Next month, I celebrate my eighth “California-versary.” Eight years ago, I took a leap of faith by moving 3,000 miles across the country to start life over and find love.
After many failed relationships, I convinced myself that I would find “the one” on the West Coast. So, with only three suitcases, a car, and a few thousand dollars in the bank, I left Connecticut to follow my passion for living by the ocean, find my forever love, discover my life purpose, and fulfill my dreams. After living in San Diego for only two months, I met Matthew, and he’s been by my side ever since.
However, my search for love didn’t end with meeting Matthew. My struggles in this new chapter created a whole new journey. Starting over on the opposite side of the country with a new man was one thing. Trying to fit into his established way of life, which included an ex-wife, two sons, two dogs, and family, was another. It triggered a flip back through the pages of the first few chapters of my life story. You see, I had been running away from a painful past.
The truth is I left the East Coast because I was unhappy. I was unhappy because I had struggled with self-identity, self-esteem, self-worth, and self-love my whole life, starting in childhood. Growing up as a half-American/half-Filipino kid, I didn't feel like I fit in with the preppy, white kids in Connecticut. My mother also struggled in her transition to a new culture. Her tactic to get people to like her was to cook for them. It eventually worked, but all I remember from my childhood was my mother being unhappy, angry, and anxious. It showed in how she treated my brothers and me. She was very strict, always saying no to everything we wanted to do. She was also constantly yelling at us and negative. Instead of giving us compliments, my mother pushed us harder. Nothing we did was good enough for her.
Over time, I believed I wasn't good enough for anyone or anything. This feeling became the undercurrent that carried me through life for decades. As a result of having low self-esteem and lack of self-worth, I easily settled for less and held back from fulfilling my potential.
While I experienced some moments of happiness over the years, deep down, I was hurting. I felt too ashamed and embarrassed to admit to anyone that I didn’t love myself. While I cared enough to work on myself before moving to California, it still took a few years of living here for the real healing to begin.
Prior to moving to here, I spent 20 years looking for love everywhere else. First, I skipped a semester of college to live in Indianapolis with a boyfriend I thought I would marry. After college, I moved to Cape Cod, where I lived for two summers. I also moved to Fort Lauderdale, where I lived for one winter with a boyfriend. Eventually, I dumped those boyfriends and moved back home.
I looked for love in my body. Already unhappy with how my body looked, I had been teased for having “thunder thighs" in my younger years. As a result, I became obsessed with diet and exercise in my twenties. I knew I wasn’t strong mentally, so I focused on getting strong physically. My plan worked. It boosted my mental health tremendously. Then, I created a goal to become a fitness model, competitor, and trainer to inspire and help other women gain confidence through exercise, too. However, I developed health issues during my training, which prevented me from modeling and competing. These health issues included weight gain, poor digestion, and excessive bloating, which then triggered a vicious cycle of low self-esteem, depression, and poor body image issues. Eventually, I left the field to figure out how to help myself.
I looked for love in my relationships. I thought if someone loved me, I would finally be considered good enough. In my quest, I had many relationships, but I was never satisfied. The men who wanted committed relationships bored me. And, the men who excited me didn't want marriage. Finally, a classmate at my 20th high school reunion told me that I was the one with the commitment issues. He said it was my fault that I kept attracting men who wouldn’t commit.
He was right. While I wanted and dreamed of marriage, I was still more afraid of picking the wrong man. I lacked confidence in my ability to select the right life partner. After all, I had only witnessed arguing, blaming, and pain in my parents’ marriage. I felt so discouraged by my mother’s complaints of unhappiness that I convinced myself I'd end up the same way. I didn't believe I'd find a man who could be both a good husband and a good father. I was afraid I'd repeat the cycle and end up with a life sentence of regret.
Lastly, I looked for love in my career. I placed all of my self-worth in my work. I was most confident in my ability to work hard, follow directions, and produce quality service. I worked in several industries for both small and large businesses, where I realized I excelled in creating, developing, and maintaining relationships with my customers. Therefore, I combined my passion for wellness with my passion for helping others and returned to the health industry in marketing, management, and educational roles. Over the years, I’ve worked with clients with chronic health issues, such as pain, fatigue, allergies, or digestion problems. I worked with patients with mental health and addiction problems, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and alcohol and substance abuse. I’ve also worked with senior living residents who suffer from all of these issues, as well as lack of self-esteem, self-worth, and confidence.
