Design a site like this with
Get started

Sweet Introspection (?)

Can I see myself softly? A troubling question has surfaced: Is my entire experiment based on a Catch 22? The process of introspection seems to require a gentleness, otherwise it’s just more criticism.

Some who know me and have been reading this blog have suggested I may be too hard on myself…

My message to you is to throw away all this harsh self-criticism as soon as you can! (Maybe winter is a hard time to do that.) ….. Do you think it is possible that at this watershed in your life (end of relationship, midlife, etc.) you are putting on a severe and highly critical pair of glasses through which to look back over your life? —Anonymous

Others (as previous blog posts have suggested) find I do not see my own self-worth.

Others yet have pointed out that my inner Judge is a tad too judgy.

My friend Caitlin, during a transatlantic phone conversation the other day, brought up my thwarted love episode and his comments to me, which had set me spinning in a vortex of confusion.

© kristine weilert via unsplash

She pointed out that one takeaway from the #MeToo movement has been women learning to step away from seeing things/ourselves through the lens of patriarchy-masculinity-men. Clearly it is the most common way of seeing.

How much of our own self-judgement is biased, and infused with the man’s take on things? It feels important to start to learn to shift our perceptions to something that’s more our own, a view that’s infused with the wisdom, generosity, empathy and softness that femininity and matriarchy have to offer.

Can we learn to refocus the lens and perceive the world in a new light, as unadulterated as possible by the angle/take/bias/needs of the dominant male? Caitlin made a great point and it’s helpful, if daunting, to start considering these ideas.

© raul najera via unsplash

When I started this challenge on Valentine’s Day, I was making a commitment to a new level of introspection. Introspection with the goal of growing, and leaving behind toxic patterns. And all of this so that I could finally figure out how to return the love I give, and the love I crave, to my self.

It occurs to me now that to succeed at this challenge, to succeed at constructive introspection, I must be able to see myself clearly, in a natural light, no harshness or criticism. There is a certain requisite gentleness.

But if I already knew how to be loving and gentle with myself and see myself softly, then I’d already be doing it and this blog would have no need to exist.

© guido fua via unsplash

This whole project may actually be based on a sort of Catch 22.

Not giving enough love to myself — So I’d better look inside and see what’s going on — But if I want this thing to be fruitful, I’d better look inside with kindness, not judgement — But wait, I forget how to do that — Where can I learn that? — I must look inside, you say? — Well can you pass me a different flashlight? This light is too harsh … and on and on …

Or perhaps it’s not as bad as I think. Perhaps there is a leap of faith that must occur to get the ball rolling. Perhaps I must make an initial deal with myself:

If I free up a bit of gentleness, and lay off on seeing things/myself in that customary harsh light, I may quickly reap the benefits of a clearer, truer perception and weighing of me.

If that mind tweak is successful, and the images that begin to appear in the developer are indeed truer, clearer, brighter, lighter, then I suppose the next question is, what do I do with this new vision? How will I take it and run with it?

© isabel harris cooney 2008


I’m flattered, but listen…

One fine day (not so long ago!!) I also realized that in addition to all of the above (which leaves destruction in its wake, believe me), I was also avoiding myself. Expecting the “lover” to compensate for the love I craved but wasn’t able to produce for myself. Asking the impossible.

Dear Friend,

How shall I say this?

I understand that you are having some feelings for me. I don’t deny there is a really nice energy between us, a familiarity that settled in right from the start. A wave-length harmony.

We haven’t known each other for that long and plus you don’t speak English so you haven’t been reading up on this young blog about how right now I’m all about figuring out how to love myself and how to stop falling in and out of love with other people all the time.

red rose, romance, valentine's, love, couples, love me like crazy, self-love, love addiction
© jamie street via unsplash

So let me try to summarize my scene.

I have spent my entire life —starting in pre-school— chasing after boys, claiming them as my own whenever possible, then dropping them sooner, or later.

I’ll spare you the details of primary school and pubescent romance (though I could name each boy for you if you asked me to).

