Yvette Bennett was in an abusive relationship when a friend asked her one fateful question: “Do you love yourself?” Answering that question would transform her life into one of her dreams, it would allow her to accept her sexuality and show her the amazing rewards of unconditional self-love.
Christmas December 2016 was supposed to be one of the best times of my life. It was going to be the first time that I was able to get my entire family together, ever. My mother, my father, my stepmother, my three children and their mates, my brother and his wife, and my partner and her father were all going to be at my home for the holidays.
The night before Christmas, my mother, brother, and I sat outside on the back patio to talk. It was tense. You see, my mother had always treated me differently than she treated my brother. She treated my brother like a king, but always made me feel unloved and unwanted. She never said it, but I always felt it, as did he.
This night, my brother prodded and poked her, asking why she had always treated me differently. Finally, she got fed up with his questioning, turned to face me with her arms folded, and said, “I don’t like you. I’ve never liked you. I haven’t liked you since the day you were born. Just deal with it!”
Her words cut deep, but at 47 year-old, at least I finally knew the truth.
Where it began
Growing up, I lived with anyone who would keep me –– my aunts, my grandmother, friends of the family, anyone. My mother seemed to want to be free more than she wanted to be a parent. As much as I loved and wanted to be with her, I never felt that she loved or wanted me.
I spent the majority of my childhood with my maternal grandmother. She was very strict and old school. The kind of grandmother that would beat you with a switch and not stop hitting you until you were a bloody mess. Luckily, I never got a beating. Ever. My brother wasn’t so lucky.
My grandmother wanted the best for me. She wanted me to excel in school and to go to college. She wanted to put me into cotillions and for me to be a part of high society. Her way of loving me was being strict and pushing me to be great. She was not affectionate in any way. She never hugged me or told me that she loved me. Never. I hated the way it felt. As a young girl, I did not understand at the time that that was her way of loving me. I just wanted to leave and go live with anyone who loved me the way I wanted to be loved.
I often would call my father, who was also very absent, and beg him to let me come live with him. His answer was always no. I would then call my mother. Most of the time she wouldn’t answer. But when she did, she would also tell me I could not come live with her. For years I felt unloved and unwanted. I had no idea of what it was like to feel loved or to know love.
So, in an effort to escape them and try to hurt them like I was hurting, I attempted suicide when I was 13 years old. I took a bottle of Bayer and went to sleep. I woke up a few hours later and nothing happened. I wasn’t sick, and no one knew what I had done. I was devastated. I hadn’t hurt them. They were oblivious. So, I ran away. My grandmother got fed up with me, put me on a bus, and sent me back to Miami to my mother.
I spent the next few years searching for love through any guy who would date me. I didn’t care who they were. I just wanted and needed to feel loved by someone. Anyone.
A family member got pregnant when she was 16 years old and did not want the baby. I had been told at a young age that I would probably not be able to have children because of health issues, so I adopted her son. I have had him since the day he was born. I felt like I finally had someone to love me.
The year that my son was born, my brother, who was the only person I ever felt loved me, was sentenced to 24 years in prison. Just like that, snatched completely out of my life.
That same year I met the man who I would eventually marry. I was 21 years old when we wed, and although I was mature for my age, I knew this wasn’t what I wanted. You see, I had always known I was different, I just didn’t know what it was. I had this idea in my head that if I got married, had the house, the white picket fence, husband, three children, a cat, and a dog, that my life would be everything I’d always dreamed as a little girl and I would be showered with so much love that it would fill all of the holes in my soul where I had never been loved. I had the husband, the home, and after surgery was able to have two biological daughters. I had the dog and the cat, every single thing I imagined having. Yet, I was still unhappy and did not feel loved.
I spent years in a marriage that I hated, praying every weekend in church that I would be blessed with a divorce
Yes, I got on my knees and prayed for a divorce. I wanted to run away. I wanted to be free. I wanted to be me. And I knew that being me was accepting that I was gay.
After seven years of marriage, we divorced, only to get back together three years later. This time, I was completely honest about how I felt.
I told my ex-husband that I was a lesbian and had always been. I told him I was willing to take him back for our children, but if things did not work between us, I would never date another man. We lasted almost two years. I left and never looked back.
I started dating a woman that I had been friends with. I was happier than I had ever been in my life. She had a large family –– over thirty siblings –– who were all very accepting of her and us. My children were accepted with open arms by her family, and for the first time in my life, everything seemed to be the way it should have been. I had a family, and I finally felt loved.
