On wholeness & loving ourselves realistically

On wholeness & loving ourselves realistically | SusannahConway.com
I often get emails that deserve a longer more considered response than I usually have time for — here’s one that I’ve been sitting on for a while. Today was the day to reply:

Hello Susannah,

I’ve been really enjoying The Sacred Alone class. This is the second class I’ve taken with you. I am so happy I found your blog and read your story. Honestly, I’ve been needing to get to know the girl in the mirror for a long time. I identify with a lot of parallels in your story. My father, while he didn’t leave us, was painfully absent and I’ve been through a good many years of therapy to fill the hole. In the past month I wrote a letter to my father as homework for my therapy visits. I read this letter in our last session a few weeks ago. I feel freer. The anger I use to feel is at rest, but a part of me wonders if I will ever be done with the “daddy issues”. To fill the hole I’ve longed to have a man in my life that is to me what he never was. I am a serial monogamist, bouncing relationship to relationship. After nearly 28 years, I’m tired. I’m taking the Sacred Alone to rely on the only person who I feel like can truly fill the hole – me.

I’m afraid and I have a question. It’s a bit of a personal one, but from someone who has fought this battle 12 years longer than I have, how did you know or how did you get to the point where your own love – your own self – was enough to feel whole?

Through reading your blog and taking your classes, I’ve thought several times “I want the strength of this woman.” “I want to be able to take control of my life and career the way she has.” You’ve truly been an inspiration to me. Thank you so much for sharing your story. You’ve made the idea of a girl who didn’t have a good relationship with her father, and doesn’t have to remain broken and depleted a little more attainable. That she can become strong and successful.

Love, M

Dear M,

In all honesty, I still have occasional daddy issues. Not with the man who left 30 years ago as I’ve worked through all that. And not with the man who lives on the other side of the world, as I don’t know him and don’t feel the need to be in touch with him. My issues, such as they are, are a lingering part of my blueprint, the stuff I learned in the first 18 years of my life. (I sometimes wonder if we’re just supposed to spend our lives untangling all the crap we learned as kids.) The old programming surfaces every so often, just to keep me on my toes.

I was in back-to-back romantic relationships from the age of 17 to 32, right up until the day my partner died. In my 20s I was self aware enough to know I needed time on my own to really get to know myself, but back then I wasn’t brave enough to do it. I relied on another to make me feel whole, although truthfully it wasn’t that effective. I still felt lost, still felt unsure — I just had someone else to blame for not making me happy (nice, eh?)

Because I was so caught up in the patterning of the past, and the dysfunctional idea that another person could fill the father-shaped hole in my life, it wasn’t until I was forced to be alone that I finally got the chance to heal. My bereavement wasn’t just about the loss of my love — I also had decades of scrambled thinking to unravel. I had to learn to be on my own, and give myself the chance to discover who I really was.

“how did you know or how did you get to the point where your own love – your own self – was enough to feel whole?”

It happened very gradually. Obviously there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but when I trace my journey backwards there are some key practices and milestones that stand out:  

— I learned how to live on my own, in a home I created just for me. I learned to take pleasure in cooking for myself, in arranging my furniture the way I liked it, in being solely responsible for the bills. I figured out how I wanted to spend my weekends at home, without the comfortable distraction of another’s company. I learned to let go of the need to have others around me to feel okay. I learned how to go places without needing to check in with anyone else. I became independent for the first time in my life.

— I mapped the terrain of my heart through my creativity. I’ve always journaled but it reached prodigious new heights in those first years of my healing journey. It’s amazing how fast you can cut through the undergrowth when you truly open up to self enquiry. The journalling of my 20s was decidedly shallow compared to the places I went to years later. I asked the questions and finally excavated my insides for answers. I still do this today.

— I began figuring out what truly lit me up. Relationships take up a lot of time and energy (usually in a good way!) so being on my own gave me time to figure out what was important to me — not me as somebody’s girlfriend, who generally went along with what her boyfriend wanted to do. Starting a blog and picking up a camera again changed everything and paved the way for what I’m doing now.

— I befriended the woman I saw in the mirror. We don’t have a perfect relationship — far from it, in fact. I intimately know the less appealing sides of myself — the stuff I’d rather no one else ever sees — but rather than cover it up or run from it, I embrace it. I own my “bad” as well as my good. My shadows as well as my light. I don’t believe there’s ever a point where all the crappy parts are healed out of existence — there is no perfect state to be achieved. Instead, I believe the goal is simply to embrace all of who we are. To get to know all facets of your being, from your body and outward appearance, your age and experiences, to your secrets and desires, your broken bits and your brilliance.