If we fast forward to adulthood, starting at the age of 21, I never didn’t have a boyfriend (or husband). The longest gap between relationships (in the 25 year period since then) was 5 and 1/2 months, and that was actually because I had very seriously challenged myself to not be in a relationship for a year.

Even during my marriage I was tempted by, or started falling in love with, other men.

The bridge out of my marriage was a new relationship. Quite often I’ll leave one guy for another. It has been rather never-ending.

It took me a very long time to see that this pattern of being drawn like a moth to the porch light to the nectar of new love, this unquenchable thirst for connection and the feeling of being cherished and desired, is my own worst addiction. No drinky, no (more) smokey, but smoochy smoochy and fluttery heart and love notes and holding hands and … you get the drift.

What’s the problem here, you may ask? So, you’re into love! Love is the greatest! So it didn’t work out sometimes. And sometimes it did. What could be more holy than love, and the union between two people?

And you’d have a point. Except for when you sense that a tendency has become so heavy/troublesome/repetitive that it’s caused see-saw to tip and stay stuck that way, you realize (if you’re ready to be honest with yourself) that there’s a problem. That you keep doing the same stupid shit. That you are turning in circles.

And one fine day (not so long ago!!) I also realized that in addition to blindly repeating my mistakes (which leaves destruction in its wake, believe me), I was also avoiding myself. Expecting the “lover” to compensate for the love I craved but wasn’t able to produce for myself. Asking the impossible. Feeling little and unworthy but wanting “him” to make me feel big and loveable and alive.

And ever since my last relationship flopped (with the squashed cherry on top of the maybe-but-no love affair with my beloved high-school friend), I have taken my vows again.

One year… but this time it won’t be 5 1/2 months. One year is the strictest minimum. Not because I want to torture myself. Not because I enjoy random challenges. Not because I like going against what’s natural for me.

Simply because, to speak in addiction terms, I need to recover.

I need to figure out what has been hiding behind this mad love scramble. What I find may not be pretty. This process of recovery may not be easy. But more than anything, I want to feel truly happy in this life, I want to grow and evolve enough so that I feel I’m coming back to myself. To the happy kid I once was. To the happy woman I know I can be.

So if you want to be in my life, which it would appear you do, I invite you to be my friend. Nothing more, nothing less. I hope you understand.

© annie spratt via unsplash

16 Days In: What Do I Have to Show for It?

At the start of this experiment I was sort of hoping to find the perfect “self-love recipe” to apply to myself and swiftly achieve that blissful state of fully accepting my Self, and maybe even graduate to loving me.

Methinks there is a grave need for a check-in.

I’ll just say right off the bat that I’ve practicing NOT beating myself up for only having published 4 posts in 16 days. And for letting 9 days go by without writing.

Those first few days I was so high on the feeling of writing and publishing—not to mention the thrill of praise. And then life happened.

But part of my new mojo (or at least the one I’m aiming for) is accepting that things do not go as planned. And that doing less than your ideal is still OK.

So even though my stats (not that I care…not that I’m looking…or counting…) have been gradually getting less and less exciting, I’m still not succumbing to self-flagellation. Progress? stats, views, visitors,
Oh, those first days were glorious!

But really, what do I care about stats? What is that about? I am not doing this experiment for praise, or recognition, or to please people (ugh). The choice of a blog format was mostly about putting a fire under my arse and keeping the pressure on to write frequently and regularly. But it is clearly easy to get a little too addicted to the “likes,” “follows,” “visits” and “views” not to mention the comments.

I am recalling a sentence from an email I received from a cousin I admire and look up to, after sharing a story with her… “I also think what is so appealing about your piece is your ability to be honest. Writers who write from aloft might as well be blogging (although some blogs are quite moving)” I remember that when I read it I felt momentarily ashamed at my blogging pursuits (so many short-lived blogs over the years, so little cohesiveness).

blogging, blogger, self-love, self-acceptance, self-respect, self-loathing, valentine
thanks to Léonore Cooney Gogibu
(you wouldn’t know it but she tried to coiffe this uncoiffable head just before taking the photo) ;—)

But I trust I will figure out the right balance between writing for me and writing for others. This has *always* been a question in my mind, ever since my first diaries. I noticed early on that I was writing not just for me but in the case that someone else might read them. Note to self. This may merit its own post!

