Self-care is something I’ve written quite a bit about on this blog. And fortunately, there are a bunch of ways to practice it. But finding healthy routines that are sustainable and not getting caught in the trap of finding what just feels good for the moment is difficult. And unfortunately, our unhealthy habits are usually ones that are passed down by those closest to us. There was no class, in my in high-school anyway, for teaching us self-care or how to take care of our needs.
This is an unfortunate truth for those of us who didn’t have the support to find out how to practice self-care. It is also at the core of how we grow and become the best versions of ourselves. That’s why I go over it so frequently in this blog. Because I believe the more we take care of ourselves, the better we our at taking care of our environment. Immediate sure, but also globally. In this post, I’ll be taking a look at some of the ways I practiced unsustainable self-care, and the healthier habits I’ve picked up in their stead.
Learning to Disconnect & Protect
I think the first ways I learned how to practice self-care was by playing video games and watching T.V.. These aren’t inherently bad habits in anyway, but they are ones that I definitely used in unhealthy ways. I was using them, video games especially, to dull my senses. To “zone out” my surroundings so I didn’t have to interact, be a part of what was happening to, or around me. But I was also introduced to video games shortly before some traumatic events in my past took place. So in a way I was playing them to escape the chaos of what was happening in my life. It was a defense mechanism. Something unchanging in a chaotic world.
But they were something that I did for decades. And to avoid those closest to me. I was well into my thirties and still playing games like World of Warcraft for up to 4-5 hours a day. If I had gotten a second job and worked as many hours as I played, I’d have a healthy retirement fund by now.
It also took a toll on my marriage as well. I was spending more time with a video game than connecting with my then wife. This makes me sad to think about now, but I also recognize that I was still in protection mode. I still hadn’t realize that I wasn’t able to trust those closest to me and that I was perpetuating the cycles of my past. Looking back, there was a lot of pain that wasn’t being recognized. Or that I even knew about. First by me, and secondly by everybody I was pushing away with my arrogant disposition.
But that’s the nature of what happens after you experience trauma. You go into emotional shock and dissociate. I was definitely dissociated from all of my emotions. Save for the very strong ones such as pain and anxiety. The times I wasn’t feeling these emotions, I was doing whatever I could to numb myself incase they came rushing back in. T.V. is another good example of dissociation in my case. I spent so many hours watching others live their lives out on the screen, only to avoid what was happening to and around me. Another way for me to zone out, aka dissociate.
Different Methods of Dissociating
But again, I was still only trying to protect myself, the best ways I knew how at the time. Using this method, I could still be around those closest to me, without actually having to connect with them in a meaningful way. I could be around them, and keep up the appearance of being a functioning member of my community, while still keeping largely to myself.
And the same was true of alcohol and medication. For me, being numb was safer than being present. This was because there were so many ways I was afraid of being hurt.
But all the while, using all the different modalities I could find to dissociate, I was really seeking to numb the fear of being with those closest to me. But also with myself. The relationship I was most frightened of was of being with myself and the ways I had picked up the habits and ways of abusing myself, as I was abused and how I saw my caregivers abuse themselves. Because these were the ways they, in turn, abused me. Like a cursed family heirloom being handed down from one generation to the next.
Waking Up & Finding Resources
And while I was avoiding and numbing my relationships and my feelings in my other relationships, what I didn’t realize was that I was numbing the most important relationship, with myself. I had no idea outside of alcohol, video games and T.V., what brought me a sense of joy. I had no idea what I liked as a way to treat myself. Asides from the unsustainable methods. This was a shock. When I realized how disconnected I was from who I am.
Luckily I wasn’t completely in the dark, or without resources. I know that I like music. Still a great source of comfort for me. Also one that has been there for me, in one form or another, for most of my life. I can remember the first time I ever heard and loved a piece of music. I was probably no more than four or five years-old and I had just gotten my first alarm clock-radio. Not that I had anywhere to be back then. But I remember scanning the stations and exploring my new musical gift. I came across a piece of classical music and was mesmerized. The violins in particular were what struck me. From that day on, I knew I loved music.
Becoming Re-Acquainted with Myself
But it was exactly these types of memories, this type of intimacy with myself, that I had lost or forgotten. The moments of, “I enjoy this, this makes me happy”, was something I had lost touch with shortly after my trauma. And then again when I was actively seeking to numb myself with whatever I could. AKA, video games, T.V., drinking and medication. It was definitely not easy to come to this realization and account for my neglected emotions. I usually felt as though there were some unattended emotion, just waiting around the corner to make me feel anxious or fearful if I stopped my methods of numbing them.
And there were lots of neglected emotions. I still hadn’t dealt with my abuse and the trauma I endured. How could I have, when I was actively seeking to numb them for so long! So it wasn’t until I stopped my numbing methods that I truly began to feel and understand my emotional life. The one I was neglecting.
How I Got to Know Myself, Alcohol
I first started with lessening my alcohol consumption. This was a difficult task. Seeing as how I was drinking five to six drinks a night just to wind down. But I gave it up save for a beer with my self-care dinners. And as a bonus, I’ve felt healthier ever since. I’ve replaced my nightly beers or mixed drinks with a few cups of herbal tea. This way I can relax and unwind without being intoxicated. I can stay present in the moment instead of zoning out.
