By: Antonio Stephens, Wellness Coach
Love. Coming to this state of being was not an easy walk.
For nearly 21 years, I’d struggled with the concept of this word and term. I am an immigrant from Jamaica and grew up in a small town in upstate New York. I spent most of my early childhood moving from home to home; living with aunts, uncles and grandparents while my mother worked to seek opportunities in the United States for a better life for my brother and I.
I met my mother for the first time when I was nine years old. I’ll never forget seeing the New York City skyline and the smell of her perfume as we hugged and she welcomed us to our new home.
One day, I was sitting in the living area and saw a few candles flying across the room and shortly after, screaming to follow, shattered glass on the floor, tears and the look of distress and discernment in my mother's eyes. So much confusion and no explanation. She had been in an abusive marriage and relationship for years and this too, my brother and I, and other family members and friends would also come to experience firsthand in the weeks and years ahead.
It’s hard to explain what it’s like to be in an abusive relationship or household until you’re actually in it. There were many nights I‘d lay in bed feeling trapped, contemplating running away or just trying to grasp why everyone seemed OK with what was happening. Too many times, I'd be on the other side of the door hearing my mom cry for help and calling my name – feeling paralyzed – and not knowing where to turn or what to do. Too many times have I myself been physically and mentally abused to the point where I couldn’t go to school or had to make shift stories about the bruises on my body, the causes of my fractures and my state of mind and behaviors linked to my self-worth and esteem. We’d go through this vicious cycle and every time they would come back to each other in the form or expression of love. This was the model I experienced growing up and into early adulthood.
It wasn’t until I first started dating that I realized I didn’t know how to love. I was so confused, blocked off and caged – afraid to let anyone in or expose my heart that was wrapped in so much fear and trauma. To my ex-partners, I apologize and hope our experiences were part of your collective awakening.
Here’s the truth, the more I put myself in the presence and face of love – true and sometimes unconditional – the easier it became to accept the reality of the concept. See love is not all roses and flowers. I’ve come to learn that within the experience exists it’s polarities of pain and pleasure and often it’s a painful experience that’s your gateway to the other side. Maybe this is what my parents were experiencing to some degree at the time and didn’t have the tools to do the healing required to find balance in their collective grievances. I also know they had their own models they were working from as Jamaican immigrants.
Having experienced both ends of the extreme and finding balance within, love to me is forgiveness. To be able to look your perpetrator in the eyes and release the hold (pain, anger and fear) with the utmost compassion for the deep-seated pain and unhealed scars that they carry. Love is rising above and learning to sit with your stuff (shame, guilt, fear, anxiety) daily in stillness so you can experience the glimmer of light behind that is divine self. Love is claiming your presence and the truth of who you are. Love is establishing your boundaries for how you want to be treated and being able to articulate what it means to be in the space of love with you – as a partner, parent, friend, co-worker, etc. Love is me, it’s you, it’s reflected in the world around us (reflective of source) and there’s enough for everyone.
I spent so much time denying its presence and claimed for years that it would never find me. I‘ve learned that you must believe you’re deserving of it and only then can you experience heaven on earth. I’ve been fortunate enough to have found someone that’s my gateway into the portal of true, raw, authentic love. I mean pure bliss at times. Someone that helps me to see and experience the best parts of myself in ways that I haven’t before – bringing forth the goddess within to express – this someone is soon to be my husband. Thank you, Charlie. This experience has forced and accelerated my journey to self, allowing me to tap into that place of equanimity where I can love the perfect imperfection of everyone and everything just the way it is. This is a practice and if you find and create moments to get still, you’ll recognize that these polarities exist within you as well.
Abuse, shame, fear and guilt didn’t define me, they were some of my greatest gifts and teachings. They’ve set me on the path and climb to my own mountain top(s) in search of liberation. Regardless of our circumstances, what we’ve been through or how society deems some out groups, we are ALL deserving of love.
If no one has told you today or this year, know that I LOVE YOU.
Happy Valentine's Day.
Talk to you in a bit,