So… in these 9 quiet days, I’ve continued to ponder the big questions, occasionally feeling sparks of inspiration light up my mind, and sometimes I even remember to write things down so I can build on them later.

OK, so the check-in.

Here’s what I’ve remarked upon in the subtle plate tectonics of isabel cooney since this blog was embarrassingly born on Valentine’s day:

  • I’m less and less embarrassed by the whole self-love idea. I think that just the fact of realizing, and sharing, the embarrassment around it all has begun to unblock something. You gotta love the human mind.
  • Having written about the thwarted love affair this summer seems to have dredged up signs of deep sadness around all of the hopes I’d attached to that person, that chemistry, that relationship, that couple-to-be-that-wasn’t. I don’t know many other ways than writing to purge the salty geyser I sense is there, so I guess I know what must be done. If I were to write one sentence here now, what would it be? ……….

    For 25 years I dreamt about you…For what?
  • This may seem obvious to you, but I think at the start of this experiment I was sort of hoping to find the perfect “self-love recipe” to apply to myself and swiftly achieve that blissful state of fully accepting my Self, and maybe even graduate to loving me. But I’ve already realized that no, each one of us has different needs in this mysterious realm. So the “recipe” is necessarily different for each one of us. Holy crap—that’s 7+ billion different recipes!
  • Don’t know quite why but for 2 days straight I have woken up with a smile already on my face. Before I have time to think, or remember who I am. I’m not doing it on purpose but God! it is addictive and I’m hoping this mysterious trend continues!
  • I did something that felt amazing this past week. I was going to say it was “something crazy” but the opposite is true. What’s crazy is how long it took for me to get there. Since I started working for Allies in Recovery 5 years ago, my status has been that of an independent contractor. Thus, taking vacation means no pay. Thus, I just didn’t take any. I always had strong arguments to lean on when one of my daughters gently complained about this (because I kept traveling of course, I just brought my computer/job everywhere we went). Léonore had yet another 2-week school holiday (don’t get me started) and I had proposed that she, Stella and I get away for 4 or 5 days. Until the day before we left, the plan was, she’d provide 2.5 hours of babysitting each day for me to work. But when Léonore asked me if I had to work, everything in me was shouting, “NO!” … so, I did the unthinkable: I took 3 days off. And now I can say with certainty that there is truly something to be said for vacation.

    As my friend Damien commented to me today: “I am very happy for the 3 of you, yes it’s imperative to be able to clear one’s head, even for just a few days, from time to time. For me, it’s actually vital. It allows me to relax, to let go, to step back, to bond with family … all the essential stuff! And when you come back you’re full of energy, ideas, plans. And even for us independent workers, for whom vacation is more expensive, it’s still clearly worth it.”

    I think I’ve found one of my ingredients!! Actual vacations? Free time that’s for something other than working? Yes, please.
  • Speaking of vacations, the main focus of our 5 delightful days in Rennes was “food tourism.” Lord knows I love to eat, and sniff out the best food places. But listening to —and respecting—my own body’s needs, refusals, desires has become a complicated scene.

    Though I don’t yet really understand yet how to go about this, I am fully aware now that something profound needs to shift in my relationship to eating (how/when/what/why…). Figuring this out, or moving closer to doing so, will also be a giant ingredient in my own recipe for Self Love. To be continued… with love!

I Don’t Want to Hear That (but I Need To)

This summer I came close to living something I had dreamt of for 30 years. A man I’d loved, from up close but mostly from afar, came back into my life and suddenly, for the first time since high school, things felt possible. And then they didn’t.

Love me love me
Say that you love me
Leave me leave me
Just say that you need me

the Cardigans, Lovefool

This summer I came close to living something I had dreamt of for 30 years. A man I’d loved, from up close but mostly from afar, came back into my life and suddenly, for the first time since high school, things felt possible.

