“God helps those who help themselves.” — Unknown
The taste of the thick Brazilian brew was still stuck to my tongue. I was only slightly “drunk,” but the setting brought its own intoxicating quality.
Lying on my mattress in the dark, the space around was visible only through candles and moonlight. The background ambience consisted of chanting, sobbing, sniffling, vomiting, jungle birds squawking, howler monkeys howling, and the rustling of frightened bodies beneath their blankets.
I closed my eyes and began to daydream. Yesterday was the first time I drank the medicine. At one moment during that night, in a bout of panic, I bumped into my dear friend Martijn and we hugged. But it was no ordinary hug. It felt more like a union between two souls journeying together through a beautiful and frightening dream. His body felt as vibrant and alive as mine did, and his arms spanned like eagle wings cocooning around to keep me safe from any harm that lurked in the darkness. In that moment he was unmistakably my big brother of the past, present, and future.
I continued to free associate. That was quite a hug. I like hugs. I think I’m going to hug myself now. A strange idea? I rolled onto my side and began my self-embrace. I wasn’t quite sure who was doing the hugging and who was doing the receiving, but soon after I started, tears erupted. It quickly dawned on me that at twenty-eight-years-old, I’d never stopped to give myself this kind of affection. It was not an affirmation, not narcissism, not self-pity, just the simple recognition that I have suffered, and that now I am here for myself.
During the self-hugging, I felt two presences within: The first was “Me”— my conscious mind, and the second was a mystical watcher-guide who was me and something more. This watcher, I knew, had observed everything I had ever done and had made suggestions throughout my entire life, some of which I followed, many of which I did not.
The guide was, I believe, my conscience. As the tears continued, I began communicating with this other. I thought I was fine, but now that I looked into my own heart I saw how lost and alone I had been over the last few months. More lost than I had ever been. I hadn’t admitted this to myself until tonight. The thing about sadness is that it’s easy to cover up with anger and frustration. Sadness is associated with weakness, and nobody wants to think themselves as weak.
Seeing this clearly, I became more upset. I pulled away from the hug.
“Where were you when I needed you?” I asked my conscience. “Why did you turn your back on me? Why did you allow me to go through that? Why didn’t you help? Where were the instructions? I thought you were always meant to be there for me…?”
There was a silent pause.
I felt the medicine swirl through my body, working it’s magic and connecting the disintegrated pieces.
My conscience replied, “You have it wrong. I was always there. I have always been here, and I always will be here. I was here for our first breath, and I will be right here with you for our last… together, always. It was you who turned your back on me. You didn’t want my guidance.”
“It’s true… I’m sorry.”
Over the previous 6 months, I had gone from the most integrated version of myself, to the most disintegrated I had ever been. Everything in my life took a hit. To a significant degree, the problems originated from my own choices. I stopped taking care of myself. I stopped listening to my conscience. This manifested in outward behaviors such as not working as hard or as energetically as I should have—not exercising, meditating, or journalling. I stopped eating healthy, gained weight, and refused to see my friends. I stopped valuing integrity and love. I became co-dependent in a relationship, and spiraled down. I needed help. My friends were worried about me, but I ignored them. I was not depressed, I had just turned my back on my conscience.
I asked the medicine to show me what to do and how to be, and it told me to make a vow never to turn my back on myself again.
Renew Your Vows to Yourself
A vow is a sacred promise. These are promises that you are willing to die to honor and you treat them with just that level of seriousness. That’s why in our wedding vows we say “till death do us part.”
After the hug to myself, I made the following vow:
“I will never turn my back on myself again. I will value my relationship with myself above all other relationships. I will always be there for us no matter what, and when no-one else is.”
Since this monumental evening, I have felt a huge shift in my being. I am now far more aware of my conscience and the decisions that may lead to a turning away from my inner guide. Before I would have sacrificed my self-respect and integrity and tolerated bad behavior from others, but now I put myself first. Giving up your soul for anyone or anything is never a worthwhile trade.
A few weeks after taking these vows, I am meditating, eating well, working out, journalling, hustling, and studying like never before. The click that I must put myself first and value the relationship with my conscience above all others was nothing short of life changing. The medicine may have even saved my life, as at certain points I contemplating an escape.
How Do I Get Self-Love?
Self-love is such a buzzword in the personal development community. It sounds almost silly.
“Hey dude, just love yourself!”
This is not what I’m getting at with my story. Self-love as I understand it is not some happy, blissed out state. Proper self-love is more like a lifelong marriage with yourself. You will argue, you will fight, but in the end you are bound together forever and you would be wise to respect, love, and support each other when the storms hit because they most certainly will.
If your partner went through a major catastrophe or a stressful period, would you just abandon them overnight? Unless you are a sociopath, I suspect you would not. And yet we abandon ourselves all the time. We turn our backs on ourselves at the worst possible times.
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson in his book 12 Rules for Life has for his second rule:
TREAT YOURSELF LIKE SOMEONE YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR HELPING
Absorb that for a second. Don’t shrug it off.
You are a living, breathing human being. You’ve been through so much! You have really suffered. You’ve experienced loneliness, heartbreak, pain, misery, anger, and humiliation. And guess what… you’re still here. Somehow, you made it. You were there for yourself at least enough to survive this far. But perhaps now is the time to go beyond the bare minimum. Perhaps now is the time to be a thriver rather than a survivor.
The most important relationship you will ever have is with yourself.
So let me ask you…
Could you care for yourself more? Are there any negative things you could cut out of your life? Are there any positive habits you could include? What simple thing can you do today to make it better? What big thing are you afraid to change but you know you should? If you loved yourself as your own child, how would you live differently?
Don’t Be an Idiot
Self-sacrifice is not honorable. If you let people walk all over you, take advantage of you, belittle you, hit you, degrade you, or use you, that is not compassion towards them. Compassion towards an abuser is leaving not enduring. If you stay you practice what the buddhists call idiot compassion.
If you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot take care of others.
If a mother chooses to give all of her food to her sister, she will end up being too weak to look after her own baby in a crisis.
If a man spends all of his energy trying to help his heroin-addict brother, at what point will the stress detract him from his own wellbeing?
Wise compassion always includes you as the primary object of love and investment.
The most important relationship you will ever have is with YOU.
Note: The experiences described in this article took place at the only legal medically licensed plant medicine center in the world: Rythmia. Rythmia is a beautiful, world-class center, and we recommend checking it out if you feel called to experience sacred plant medicine ceremonies guided by experts.