One of my friends finally asked me if I loved myself. It was the first time anyone had ever asked me that
One of my friends finally asked me if I loved myself. It was the first time anyone had ever asked me that, or I’d even thought about it. I realized that I did not have self-love. I had never been taught it, and I had never been shown it. So it was foreign to me.
One night, after another physical altercation led me to being almost choked to death, I finally left. I was homeless. I had nowhere to go, no car, no money, nothing.
A childhood friend let me stay with him. At his home I sank into a dark depression and didn’t know how to get out. I joined a domestic violence support group, which was a start. It helped to see that I was not alone. But I still felt like I was drowning. My cell phone had been turned off; I had no money, no car, no job, nothing. My friend that I lived with had a landline phone in his home. It was my only way to communicate with people.
A friend of mine, who is a minister and studies all religions, suggested that I look into Buddhism. She believed it could help fill some of the void that I had in my spirit and in my life. She mailed me books and CD’s so that I could learn more. I decided to give it a chance.
I read daily. I learned to meditate and chant, which was not easy. I immersed myself into the study of Buddhism. Within months, I had learned to release my negative thoughts into the Universe, and to chant and meditate whenever I felt depressed or anxious. Before I knew it, my entire way of thinking had changed. I was looking at life differently and being more positive about the way I moved in the world.
As time went on, things began to change. My partner turned out not be who I thought she was, or maybe, she was always true to herself and I was the one blinded by my need to be free to finally be who I was. We began doing a lot of breaking up and making up. This went on for eight years. In the end, I lost my home in Georgia, my home in Florida, my job, my car, and all of my savings trying to make a relationship work with my partner because I needed her to love me. She had her family to fall back on and I had no one.
Shortly after, I met a woman who seemed to be everything I could want in a mate and quickly entered a relationship with her. She spoiled me and doted on me. She made me feel like I was her entire universe. She made me feel loved. I soon found out why she was so charming and loving. She had to be because she was extremely abusive. Things got so bad between us that I ended up sending my children to live with my ex-husband. I knew I was not strong enough to leave her, but I couldn’t keep my children in that chaos. That was the beginning of my breaking point.
I never understood why people stayed in abusive relationships, but I was learning firsthand –– I stayed for three years. She was so loving and charming that it was euphoric. It truly was like a drug that kept me with her. And for someone who had never felt loved, this was everything. But when things were bad, it was absolutely horrible. I felt like one day, she was going to kill me. If I had not gotten out when I did, I believe she would have.
When I changed the way I thought, other things in my life started to change. Out of the blue, a friend offered to let me drive her car until I could get on my feet. Shortly after, a dream job fell into my lap, literally. It was the beginning of my life turning around. After a year of no cell phone, living with my friend, no car, and no money, I now had a job working on feature films for Universal Pictures, I had a vehicle to drive, and shortly after, I moved into my own place. I slept on the floor at first, but I didn’t care –– it was my space.
I joined a gym and began working out for two hours every night and walking five miles every morning before work. Although I was in group counseling, I felt that I needed one-on-one therapy, so I started seeing a therapist. I wanted to heal all of my brokenness, especially since I was beginning to feel happy, and I knew that, for the first time in my life, I was learning to love myself. I needed to be guided through that process.
Therapy was a godsend for me. It was just the guide that I needed.
I was finally loving myself enough to take care of my physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional wellbeing. I stayed in group therapy for five years and in one-on-one therapy for four. I was single for three years, which was a feat because I had gone from unhealthy relationship to unhealthy relationship my entire life.
If I had not learned to love myself, I think my mother telling me a few years ago that she never liked me would have destroyed me. Loving myself has made me strong and resilient. I was able to take my mother’s words, hear them, process the pain I felt, and release it back into the Universe. It made me realize that she is still where I once was, lacking self-love.
I pray that one day she finds it for herself, because I have truly been set free and have been able to live happily in my own authenticity. I learned to love me without needing anyone else to, and that is the greatest gift I have ever given to myself.
I was learning to do something I had never known how to do; that was to love myself enough to understand that love from another person does not make or validate me.
I had to love myself enough to know that if I spent the rest of my life alone, I would be ok. I had to love myself enough to know that if anyone entered my life and disrupted my peace, I had to walk away immediately. I had to love myself enough to know my self-worth, and to not settle for anything or anyone. I had to love myself enough to live in my truth and to live as authentically as I could.
Finally, I did. It has taken over 40 years to learn self-love, but I have.
I fall from time to time, and when this happens, I remind myself of who I am and what I deserve, and I get back on track. If I need to go back to therapy for a “tune up” as my therapist calls it, I make sure I do that as well.