And then they didn’t.

Then a few months later I got an email containing these words:

“I would have loved you, but you cling too tightly to your past and don’t see your own true self worth.”

There are three statements in there. In fact the entire email could provide therapy (or introspection) material for years. Ouch.

But today I’m going to try to look closer at his last statement: the suggestion that I don’t see my own true self worth.

Merriam Webster online

A trusted friend, with whom I then shared the email, ended her response to me with these words:

“One thing that he said that I wish were not true is that you don’t see your own true self worth. Of course you deserve to feel loved and honored and special by a partner for a lifetime.  I hope you can embody the energy in your statement and project the fact that you are amazing to the Universe so that the person who is waiting can find his way to you…”

She was sending me nothing but love and support. Yet something in me gets extremely squirmy with this talk. I get uncomfortable when other people underline such things they observe in me, even though in both above cases they are doing so because they want me to be happier, and feel better, more whole.

My first reaction is that something in me (ego) feels deficient, or imperfect, or ashamed.

Ashamed at my own struggle? Ashamed at not having figured it all out by now? Ashamed as if I’m not smart enough or sharp enough or grown-up enough to have achieved perfect balance? (You can hear the defensiveness creeping in already.)

Concurrent with not feeling grown-up enough is feeling small. Smaller than the others?

My second reaction is a realization that I understand the words “don’t see your own true self worth” but that they are not connecting to any meaning that translates to sensations, or feelings, or deep understanding inside me.

This seems to be a spot to start digging, n’est-ce pas…

My third reaction, arising now as I write, is that, in the true spirit of putting others’ needs before my own, I have so often been guilty of putting others’ judgements before my own. He thinks I’m X? She said I’m Y? They must be right…

An external opinion or judgement tends to throw me off kilter in a heartbeat. So I know I must also beware of giving others the power to know me better than I know my own self.

Or are others’ judgements only so powerful when they hit the nail on the head?

Or is it because they are joining forces with my inner judge (the maleficent voice within me that may already be stirring up harsh and hurtful energies or being ungenerous with me)?

To return for a moment to reaction #2 —that non-understanding of what it all even means— where do I begin?

Merriam Webster says it’s one’s sense of one’s own value as a human being. Not the value itself, but the sense we have of that value.

This is something I can see in others. I see and receive the light they emanate from within.

I guess I haven’t had much success thus far with perceiving that light that comes from inside me. Or sometimes I see it and feel it but for some reason it doesn’t translate to that sense of my own worth.

But I think the real stumbling block is the idea of “value”. As soon as things get quantitative, I get triggered.

Karen Froehlich commented on this blog a few days back:

One thing that helped me was learning that you don’t need to *do* anything to be worthy of love. 

Is she saying that I would be just as loveable (or worthy of love, including my own) if I didn’t do any good deeds? If I weren’t a “good person”? If I didn’t try so hard to do the right thing? Or if there were no way to “measure up” to myself or to anybody?

The comparisons my sister and I picked up and internalized over the years have not been beneficial. No one was ever trying to say one of us had more worth than the other, but for whatever reason, we each became fixated on what the other did better, or had more of.

Pedestals were a key building block in my family. I don’t think anyone was doing it on purpose. Placing each other up there was our way of saying, “I think you’re really cool, I admire you. Let me worship you for a sec.” And don’t get me wrong, it feels glorious, for a minute. Except it’s lonely up there. And there’s always a pedestal nearby (with a family member perched on it) that’s taller. Also, pedestals can fall, and that can be painful.

Pedestals are glorious, but it’s lonely up there.

image ©whosdenilo via unsplash

As soon as I start thinking about “value” I thought about praise, and merit, and about pedestal culture. I think I’ve got some more unravelling to do around these ideas.

