I circled the small space in my on-campus apartment bedroom, talking to my mom on the phone. Again my mom was asking if I had gone to church. Again the answer was no.
It was a conversation like hundreds of others we had entertained that fateful year where I spiraled in post-study-abroad-the-world-is-an-unjust-and-awful-place-depression. The conversation consisted of mostly silence, deep breaths, and occasional grunts on my part.
I thought my mom would launch into another tirade about going to church, seeking help, doing anything to get out of the pit I was in.
Instead she told me something that I’ve never forgotten.
She said, “I want you to feel better about yourself, not just because you should, but because it’s a reality.”
For the first time in probably my whole life, I entertained that thought for real, like really for real. What if I really am lovable? What if that is the reality? What if the guilt and shame and anger I’d placed on myself for not measuring up to whatever impossible standards I’d created was just that, something I myself had created and entrapped myself in?
What if love was the reality?
Within the next few months my depression and self-hatred hit an all-time high and I hit an all-time low, and I realized that I either needed to live like I mattered and life mattered or life would be unbearable. And my mom’s words echoed in my mind.
With the idea that love and acceptance could maybe come from something bigger than and outside of myself, I decided to live what my mom had believed about me all along. Suspending my doubts, I launched my own Love Aly campaign in which I radically rejected any thoughts of self-hatred and did my best to “fake it till you make it,” choosing to live like I loved myself even if I didn’t feel it.
And it was this experience of unconditional love for myself that brought me back to faith in God.