It’s important to remember too, that this is a big transition. Or it was for me. I sometimes feel as though I’m drinking too much tea. This is where it is important to reality check myself. Having three, sometimes four cups of herbal tea is not the same as having four mixed drinks. I like to think of this part of me as Freud’s classic super-ego. This is also incidentally the part of me that is a perfectionist. The one that sets unreasonable standards and then will beat myself up for not achieving them. This can be dangerous if left unchecked.
How I Got to Know Myself, Healthy Eating
I’ve also been eating healthier overall, leaving one night a week where I make a special meal for myself. This way I am eating healthier foods and making healthier nutritional decisions. But also treating myself to something tasty. Something that I can look forward to making for myself. I also plan a dessert into my special meal. Something I feel is a break from the norm, a treat.
When I was drinking as much alcohol as I was at night, I was 80 pounds overweight. Also the meals I was eating were definitely not planned in regards to their nutritional value. I was overweight and felt unhealthy. So the time I spend on taking care to nourish myself brings me a sense of satisfaction. A sense that I’m looking out for my health. But also finding foods I enjoy cooking and eating. I’m happier knowing that I don’t have to sacrifice the things I like, in order to take care of my nutritional needs. Such as flavor or the act of cooking for myself.
How I Got to Know Myself, Yoga & Exercise
Yoga is another way I incorporate self-care into my routine. With the amount of T.V. and videogames I watched and played, I needed to get my body moving. Also to reconnect with the parts of me that had been stagnant for far too long. And it’s worth mentioning that it took me a while to figure out a routine that was healthy. One that took care of my need to move and connect with my body in a healthy ways and not over doing it the ways I had with TV and videogames.
For example, when I first started doing yoga, I was going to two 60 minute classes a week. On top of that, I was running 10 to 20 miles a week as well. Until recently, I was also working out three days in a row. Two days doing yoga and one run day, without a rest in between. My cycle was three days on, four days off. This was tiring and it left me feeling depleted, drained. I enjoyed the workouts, but the intensity of doing it all in one block was too much. Again with the super-ego : )
I’ve since switched to a workout every other day. I now take two days off in a row at the end of my week to get some much needed rest. This way I have a chance to relax a little between workouts while also not feeling as tired on a workout day. I also look forward to my workouts more often. Knowing that I’m taking care of my need to rest between workouts is a huge step towards me being able to listen to and care for what my needs are. Learning how to listen to what my body needs and is telling me.
How I Got to Know Myself, Rest
I’ve also been paying attention to what my body needs for rest more frequently as well in the name of self-care. I used to stay up late. Two or three am. And for no reason other than to watch more T.V.. Or I would play videogames for stretches of 4-5 hours at a time. Now I go to bed when I’m tired. Or at very least I recognize when I’m tired without trying to cover over those feelings with alcohol or caffeine. It’s amazing what your body will tell you when you’re not trying to drown out its messages with something stopping you from listening.
How I got to Know Myself, Budgeting
Another way I’ve been trying to implement some self-care into my routine is in an unlikely place. Though it’s one that needs some attention nonetheless. My budget. I got into a lot of debt when I was in my twenties and thirties. Credit cards, student loans… If it was money someone was willing to lend me, I was willing to take it. Now that I’ve been paying off my debt, I’ve kicked it into overdrive and have been going hard. Again with the Super-Ego.
I picked up a second job/side hustle and am funneling all available funds towards my debt. I’m using the Dave Ramsey method to get out of debt. I was going so far as to not buy a cup of tea or coffee on the mornings I was working 18 hour days. Including a three hour commute! This was going a bit too hard.
You’ll be happy to know that I now buy myself a tea once and a while. But I also plan on budgeting a treat for myself while I’m paying back my debt. I plan on treating myself to a massage for every 10k I pay off in loans. This way, I’m still focused on my goals, but also have something to look forward to in the self-care department while I’m in the mists of working two jobs and doubles. This can be stressful incase you’ve never been in that boat. : D But also necessary to keep some balance and not feel completely burnt out.
Self-Care, Get Involved : )
These are a few of the routines I’ve developed in helping to live a healthier, more balanced life. I’ve stopped watching T.V. almost completely. But plan on watching again, as I don’t want my super-ego to get out of hand. Having healthy habits isn’t always easy. But it’s possible and also rewarding. So if there’s a habit that you feel you’ve been leaning on too much, that may be unsustainable like watching too much T.V., maybe try replacing it with a healthier hobbie.
Exercise is a good one to start with for self-care because a lot of what you need to start is free or cheap. Yoga with Adriene is a great resource if you’ve been thinking of yoga as an outlet. And if running is something that’s piqued your interests, all you need is a pair of shoes! And keep in mind, you don’t have to make major life changes all at once! Living a healthy life takes time and practice. And if you’re an over achiever, don’t give into the super-ego. : ) Take your time and you’ll be in good shape. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.