What is love?

My first husband and I were the best of friends. Most of our dates consisted of exploring the mountain community we lived in and going on long road trips. We stayed up late into the night talking and laughing. We had so much fun together. Being a non-romantic person in general, I was stunned that I had finally allowed myself to fall in love. We got engaged quickly (the most romantic and thoughtful of all of my many marriage proposals) and made plans to marry in Hawaii. However, just days before we were due to get married, he confessed that his family didn’t support his marrying me, and we broke up.

I wandered around aimlessly for a couple of months before trying to get my heart back into caring that I still had a life without him. My heart felt completely obliterated. When he called to apologize and ask me to come back, some of those broken pieces fused back together, and I accepted.

It was never the same, though. We did eventually marry, but nobody was happy about it. His parents were pissed. My parents thought I was an idiot to want him back. But we all smiled for the pictures that have long since been put into boxes or discarded – a very brief period of history that is only rarely spoken of.

I choose so poorly when it comes to men. When I met my first husband, I really thought it was all changing because of that stupid word: love. I loved him with my entire heart. I was willing to overlook things that should have set off significant alarms. But I was going on the fact that we had fun together. We enjoyed each other. Why everyone else insisted on talking us out of that is beyond me. I’m pretty confident that he did love me. He just loved his parent’s opinion and acceptance more.

What I have habitually overlooked, however, is that love needs to begin from within. I was never very good at that. I know I have loads of people who love me, and Ben and Madeline have taught me a tremendous amount about love. And my heart is full of love for those close to me. I LOVE to love. Actually, I’m quite good at that sort of love. But romantic love just kinda pisses me off a whole real lot. And the loving of oneself can be – at times – nearly impossible. At least it can be for me.

So, mostly everyone knows that I’m addicted to movies. I generally like slasher films and ridiculous comedies… that seems to cover all the bases I care about. If you can’t laugh at it, then you should kill it and chop it into tiny pieces. But for the past year of my life, I’ve been obsessed with the movie “Private Benjamin.” I’ve always LOVED this movie, but lately it has been speaking directly to me. If you haven’t seen it, you must. It’s about a woman, Judy Benjamin, who is a total princess. All she wanted in life was a nice house with lots of clothes, a live-in maid, and a professional husband. All of her dreams came true but only for about six hours when her husband had a heart attack and died on their wedding night. Her response to this devastation was to join the army. It was disastrous. But she learned along the way that her own ability was all that she needed to get by. The movie is a true riot. But my favorite scene was the very last one, where she walks away from the very situation she had always longed for, because she was no longer willing to compromise herself. The credits roll as she walks alone down a long driveway in her wedding dress to an unknown ending. And we’re all cheering! We’re proud of her for not giving in. She stayed true to who she was despite not knowing what comes next.

And I love that. It’s what I’ve decided to do. For the first time, I’m making decisions based on what I want for my life. Yes, there are outlying factors that I can’t control (namely cancer) but for what I can control, I’m finally getting a grip.

In about three months, I will be certified to teach yoga. And with that new skill I am going to help other parents with critically ill children come up with a way to alleviate their stress – through yoga poses, and possibly meditation – on their own terms. They won’t have to leave the hospital. They won’t even have to leave their child’s room if they don’t want to. I know what that’s like. I know how terrifying it is to leave your child’s side when every moment counts. I want to let these parents understand that they are allowed to take care of themselves even when their child is struggling. Despite the fact that their child is struggling. Their well-being matters, too. It’s too easy to forget that.

We didn’t handle the fallout of our sick child very well. Matt fell into alcoholism. I fell into the arms of a married man. We all fall into something. Why can’t the thing we fall into make us stronger instead of tear us apart? I learned the hard way and I want to help others from making the same mistake. Not that my teaching relaxation techniques is the cure-all that will stop people from making poor decisions, but it IS about learning to love yourself and working from the exact point where you currently reside. If you truly love yourself, I believe you’re less likely to do things that will cause you harm.

I’ve learned so much about myself in the past two months – it’s so wonderfully ridiculous. I now understand why I went searching for outward support instead of looking within to my reserves of strength that I already had. Trauma and fear put me in a bad spin that encouraged me to make poor choices. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I know some of you will point to religion here. That this is where my faith and strength should lie. And I can understand and appreciate your view on that. But, in my situation, religion has been way more hurtful than helpful. It’s nothing against God. My problem is with religion. I’m a big fan of God, but religion has shown me the opposite of what God is truly about: Love. Even the pieces of yoga that have religious concepts are of no interest to me and not what I would be teaching. And this doesn’t mean that if you’re a religious person then you’re of no interest to me. I love and accept you, as you are.

And that’s all I ask of you. Don’t be all judgy.

What is love? Love is truly the answer, my friends. And you can’t love others completely and fully unless you first truly love yourself.