This post is reading as scattered as I’m feeling. Not much in terms of dénouement so far. But there’s no point in hiding it. I am struggling. That’s the point of this project. I’m trying to figure it out and make progress, and that ain’t likely gonna happen in the time it takes to birth 4 blog posts. Just like recovery is a process (I’ve learned this through my job at the amazing, inspiring Allies in Recovery), so is learning to love oneself. I figure.

Several wise friends have pointed out over the years, including very recently, that I am Love. So each time I find myself chasing after Love, I should remember that I already am Love.

I really like how this sounds. But for the time being, it’s yet another idea that remains perfectly abstract to me. These are ideas that I’ve encountered late(r) in life and they clearly haven’t been assimilated. I will keep on the quest to get to the heart of it. And I know a few people who will help me.

photo by fellow heart-hunter lisa gwozdz Emoji

featured image: whosdenilo via unsplash

Conversation Hearts

This box of Conversation Hearts was calling out my name. “Converse with us!” they cried. The first one slammed me with the embarrassing question: What would have to change for me to become my own “dream date”?

On a trip home to the States over the holidays, during my one-and-only (but I must admit, ridiculously pleasurable) trip to the supermarket, I came upon some individual boxes of Conversation Hearts. The very same candies we were dropping in each other’s brown paper bags in third grade!

I grabbed some off the shelf and ended up giving them to my kiddos, and a few as mini-gifts in France. This morning (a bit belated, but what the heck) I decided to dedicate the last remaining box to myself.

conversation hearts, candy, valentine's day, self-love, self-respect, self-care, self-loathing, self-denial

Eating its contents is not of much interest (I’d much rather candy corn, sweet-tarts, or something with peanut butter) but I did realize that these little traditional Valentines sweets were calling out to me:

We are not just for eating! Have you noticed what we’re called?

I am here today to give this box of candy the chance to live out its purpose: we are going to have a conversation!

I picked 4 hearts to converse with.

#1— Dream Date

I picked this one for how uncomfortable it made me feel reading it. I mentioned in the first post that I’ve got a heap of ex’s. I didn’t mention, but I might as well, that I’m a serial relationship-seeker and I’m also a serial break-upper. I do not feel proud saying this aloud but it’s true.

My relationship-hopping will surely be studied in more depth on this blog at some point, but for now I’ll just say that this phenomenon has meant that I’ve pretty much never “dated”… I’ve never “put myself out there,” had a profile on a dating site, or known what it is to meet man after man and never quite find that spark. I wish I found fewer sparks. There’s never been a dearth of sparks in my easily inflammable heart.

So, the very idea of dating makes me nervous! I’m truly not much of a conversationalist (except with candy); my humor gets loosened up when I’m with people I know; I appreciate all things naked, but there’s something about a date (I imagine) where both parties are trying to figure out what’s really “behind the facade,” trying to expose each other in a short amount of time. Either that or trying to say the right thing so the person sitting across from you will like you. I don’t like it. It feels like a recipe for disaster either way.

But… I digress, because I don’t think that’s what the ‘Dream Date’ conversation heart was asking about.

I think this is the question hiding within it: What would have to change for me to become my own dream date? Put another way, what are the qualities I am hungry for in a dream date, and why couldn’t I start by seeking to embody those very qualities? Why do I need someone else to be what I need? Shouldn’t I be more concerned with being what I need?

OK. So if I close my eyes and imagine my dream date, that phantasm of a “perfect guy” I’m always chasing after, what is it I see?

  1. He’s physically strong (could carry me on his back and not just for 3 steps) with muscles I can ogle
  2. He’s the (my) epitome of healthiness (no worrisome cravings, has a balanced diet and exercises regularly without freaking out if he can’t get to the gym)
  3. He’s real (OK with sharing who he is, how he feels, what he’s been through, and quite importantly, what he thinks, even when it may contradict my thinking…)
  4. He’s passionate about at least some things & people (I know this does bring us onto the potentially shaky ground of extremes, but I just can’t take a lifetime of mild)
  5. He and I share some of the aforementioned passions!
  6. He has a huge heart—he’s not one of the millions of men struggling to embody empathy and compassion
  7. He’s got a twinkle in his eye from which I occasionally get tingles
  8. He makes me laugh deep from my belly
  9. Oh and last but truly not least: He’s figured out how to accept (and love?) himself so that I don’t have to compensate by loving him to a Herculean degree.

