I have a confession. I’ve kinda been a crappy friend to women over the years. Maybe mediocre is more fair. After all, I’ve had gal pals; we’ve had fun and shared personal things in some of the ways girlfriends do. But I hadn’t been completely honest or particularly deep with the give-and-take in most of my female relationships.

By not revealing more of myself—the real, haven’t-nearly-got-it-all-figured-out, often-scared-shitless me—I hadn’t created a friend-space where they felt safe enough to trust me, either. Truth be told, I didn’t make the minimal effort required to sustain most of my friendships beyond superficiality; if not for Facebook, many would have disappeared from my life.

Why this inability to bond with other women? Self-Psychotherapy 101: It’s self-defense. My mom died suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition when I was 7 years old. On the heels of that came the death of her mother. Then I lost both my first step-mother to breast cancer and a sweet younger step-sister to ovarian cancer. All before I turned 16. Those deaths rattled me to the core of my being, leaving scars that hardened over time and fueled fears of getting too close, lest my soul be exposed to the abrupt demise of another feminine bond.

So instead, I directed a lot of my relationship energy toward seeking affection and approval from men. I depended on those relationships to fulfill needs they never could and let them serve as a misplaced gauge of my self-worth. Why? Here’s a Jungian theory for you: Daddy issues. It was compensation for what was lacking in my relationship with my late father, who worked so hard to support our family and no doubt loved us, but who—well, let’s just say the big emotions he most often expressed toward his children were not of the warm and fuzzy variety.

In recent years, a subtle stirring began just beneath the surface. Looking back, this coincided not coincidentally with my discovery of the practice of yoga in a bighearted, empowering community. Then a big shakeup—the end of my marriage, fairly amicable but still foundationally shattering—ignited a dynamic shift.

The changes have been organic and nothing short of profound. I’ve begun to engage more deeply with female friends. I’ve forged solid, new connections with a tapestry of amazing women who, as if on magical cue, presented themselves to me exactly where, when, and as I’ve needed them most.

Women opened their homes and hearts to me. They extended their hands, and I took a firm hold of them. They shared their hugs, warmth, kindness, and simple presence. They shared their own trials and tribulations, and together we’ve laughed, cried, played, and screamed together.

My scars have softened. Now I’m trusting. I’m letting go and letting it happen. And oh, girl, am I ever so grateful.

So now, as periods of grief and despair have given way to faith and gratitude, I pause to tell all my women:

I love you.

I love my mothers and sisters by blood, marriage, and choice. I love my brave modern-day warriors, leaders, and teachers. I love my free spirits, compassionate hearts, and empathetic souls. I love my practical geniuses, smartasses, and comediennes. I love my athletes, adventurers, and thrill-seekers. I love my artists, creators, and healers. I love my women who keep showing up for themselves and their sisters even when it’s hard and messy and things aren’t perfect. I love my women, so full of life and love to share.

I love you all for your patience, for supporting me and cheering me on once I let you, as you’ve always done for each other. I love you for teaching me we’re all sisters on this wild journey.

I love you all for sharing your hopes, dreams, and fears, and for showing me it’s okay to ask for help. I love you for reminding me that vulnerability is the mother of strength.

I love you all for allowing me to feel safe enough to get close to you even though we won’t always be together. I love you for helping reveal the infinite value of a moment, when nothing is forever, if only we stop running away from each other and, instead, lift each other up.

I love you.