It’s been pointed out to me that I have great friends. This I know is true.

I have friends that go back a long way. I have friends who are fairly recent. I have friends whom I don’t see much but we can always pick up where we left off. I have friends with shared interests or circumstances. I have friends with whom I feel a deep connection with. I have friends who surprised me by stepping up and helping me with things when I need it.

I have been blessed with great friends, and I don’t know what I did to deserve you all.

We humans tend to be suspicious creatures, especially if we’ve been hurt by other people before. Who hasn’t been? We also tend to talk ourselves down, saying shit like, “I didn’t do anything meaningful with my life to deserve anything nice in return.” We even go as far as denying ourselves the nice things as a way of punishing ourselves for whatever wrong we think we did to the world.

I spent the last few months learning how to love. It is both difficult and easy at the same time. Those of you who have seen my dark side know what I mean. I’m not always joking when I make elaborate threats. The reason I don’t make good of them is because I like staying out of jail. But this is not who I am anymore. I’m not sure who I am anymore, but I’m not the same person as I was six months ago.

This should be confusing and scary, but it isn’t. It’s a journey I’ve been getting ready to make, as soon as I was ready to let go of the emotional and psychological baggage that has defined me for so long. It is not a journey anyone CAN make if they are not ready or willing. Ask me. I’m one of the most stubborn people I know when it comes to deciding who I am and what I’m willing to put up with. But I’m tired of staying in one place. You can’t get different results if you keep doing the same thing.

Giving and accepting love is one of the most difficult thing I had to learn to do. Let’s not even think about the kind of love portrayed by Hollywood and manipulated for profit. I absolutely did not love myself for a long time. People made me feel stupid and ugly. I had few people to tell me otherwise. Those who did… well, they are probably just being nice.

The first time I freed myself from this mindset was to stop caring what other people think and did whatever I wanted. If changing myself to please others didn’t make a difference, I might as well do what I want. I was a Christian then, with a lot of Christian guilt and feeling of unworthiness. Allowing myself to hate people who earned it and cut them from my life was powerful. There is freedom in saying, “I’m not going to let you make me feel like shit again. Fuck off forever.”

And then I did whatever I wanted, which surprisingly didn’t consist of wild orgies, murder, drugs, Satanism, or all the forbidding things that the church swears you’d get into when you quit believing them. I did shit that I love, spend time with cool people, tried not to be too much of an asshole, explored the world and the kind of person I am when my thoughts and moves were not being controlled by organised religion. I collected some good friends along the way.

I left the church nearly 20 years ago and I’m only starting to learn how to love myself. Learning how to accept love is part of it. If you don’t love yourself, it’s hard to believe anyone else would. While our brains automatically link love to flowers and hearts, it comes in many forms … most show that your friends and family are thinking of you and want to help make life a little easier for you.

Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages is an amazing resource that I go back to every now and then. I recommend that you check out the website so that you can get a better understanding of what I’m talking about.

The original book was aimed at life partner-type relationships, but the principles are easily applied to other types of relationships. There’s already several variations out there for teens, the work place, etc. So you don’t have to be shagging someone for this to be applicable to you.

In a nutshell, Chapman said there are five ways to express or experience love: receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion), and physical touch.

Mine has always been ‘acts of service’, followed by ‘quality time’. This means that I value things like practical help (ie when I moved houses recently, several friends offered their larger vehicles and helped me move big items), and I like spending quality time with people whose company I enjoy. It also means that I give primarily the same way too, but understand that other people may have different love languages, so it’s always helpful to discover what they are.

For example, I’ve never place much value on ‘words of affirmation’ because people can say whatever they want and still do the opposite. Burnt too many times, I suppose. But I’ve learnt to accept compliments without questioning the motive behind it. If there is a motive, it will make itself known sooner or later. But there are sincere reactions or feedback that builds a person up. Store it in your folder of ‘Shit That I Did Right’. Pull it out the next time you feel low or when you can use it as a building block for something greater.

Accept the love. Accept the compliments and the help. Accept that you probably did something right, although it seemed like nothing to you. Be you and you will attract your tribe.

And when you accept the love that comes your way, you will have love to give.

Don’t get me wrong… if you cut me off recklessly in traffic, I’ll still scream “Cuuuunt!” in the direction of your car, but I won’t hunt you down and murder your family in cold blood.

And I’m 40, for fuck’s sake. If I don’t love me first, nobody is gonna do it either. And I’m still learning.