Ha! It’s a tall order, I’ll give you that.

If we apply this checklist to me (assuming that it’s a good thing to try to embody what you’re searching for) I’d say my real weak spots are 1, 2 and 9. And it’s not surprising to me that when I start envisioning “the guy” my first and foremost concerns are strength and health.

This list in indeed a good indication for me of what to pay attention to. If I could feel truly “healthy” and “alive” in this body, it would clearly change everything.

#2—Be True

I’m taking this one as a strong suggestion from the candy to Be True to Myself.

It’s much harder than it sounds, of this I’m pretty certain.

A people-pleaser is, by definition, better at tuning into, and granting, other people’s needs/wishes. Being a mother, at least for me, is more of the same.

Therefore, the people-pleaser/ mom-of-three that is myself must start practicing turning that dial back and forth, very slowly, listening very carefully, until I find the frequency that is mine.

Once I find it, and tune in, I’ll begin to get a better idea of what Being True to myself actually means. This is right there at the heart of my inquiry… so often I have felt confused, and devoid of ideas, when someone suggests I should honor my own needs and practice loving myself.

It has become clear that before I can do any such thing, I will need to figure out what those needs are (we all have some common ones, but we each have our own, too).

Living in France (19 years and counting…) and having wanted so badly at first to blend in, learn the ways, speak like a native, etc., may actually have led me further off the path of knowing myself and tuning into my own frequency.

I recall a time (curiously, it was the same trip during which my famous “cow patches” – otherwise known as vitiligo – appeared all over my arms ) when I was visiting my sister in New Mexico. I was so confused as to who I was, and how to blend in with her cool hip/hippie/hipster friends, that I reverted to my Russian accent (think “Red” from OITNB) and didn’t let go of it for the whole trip (BTW that was not the successful technique for blending in!).


I’m choosing to interpret this Conversation Heart, “sweet,” to be about my food cravings and compulsive eating of late.

I won’t go into the nitty gritty of that now. But I am curious about something I’ve heard people (this may be sister Emily again, or maybe Katie Silcox) suggesting: the idea that someone who is craving sweets may well be lacking sweetness in her life.

And whether that means

  • I’m not being sweet enough with others,
  • I’m not receiving enough sweetness from others, or
  • I’m not being sweet enough with sweet self…

…or ALL of the above, probably doesn’t matter so much. I’d probably be safe starting with the last one and there’s a good chance the rest will follow. Cookies and cake (and Lord, please spare me those disgusting French pastries and sorry-excuses-for-cookies!) will start materializing metaphorically all around me. Won’t they?

#4—Hug Me

This is a biggie for me.

Whenever I’m feeling sad and lonely, I walk around my life wishing for hugs. The irony of it all is that I may appear to be so cranky that those closest to me want to flee rather than open their arms to me. And that’s the biggest bummer of all.

So then I go around longingly eyeing strangers who look like they’d provide the kind of hug I’m looking for. Once, I lingered way too long at the farmer’s market in Caen in front of an organic vegetable and dairy stand because I was in desperate need of a hug, and this somewhat stout, jolly bearded fellow behind the stand appeared to be the ideal candidate. I never got up the nerve.

I was talking to my friend Virginie the other day. She’s a seeker too. We often find we’re exploring the same questions or challenges in our quest to feel whole, healthy and content.

While discussing the predominance of my “inner judge” (too critical!) as well as my need for big soothing hugs, she shared with me that a simple meditation/visualization that had been infinitely comforting to her.

She had called forth her “higher self…the me that’s made of light, and love,” she explained. And that Virginie made of love and light had taken the small, suffering, mortal Virginie in her arms and rocked her. While she saw this happening, she also felt this happening, and the tears flowed like when your Mama rocks you at just the right time.

