“I don’t know how to love myself, so how can I love you,
the way you want me to?” -Priorities
I wrote those words four years ago now, guitar in hand and tears in my eyes. I was a graduate intern posted up in a dingy little dorm room at UC Santa Cruz, and had reached a breaking point with someone I had been dating. When I wrote the song, I had imagined it from her perspective as a way of trying to understand what she was feeling, but the song was about me. It has always been, and still is - about me - this need to get my priorities right. I wish I could say it was a new lesson, or one that I won’t struggle to learn even now and in my future.
Years before “Priorities,” I was nineteen and heartbroken (for the very first time) when my mom first told me about the spiral. I was distraught over my first girlfriend, who had lied to me and cheated, but I was also frustrated with myself for not moving on faster. “When it feels like I’m over it, I think about something else I’m right back to where I started.”
Mama explained that I wasn’t “right back” where I started - but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t still hurt. She said that it’s like a spiral, you start at one point and come back around to the same point, but further away each time. You may be coming back around to the same lesson over and over again, but you have more perspective each time that you make it back around. That has stuck with me every since as one of the most important pieces of advice she has given me (not to mention a beautiful visual metaphor as well- she’s a writer like me, after all).
The origin of the spiral for me, the lesson that I always loop back around to, is: I must learn to love myself and see myself as worthy and deserving. Not only are fruitful relationships destined to fail without me actively valuing myself, but my very own happiness is at stake. I’ve gone round and round with this lesson for what feels like forever, so the prospect of it being a lifelong lesson feels exhausting to me. But I’m not going in circles, ben when it feels there is no progress. I’m gaining knowledge, experiences (scars), and perspective that moves me further from the source of my hurt and closer to embodying the root of the lesson.
Now, in my late 20s, I will embrace what feels like stagnation and realize how far I’ve come and how much growth is left to come. I will be tender to the younger parts of myself that are closer to the original wounding, and give them the love and attention that they deserve and need. And from that place - fulfilled, self-nourished, and grateful - I grow and thrive with love for others.
“How can I hold myself completely?”
By realizing truly and deeply that I am my own starting point, that everything else I do depends on the strength of my relationship with self. By soothing the pieces deep down in my soul that are in need of healing. By living in radical, unapologetic, loving truth of who I am and who I want to become.
By allowing myself to grow. And spiral back around with fresh perspective and deeper self knowledge.
musings of a Black, queer and genderqueer activist, educator, musician.