I do feel whole. In my bones I know I am complete exactly as I am. I am my own best friend. I trust myself completely. But that doesn’t mean it’s all perfectly shiny days over here — again I say FAR FROM IT! Outwardly it may look like I have it all together, and in many aspects I’m doing pretty good, but there are parts of my life I’d like to make over. After nine years my single status is long past its sell-by date. I will always be a pessimistically-inclined lone she-wolf — that hasn’t changed. I love my family above everything, but I often let friendships fade out and that’s not a side of me I’m proud of.

But on the whole, yes, I am whole. I own the good in me and the shit in me, too. I do a fairly good job of loving myself — a realistic job is perhaps a better way of putting it. I love myself realistically. In this lifetime this is who I am and 99% of the time I am happy with that. There will always be days that I’m not, and that’s okay — I find I’m less stressed about it these days.

So in summary, dear M, give it time. Gift yourself with the space to get to know yourself. Trust that the desire to be whole is the beginning of the realisation of that goal. And that getting older is very often the making of us. It has been for me. Let it unfold. And take yourself out on dates — just you and you. xx

20 responses
  1. Jay

    A truly beautiful, genuine response and I can’t find words to adequately express how blessed I feel having read both the original email and your reply. Thankyou M & Susannah. Isn’t it wonderful how growth can still take place in the darkness…

  2. rEBECCA

    Beautiful x

  3. Jo

    The word beautiful fits perfectly, so I’ll be the third to use it. x

  4. Briana


  5. lisa

    What a thoughtful and beautiful response this is, Susannah.

  6. Karen

    Thank you for the realism :) ‘loving oneself is such an ideal- it was good to hear the real practice of it… Such a loving thing to share :)

  7. kelly

    I have also been pondering this idea of wholeness lately…I like the idea of being able to realistically accept myself – it doesn’t seem quite so daunting! Will be journaling about this tomorrow ;)

  8. Niki

    Just beautiful, Susannah.

    As an introvert, being alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely. Enjoy your “you” time on the dates, M.

  9. Bella

    Beautiful, friend.
    I’ll bookmark this one & refer back to it often.

  10. mARY IN va

    What a thoughtful response. Thank you so much for the definition of wholeness as accepting all of one’s bits rather than an unrealistic perfection. I am definitely bookmarking this one to read again..and again… and again!

  11. CLaire

    Yes, yes, yes! Thank you Susannah, for this, and for The Delicious Truth About Getting Older, which I’m part way through reading at the moment. I find myself nodding and agreeing with so much of what you say above and what the lovely ladies have to say in the PDF.

    I always thought (and I have no idea why!) that my life would be ‘sorted’ by the time I reached 30, and only now, at 41, am I realising that that’s not the way it works and it’s not what life’s about – there will never be a reaching of the perfect life. Fabulous to read so much positive confirmation from others that this is an ok realisation.

    You are my feather for today, thank you xx

  12. Heather

    So lovely. So honest.

  13. Ellen Bard

    Lovely, and I so agree with giving yourself the gift of getting to know yourself. So many people ‘numb out’ when they’re on their own with electronic devices, but as you say, time daydreaming, thinking, journalling, pondering, wondering…these are ways to connect you to you.

  14. Adela

    Just the reminder I needed today! Summoning courage and making time and space for those big questions can be a real challenge… X

  15. NAOMI

    Thank you <3

  16. Valerie Martin

    Susannah, this is so touching. To me it speaks to the fact that if we open up enough to let it happen, resiliency will grow from a little seedling into a flourishing plant. Even in places of deep pain and wounding, the seed for wholeness is still there. It just needs some water and light and love. Thank you for these words.

  17. Anab Roa

    Thank you Sussana for your honesty + courage! i love you! :D

  18. Roxanne

    “… I was self aware enough to know I needed time on my own to really get to know myself, but back then I wasn’t brave enough to do it. I relied on another to make me feel whole, although truthfully it wasn’t that effective. I still felt lost, still felt unsure — I just had someone else to blame for not making me …”

    Oh God. That was me.

  19. Alanna Jane

    The depth, complexity and honesty of this original email and response are so wonderfully touching. At 41, I too am learning to accept and embrace all parts of myself in order to feel as whole as I can. The nastier parts of life have a way of slowing us down to do just that. With the easing of negativity in our thoughts, and working on clearing our thinking of distortions, we can all come to terms with the truth of who we are and how wonderful life actually is. I too will likely always have ‘mommy issues’, perhaps even more so as she is still a part of my life. But it is also an opportunity to stop projecting my shadow onto her, and embracing my own stuff so that I see her as the person that she actually is.

    Additionally, we are truly blessed in this generation to have the opportunity to actually live alone as women, and take the time to work on our inner-selves! Huge gratitude to the generations that came before and fought for these rights.

  20. Vicky Russell

    Thank you Susannah and M! Your heart and soul sharing brings light to my world today. This post will definitely be bookmarked for future reminding. xx

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