This all sounds great but I will admit that connecting with the “Higher Isabel”, the one that is made of Light and Love, still feels like a foreign concept to me.

I don’t know how to go about it, I don’t feel I really “know” that facet of me, and the last time I tried, I felt like I was calling out in the dark and hearing no response.

But given the powerful cravings I have to be held, and given the fact that I am 6 months into my self-given challenge of 12 months (minimum!!) of remaining single, and given the fact that this is France, so even some of my closest friends just won’t be comfortable hugging me all day, I do need to pursue this avenue of free, ridiculously cathartic, magical hugs that I can orchestrate all by myself.

Amazing how much can be inside of one tiny candy heart.

Speaking of which, I have some candy left — any takers? Still not spoken for: Real Love, Cool, One Kiss, Call me, Nice, Smooches, Love, So Fine, One I Love.

A Hard Look in the Mirror

Mirrors live in most of our homes with us. I’ve got several, myself. And despite having given it a fair amount of thought over the years, I haven’t yet managed to make friends with the face that looks back at me every single day.

This morning as I lay in bed thinking about my challenge, I fell upon the expression: “Take a long, hard look in the mirror.”

When we say it to someone, I suppose we’re usually telling them to stop lying, denying or making excuses. We’re asking them to take responsibility for who/how/what they are. In other words, we’re saying, Get real, man!

self-portrait in mirror © isacooney 2020

But as I turned the words around in my head, I realized that the expression evokes something different for me.

Mirrors live in most of our homes with us. I’ve got several, myself. And despite having given the question a fair amount of thought over the years, I haven’t yet managed to make friends with the face that looks back at me every single day.

In fact, the word “hard” is truly appropriate to describe what often happens when I behold my reflection. There is hostility. It’s not pretty.

I guess this hearkens back to what I was writing yesterday: we tend to get really good at convincing ourselves that how we appear is simply not OK. From our features to our weight to the state of our skin to the color of our teeth, and don’t even get me started on the subject of hair…we inspect and critique our mortal bodies. We are too often horrified by what we see.

And even on days when we’re not horrified, we still hold back. We don’t grant our reflection a tender, loving smile as we would to another loved one we locked eyes with. Never mind tender and loving, we don’t usually even smile at all (excepting weird lip movements that might resemble a smile, when applying lipstick).

Well, I keep saying we but I haven’t done enough asking around to really know if what I’ve experienced is universal or not. I hope it’s not. But I fear it is.

I suppose there’s a related—but not much healthier—phenomenon that exists out that’s a sort of narcissistic fascination with one’s own image or reflection. Less critical, less hard, but still painfully separated from the soul that’s inhabiting the body. Am I making sense?

Something my sister Emily pointed out to me one day is that what we’re seeing in the mirror is not “us”. It’s simply one reflection, in one moment of time, from one angle, and just one facet of our multi-faceted being.

This was helpful, and as I raise my third child, I try to avoid saying stuff like “Who’s that in the mirror? It’s you! It’s Stella!” Instead, I point out that we’re looking at her reflection, or better yet, a reflection of her.

And on that note (babies) it might behoove us all to make note that babies (before they learn all the nonsense) are freakin SO HAPPY to see their own reflection. When they’re too young to “know” that it’s “them”, and even once they clearly have put 1 and 1 together, they’re so INTO making faces at, and admiring their reflection. Stella was really into kissing herself for a while. We are clearly smarter before we learn stuff.

She is my hero

Another thing I learned from Emily is that we can practice circumventing the usual mirror scowl/hardness by settling in for several minutes and simply locking eyes with our reflection. I recall her referring to the possibility that this practice could lead one down the proverbial “rabbit hole”, in a good way.

I have tried this a few times, once when I was stoned (back when I still smoked weed) and the other time when I was alone in a hotel bedroom during a yoga retreat I was working at. Both times I was able to (temporarily anyway) make friends with that moving image of myself.

There comes a softening, and a laughing quality, when you lock eyes with that familiar friend/enemy and you don’t let them scare you away. I guess I need to put aside a bit more time for mirror time.

