Do I Know What My Boundaries Are? How to Tell if You’re Boundaries Need Shoring Up

Boundaries are another area I spend a lot of time on in this blog. The main reason being, if you were raised in a situation where boundaries were constantly being violated, then it can be difficult to know what is, and is not acceptable behavior. This was the case with my upbringing. I didn’t even know what a boundary was, and even worse, I confused a lack of boundaries for affection in some cases. This was a very unhealthy emotional place to inhabit.

Luckily I’ve learned a lot about what healthy boundaries are, and what they are not, but it took a lot of putting myself in some pretty iffy situations. Lessons that I could have probably learned in a much healthier fashion than how I had. But lessons learned nonetheless. In this post I’ll be talking about how to find where your boundaries lay, and also how to tell when they’re being encroached upon. These are difficult waters to navigate when you have no bearings in the way of role models. But there are ways of finding your bearings. It’s not impossible, but it is trying. And in trying times I like to remember the saying, “we were built for this”. Let’s find some healthy boundaries together : )

Where Are My Boundaries?

So as I said above, these can be tricky to find. If you’ve been immersed in a situation where a lack of boundaries were the norm, than knowing where you end and another begins isn’t always clear. Or maybe your boundaries were too rigid, too defined. This can also be as suffocating and a fearful place to be. Either way, if you’ve been left in one of these boats, you’re gonna need to find another vessel. Luckily there are places to find out what a healthy mix of boundaries looks like. Let’s take a look at being raised with no boundaries first. These can be, I feel, the most confusing.

No Boundaries:

Being raised with no boundaries can be a very confusing place to grow up while trying to navigate your young world. For me, no boundaries meant; being mean to others with callous disregard for their emotions, eating anything and everything I felt like when I felt like it, picking up vices like smoking and drinking at an early age (14) and knowing no restraint in these areas, using others and confusing a lack of boundaries for affection.

These are polarizing ways of being and were mostly caused by a lack of healthy role modeling of appropriate boundaries, also known as, neglect. I was mostly looking to feel loved by my neglectful caregivers by acting the ways that I watched them behave. My caregivers were mean and rancorous, so I was mean spirited and rancorous. It’s what I thought it meant to be grown up, mature. Later, when I realized that my role models were acting like Jim Morrison, I knew I had been mislead.

Being raised with no boundaries came with a feeling of desperation. The lack of connection for me was the cause of my desperation. My thoughts were consumed with what I could do to feel a sense of love and belonging with those around me, by doing things that were clearly disregarding my best interests. For example I stopped going to school at around age 16 and by then was drinking quite a bit as well. I never exercised and my diet wasn’t stellar either. And I did this all because I was looking for some way to belong to something that would give me a sense of comfort and security. Not realizing all the while how far I was straying from the habits I could have cultivated to create that sense of security and comfort for myself.

And the worst part of having no boundaries was, I confused a lack of boundaries for affection. I assumed that any chance for contact was good, seeing as how I never connected or bonded with my caregivers. I figured if I let them do what they wanted to me, the greater chance I would have of being loved by them. For me that meant they could say whatever they wanted to me, go through my personal belongings whenever they felt, invade my personal space on a whim and treat me as though I weren’t a person with basic needs and rights to personhood.

This set me up for failed relationships with the women I would later choose to be in my life and a lot of feeling as though I was never enough. That I needed someone to treat me poorly because I felt I wasn’t good enough to be in a healthy relationship, which left me feeling uneasy in relationships and lucky that a woman would even consider being with me. This perpetuated the cycles of poor boundaries and low self esteem and I acted in arrogant ways to cover over my feelings of inadequacy.

The end result was a lot of burned bridges and a staggering amount of unhealthy habits. I had no career prospects, had ended the most stable relationship I had been in for eight years on a whim, and had no idea what my future was going to look like. For all intents and purposes, I was one unfortunate event away from being homeless and completely without resources. I had made a life’s time worth of poor decisions and most all of them could be traced back to being raised with no boundaries or very rigid boundaries.

Rigid Boundaries:

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, my other caregivers had very rigid boundaries. There was no touching, we never talked about how we felt. There was never any conversations about who or how I was as a person. Preferences, likes and dislikes weren’t discussed. We never had any conversation that went deeper than the state of the weather and we barely saw each other as well. Any chances that we had to build a relationship was thoroughly crushed by the oppressive frigidity of the nature of our relationship.

