left for you. Probably not, but maybe one day. We recycle this value, “selflessness”, as if it were a highest good. But it’s a myth. Giving away the last ounce of your energy in a day is not a gift. It’s a curse. You’ve passed along the idea that you don’t matter, which creates two scenarios: 1. the people who want to take advantage of you have learned that you will tolerate it, and 2. the people you want good things for will model your “selfless” behaviour, and the cycle continues.
Please don’t misunderstand this for victim blaming. We were all raised in this culture together, breathing in the toxic microplastics of patriarchy and classism and racism. But if you’re asking yourself my favourite question when it comes to understanding the ‘isms’—“Who benefits and who is harmed?”—you’ll quickly arrive at the conclusion that these systems thrive because we have been told, and then believed, we aren’t worthy of love. That there is a finite amount of love to go around—maybe we should give it away while starving, or maybe we can hoard it so just we have enough.
Each one of us, inherently and inalienably worthy of love. No need to prove it or earn it, it’s there. Short of causing deliberate harm to others, which creates a love-scarcity situation for another being, you don’t need redeeming. There is enough.
A little woo-woo, isn’t it? Blame it on the cancer, but I’m feeling very strongly about this. Why are we here? Why do some people suffer and some thrive? Why do so many feel unlovable, not worthy, not good? Why are we judging ourselves as if every day is a test we expect to fail?
If you lead with love, you will not make a mistake. There are no wrong paths in life. And if the person who receives the most love from you is you, you will find you have more to give than you ever thought possible. Put your oxygen mask on first; can’t pour from an empty cup. For eternity’s sake, be soft with your own heart!
Self-care is the greatest ability I ever learned, even better than wilderness survival skills. But it’s one of those skills that you need to practise, and update. Like with first aid, the minutia change as we get more information but the basics remain. No one will thank you for making them a sling when your femoral artery has ruptured. You have to take care of yourself first.
And hey, if you don’t, self-compassion is a great skill, too. We’re going to react out of habit, out of perceived or real scarcity, out of fear, out of misinformation. We need to be okay with ourselves when that happens. If not, no one will be harder on you than you, because you know all your weak spots. I’m not one to push forgiveness, except when it comes to forgiving ourselves. I actually think that may be the best way to practise it.
20/20 hindsight is a terrible thing. As humans, we are cursed with being able to look back at our lives and judge our decisions from a more informed place. How unfair! Instead, let’s have 2020 vision. This new year, we are doing things differently. Figure out what you love, and fight for it. I sincerely hope it’s yourself. Happy new year.
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Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, being a Survivor Mentor in the pilot survivor-to-survivor program through MPSSAS, co-facilitating instinct-unlocking workshops for women through I Got This, working as a host and community producer of Herstories on YourTV, volunteering with Women’s March Muskoka, and her role as a front-line counsellor at a women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development and also received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. Her dream is a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.