Valentines Day is by all intent and purposes supposed to be a happy day for people,especially couples. Filled with Valentine cards,candy,flowers,other gifts and hopefully love. But for some people Valentines day can be a sad reminder that they look different or don’t have a partner . And so they think no one will ever accept them,let alone love them. I felt much the same way after my burns. I was burned over 90% of my body in an oil refinery explosion when I was just 20 years old. The greatest damage was to my face . I lost both ears,part of my nose and had to have my entire face reconstructed.I was hopeless back then,but as I said to someone the other day at a burn survivor group at our local burn unit at Lehigh Vally Hospital.” We’ve been in recovery from our burns for many years ( 33 yrs for me) we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,because we’ve been through the tunnel.Most newly burned people can’t even imagine that it exists. That it will ever get better. And I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter where your scars are on your body or what ‘beauty’ you may have been left with. The scars become the focal point and we fear rejection. I’m no authority by any measure on love or relationships,so I’m just sharing what I have experienced in the last 33 years. I had a couple of different women that I dated and was involved with when I was injured and for whatever reason those relationships didn’t go anywhere. Then I meant a physical therapist that I dated and a candystriper that I went on a date with and this was all with in two years of my burns and I still had extensive facial reconstruction that needed to be done. I’m not gonna say I wasnt self-conscious. I was and still am sometimes. I’m not sure I know anyone who isn’t from time to time. Non burn survivors included. In 1983 I meant a beautiful,energetic 19-year-old women named Sonya . We had fun together and connected on a level that felt really good. Eventually we went our separate ways mainly because of my ongoing struggle with narcotics dependency as a result of multiple surgeries. I soon meant and married someone else. She was also quite attractive by societies standards and had two children from previous relationships. Ours was not a healthy relationship ,as we both had our share of unresolved issues and growing up to do. We had two children together,separated in 1991 and divorced in 1997. I finally found my way to getting off of the pain medicine completely in 1996 and I’ve been clean ever since. I had several more or less casual relationships with woman between 1996 and 2002. I ended up getting custody of my two daughters in 2002 and found out how difficult it was to be a single parent. One day I was asked to travel some distance to the Pocono mountains in Pa.(I lived in NJ at the time) to share my story with some other people in recovery . It was January 2003 and almost a year after I gained custody of my children. I walked into the building where the gathering was to be held with some friends from NJ in tow. As I was walking to the restroom to get ready to share my story I heard a voice behind me say ” I’ve been waiting for you for years” . I turned around and was completely flabbergasted. I just couldn’t believe that over 18 yrs later Sonya was standing in front of me at this obscure town that I didn’t even know existed, over 100 miles from where we both lived in 1983 in NJ . All those years faded away and it felt like it did back then. A little electricity. A spiritual connection. A couple of months later we started seeing each other again and eventually I asked her to marry me. I never thought I would get married again after my first wife. Because I didn’t think she really loved ME. Even though she seemed to be able to see past the scars on the outside,I don’t believe she ever really saw me. Sonya sees me and she gets me. She accepts me and loves me. Is it always wonderful ? No. In fact we are really just getting started on our relationship and romance. We’ve been focused on raising the kids and getting them set up with life, moving,business ,my involvement in the burn community and just everyday life. I’ve found that if I really want a good relationship I need to make time for it and I have to participate. It involves more than cards,flowers and the occasional dinner out. It takes guts to stay committed to a relationship long-term. I found what I feared the most was the intimacy and vulnerability. Not something most guys (and a lot of women) are very good at. But I’ve gotten better at it . I enjoy our life together and we enjoy each other. We’ve been very fortunate to have another chance to come back together as adults and find out who we really are separately and together . We try to support each other and give each other the kindness that engenders love. It’s not always easy and we both fall short but we keep on trying and that’s the most important part. Just keep at it and don’t give up ! It is my sincere wish that everyone who reads this finds happiness within themselves and shares that happiness with others. In the mean time just remember , if someone can’t love you today because you look different,they probably wouldn’t have been able to love you anyway. Not really love YOU and really see YOU. Real love goes much deeper than appearance. It goes much deeper than anything on the outside. I have found that my scars weed out the phonies in my life and I usually end up with the most genuine and authentic people on this earth surrounding me. Happy Valentines day to everyone …because self-love is where real love begins. Like happiness,love is an inside job .And there are shortcuts. You don’t have to be in a relationship to work on self-love.Our society puts too much emphasis on being with someone else,before we get to know ourself . And as my wife said this morning,” Valentines day is like Christmas. Its something we should practice everyday.” Practice with ourselves and others. So buy yourself a box of candy and some flowers and if no one else tells you that they love you or even if they do. Find a mirror and tell yourself ….