However, I always had trouble standing up for myself. My mother raised me to be grateful for having a job instead. She told me not to rock the boat with my employers. Therefore, I didn't push for raises or promotions even though I knew I deserved them. Instead, I helped employers make more money while they had me do the work of three employees at once. Instead of rewarding me, they took advantage of me. For years, I felt overworked and undervalued. So, I spend the past several years learning how to love, value, and believe in myself more and how to find my voice.
The struggles I had before moving to California and since starting over eventually presented an epiphany. I remembered a family secret that was revealed during my early twenties. My mother had a baby with a man she met before my father in the Philippines. This man was an Army serviceman from the Midwest, and they had plans to marry. But, when her boyfriend called his parents to tell them the exciting news, they threatened to disown him. They said they forbade him from marrying a "third-world peasant." When my mother found out, she left him because she didn’t want him to resent her later. Instead, she took a job as a live-in housemaid for an older couple.
Then, one day, the woman of the house said she didn't need my mother’s services anymore. She also convinced my mother she couldn't take care of her son either, reminding her that she “had no job, no money, no husband, no home, and no family.” Ashamed, my mother left him, too. Days later, she met my father at a party outside the U.S. Air Force base. When my father heard her story, he helped her retrace her steps back to the old couple's home to help her get her son back. But, the couple had vanished and no one in the village would talk. Unfortunately, my mother never saw her son again. And, to this day, she still cannot find him because the baby was never baptized, so there is no paperwork.
These were the circumstances that brought my parents together and that created me. There was a big, ugly Vietnam war looming outside that confused and angered Americans back home. But, the real battle in our lives had only just begun. It would replay in my mother's mind and play out in my life for decades to come. I was born into a world filled with drama, guilt, shame, fear, grief, anger, depression, and anxiety. I was born into a world filled with drama, guilt, shame, fear, grief, anger, depression, and anxiety.
This traumatic event damaged my mother’s self-worth and self-esteem and explained why she was so rough, strict, and overly protective of my brothers and me in our childhood. It must have been stressful to lose a child, then start over in a new country where she was still learning the language. She was already told she wasn’t good enough to raise her baby in her own country. Now, she had to raise three young children in a predominantly white community, where she faced discrimination every day. Without having her own family nearby, she felt alone and afraid.
Like my mother, I also had challenges adapting to a new environment and fitting into a new family. But, eventually my struggles helped me find inner peace, healing, and forgiveness. In other words, it took 20 years and moving 3,000 miles for me to understand and appreciate my mother's journey for the first time. (By the way, she's not the same woman she was when we were kids. Now, she's much more loving, kind, and compassionate.)
I moved to San Diego to start over, but I found healing by going back to the beginning of my life story instead. I moved here to find a new life, but I realized you don’t find a new life. You create a new life. You don’t find happiness. You create happiness. And, you don’t find love. You create love everywhere you go. You create the life you want by first learning how to treat yourself with love, kindness, and compassion, and then by treating others the same way. This is how you create peace and harmony within yourself and in your life.
It all starts with you. You must first be willing to put on your miner’s hat and start digging. It takes time, but the answers to all of your questions lie within. There you will find the real treasures in life. You must be willing to turn the light on and take a long, hard look at all the ugly parts of your life. You must be willing to unearth the pain and suffering, too. You must also accept the circumstances of your past, especially the ones out of your control. And, you must be willing to move past it all if you want to be happy.
You are in charge of your life. You are in charge of creating your own happiness, even if it means starting from scratch.
Ultimately, I found love. It was within me the whole time. I just had to remove the cobwebs of conditioned, negative thoughts and feelings and learn to love myself all over again. I also learned I can't control other people's attitudes or actions. I can only control my own. I learned the best way to do this was to cultivate love, kindness, and compassion.
In reality, you don’t find love. It’s not in another location or state. It's not in the number of miles you run or the size of your jeans. It’s not in the amount of makeup you wear on your face. It's not in the college degree you earn, the size of your paycheck, or your job title. It's not in the amount of money in your pocket, the kind of car you drive, or the size of your house. It's not in the arms of a man with dreams of his own. And, you certainly don’t find love in the number of followers you have on social media.
Love is not given nor earned. It's created and revealed at the same time. Love is the power within that lifts you up and pushes you forward. It carries you through the skies during the rough storms and the sunny, breezy days of your life. Love is you, my Pineapple.
Live, Love, and Lead with Aloha.