By: Cortney Barlow, LCSW, CHC, CCTP, CASM
I am going to be honest, before I was a therapist I was a mean girl. Actually it's more appropriate to say before I learned to love myself I was a mean girl. It was so much easier to look at other peoples flaws than to look in the mirror at my own. I was far from perfect but I kept this persona that I was this confident and unbothered woman. When in reality I was unhappy. I will never forget a spiritual advisor told a friend of mine that I was pretty, but I look genuinely unhappy in my pictures. I was appalled! Someone saw the true me, I can no longer hide behind these edited pictures on social media showing my good side. I was so offended because I didn't even know I was unhappy. I thought my life was great, which it was, but emotionally I was struggling. I was giving time and energy to people who didn't serve me and my growth. I was allowing energy vampires to make me feel less worthy. I was constantly competing with other women because I chose men who didn't respect me enough to date just me. I was partying every weekend and drinking masking my true feelings. However, I always felt there was something missing. I did not find that missing piece until I was about to turn 30.
In my journey of turning 30 years old, I challenged myself to stay off of social media, to journal, and to take care of my physical and mental health. It also didn't hurt that I turned 30 in 2020 and the world was on lock down so there was no clubbing or partying for me. The social media break was the most influential piece in my healing journey. I was off of social media for 10 months which allowed me to learn who I am and what I like, but most importantly what makes me beautiful without the influence of others. Social media is very influential in our decision making, what we eat, what we post, and even what we look like. Social media sets an unrealistic standard of beauty. On social media women are portrayed with perfect skin, big butts, and name brand clothing. Whereas, in my life I am this skinny woman with acne and naturally kinky hair. Without social media I learned that I am beautiful because I say I am beautiful. No one else determines what's important for me but me. Same with beauty, I determine whats beautiful to me. There is power in loving yourself and not being influenced by others.
The next step in my healing journey was journaling. I learned so much about myself and my past traumas. We don't realize how much childhood traumas impact us in adulthood. I also learned how my childhood impacted my self-esteem and who I was as a person. In my self discovery journey I realized I never felt a sense of belonging or a community. I always spoke "proper" or articulate, so I often got teased for "acting like a white girl." I attended a predominately white middle and high school so I also felt like an outsider there. I never had many people that look like me in my classes and I always felt I had to work harder to prove I was good enough since I was a black girl in a white school. I always felt I had to carry myself a certain type of way to prove my worthiness or intelligence. When you are the minority in any situation you have to assimilate to the majority culture. I constantly straightened my hair, I spoke "properly" leaving my AAVE (African American Vernacular English) at home. I was also cautious of my behaviors as to not come off as the "angry black woman." When you spend years assimilating to different cultures you lose your own. When I began my healing journey I learned how to style my natural hair and I got into spirituality with crystals and manifesting.
Learning about spirituality as opposed to Christianity, which I grew up in was an eye opening experience. I learned sometimes the church is a place of judgement whereas spirituality is more self reflection. In some churches if you are not living the way the bible states you are supposed to live then you will go to hell. In spirituality for me there is no heaven and hell. The most important factor of spirituality to me was living for the right now and being present. I can never change what happened in the past or control the future but I have now. In Christianity, a lot of living is for death and getting into heaven. Spirituality is about being kind and loving others regardless of their religion, what they look like, or what they can do for me. I am not judged based on my past mistakes. I feel more judged on how I treat and love others now. But don't get it twisted, I am from the south and I grew up in the church so I still start every morning with Praise and Worship music. #blessed #grateful #godfavoredme
Last but not least, I began taking care of my mental and physical health. I begin eating healthy, working out, and doing yoga. I don't have control over what others think is beautiful or a great body but I have control over what I put in my body and working out. There is no point in having a nice body if your mind doesn't match. I started attending therapy which was so beneficial. It took me a few therapist to find one I felt connected to but once I did I learned so much about myself and how I view the world. I learned things I dealt with as a child were actually trauma. I also learned I struggled with anxiety as a child as well. Therapy changed my perception of myself and others because it gave me a sense of empathy and putting myself in other peoples shoes. I also learned to have grace with myself for the mistakes I made in the past. I now have the privilege of being an advocate for women everywhere. Everyday, I get to empower women and help them achieve their greatest potential.
A major challenge, but a great lesson, was being diagnosed with epilepsy after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. This has been the most humbling experiences I have ever had in my life. And unfortunately, I have been humbled a few times lol. This has been one of the scariest experiences I have had this far. Having health problems has completely changed my outlook on life because it shows me how short and unpredictable life is. At the drop of a dime, your entire life can change. This has made me so incredibly grateful for life. There is a tendency for us to take life for granted, not realizing how precious and short it is. I have learned to no longer hold grudges because honestly whats the point? It has already happened and life has moved on. However, that does not mean allow toxic people back into your life but let it go. When you forgive and let go of grudges it feels so freeing. I have no ill feelings towards anyone or any situation. I don't sit and dwell on situations from my past because it has shaped me to be the woman I am now. A powerful, loving, beautiful woman inside and out.
I once had a friend from elementary school tell me I used to bully her. I honestly could not do anything but apologize because she was right. Now I hear from women how I have helped them find themselves and heal. I changed and you can too. Never allow anyone to place you in a box from your past mistakes. You are a human, you are beautiful, and you create the life of your dreams!