If I can just practice locking eyes, and gently reminding myself: “Friend. Friend. You’re looking at a friend,” I bet I could make some progress. I’ll report back.

Seen at the Rêve de l’Aborigène Festival, summer of 2018

Hey, something that just occurred to me about the mirror scowl: is it our reflection scowling back at us, or are we scowling at our reflection?

Will I Be My Valentine?

I’m 46 years old. It’s fair to say I’m past half-time. I’m the mom of three incredible daughters. I’m the ex-wife of one, ex-girlfriend of a dozen or so, and ex-lover of a few. I have sought LOVE like it was my oxygen, always feeling more alive, more worthy, more worthwhile, and let’s face it, prettier, through the eyes of someone else.

valentine, valentine's day, self-love, self-care, self-respect, self-loathing

Oh Lord. Why does self-love have to feel so corny?

Or am I the only one that feels that way?

Maybe it’s just the words we use to describe it. Or maybe it sounds corny from the “outside”… before you’ve actually tasted its sweet honey.

Well damn, I intend to brave the corniness at least until I can figure out what it’s like on the “inside”.

valentine, self-love, self-care, self-loathing, isabel cooney, isacooney,
So Will You? © isacooney 2020

I used to be so totally into Valentine’s Day. In elementary school we decorated brown lunch bags with our name and plenty of hearts. Then we dropped little cards — or sometimes love notes — into each other’s bags. A virtual, temporary mailbox only for sweetness.

We should all go around with one of those around our necks, come to think of it. Inviting others to say sweet stuff to us every day.

But see? I digress. It only took me 137 words and I already got off track. I guess this is as good a time as any to come clean to whomever may be reading this.

I’m pretty good at loving other people. I crave to be loved by others. And I suck, royally, at loving myself.

Much of my life I have been a good girl (aside from a tendency to rebel, as well as a slight relish for shocking “proper” people). I like to please, I like to get good grades, I like to figure out what the right thing to do is, and if it feels good to me, I like to do it.

So I can only presume that if, from a young age, I had been taught that loving oneself was the most essential romance any person could have—that it would make me truly happy, as well as healthy, and successful in my other relationships and endeavours, I probably would have done it. Maybe. Probably.

But as we all know—because I imagine that this problem affects the vast majority of us—things do end up getting in the way of that innocent bliss that childhood can be.

My teenaged daughters are excellent reminders of this horrible fact: young girls can recite a litany of all the features of their faces and bodies that are wrong, imperfect, even hideous. And all the reasons they don’t deserve love. Society says it wants us to succeed and be productive citizens but that’s bullshit because really (mostly to support the endless selling of crap) society wants us to feel we aren’t good enough.

If there was any love that we naturally felt for ourself before stupid thinking got in the way, it’s most likely gone now. It is widely acceptable and expected that we will find ourselves lame and undeserving of love (someone else’s but especially our own).

And that in a nutshell (plus a million other events that crystalized and thoughts that perniciously became beliefs) is how I got here.

46 years old. It’s fair to say I’m past half-time. I’m the mom of three incredible daughters. I’m the ex-wife of one, ex-girlfriend of a dozen or so, and ex-lover of a few. I have sought LOVE like it was my oxygen, always feeling more alive, more worthy, more worthwhile, and let’s face it, prettier, through the eyes of someone else.

I’ve learned over time (and am still figuring it out) that asking someone else (without actually saying it) to love me for him, and for me (since I don’t know how to love myself and I’m embarrassed just saying those words) is actually quite a tall order and a recipe for freakin disaster.

So I figured, today, Valentine’s day 2020, is as good a day as any — Cupid’s day, Lovers’ day, red doily heart day, sweet candy and roses day — for me to begin this inquiry which is beginning to feel urgent. And embarrassing.

But it’s OK. I am embarrassed but embarrassment has always been a feeling I could handle. And if you are here with me, it’ll be a piece of cake to plunge into all this weird gooey stuff they call … self love?