These types of boundaries left me feeling as though I wasn’t good enough to be around. As though there was something wrong with me. Though nothing was ever explicitly stated, there was an uncomfortable air of feeling deeply wrong for some reason. Again, a sense of desperation set in as I tried to figure out why I was being rejected, only this time the rules had changed. I felt empty and as though I wasn’t good enough because there was a lack of trust on my caregivers part.

I had no idea that the lack of trust didn’t stem from me. Only that the rigidity, the stiffness of the boundaries made me feel as though, if I wasn’t behaving properly, or didn’t show the lack of emotion my caregiver displayed, than I wasn’t good enough.

Either way, I was being rejected again for some reason, but I had no idea what it was or what I was, or wasn’t doing. But I did know that some attention was better than no attention, so a lack of boundaries was more “nourishing” than being completely frozen out.

So in my youth I chose to emulate my caregivers that resembled Jim Morrison, and live a destructive lifestyle. I would later make the switch to becoming rigid in my boundaries, basing my values on how much I could sacrifice while thinking in black and white terms. But no matter which path I chose, I still didn’t feel belonging. This was where I came to realize just how unhealthy my boundaries and my relationships truly were. This is something I’m still coming to terms with. But I’ve picked up some resources along the way that have helped me to make some sense of my relationships. Let’s take a look at a few.

Finding the Balance:

I have a few photos on my phone that rotate and serve as my wallpaper. They are: two photos of dogs I want, a photo of yoga with Adriene, a photo of the Minimalist Baker, Tom Hanks, a picture of the bedroom I would one day like to build in my future home, and a photo of Tupac Shakur. The reason I bring up these photos is because they’ve come to represent a sense of balance in my life. Things that I’m aspiring to, and where I’ve come from.

The photos of the dogs helps to remind me of the possibility for companionship, unconditionally. I’ve never seen a dog look at a person and say, “I can’t wag my tail at you, you’re too ugly.” They are just little fluffballs of loving energy. This helps to remind me that no matter how rigid boundaries have been in the past, there are always sources of healthy connection and affection. I just need to find them and choose them.

The photo of Adrienne reminds me that there are people out there doing good work. They don’t have to sacrifice themselves to be liked or accepted and in fact are loved and accepted for pursuing something they love doing. They are also a source of positive energy and motivation. Also helping me to look out for my best interests in regards to decisions about my health. Yoga has taught me how to care for my physical self without pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of. Taking care of myself on the mat is a way for me to respect my boundaries around what I feel I should be accomplishing, when I feel my boundaries are too rigid. I.e. pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of achieving. I know that the purpose of my practice isn’t to push myself until I pass out. I’m there to listen to my body, and respond to its needs with care. Push my limits, while also listening to what my body is telling me.

The same is true of my photo of Dana from Minimalist Baker. She has seen me through some tough times, while helping me learn how to cook for and care for my nutritional needs while not sacrificing the flavors I love. I owe them a great deal and am constantly grateful for what they’ve taught me. Dana was the start of me understanding what healthy boundaries looked like in regards to food and nutrition and I eat a healthier diet thanks greatly to her.

Tom Hanks is there mostly for the roles he played in the movies I grew up watching. There was a time where he was the only responsible role model I had. I watched as he showed care for the people he was acting with and in a stable and responsible way. He was never abusive, mild in temperament and shared freely his emotional world. These roles showed me that it wasn’t unreasonable to have a reasonable expectation of a person. That it was normal and healthy to have healthy boundaries.

And growing up in a void of healthy role modeling meant that there was nobody to talk to. The T.V. was my closest family member and all this made for a very lonely upbringing. I was never really sure of what I was feeling, and the lack of connection was, looking back on it, criminal. I’m surprised that I made it as far as I did, and relatively unscathed. Relatively.

Which brings me to Tupac. Tupac is on my phone to remind me of where I came from. As the man said, “everybody and their lady got a little bit of thug in ’em”, me included. Which is funny because I was and still am mostly hippie : ) Tupac reminds me that when I feel those rigid boundaries begin to creep in, the ones that tell me I have to be as good as humanly possible or fear for my life the repercussions of some unknown authority, to ease up.

Everybody has a little rebellious streak in them, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, if you let that side take the reigns as I did, situations can get out of control quickly. But stifle it too much and you’ll become paralyzed by fear.

So whether you’ve had poorly defined boundaries, or too rigid boundaries, there are ways to find a new way of being that leaves you feeling as though you are in charge of your life, while also being able to let go a little. But it takes work. Boundaries unfortunately don’t build themselves. But with some dedication, and a few good role models, it’s possible.

So if you’re looking to shore up your boundaries, start by choosing some healthy role models. Are there people you are drawn to that seem to have a healthy grasp on their life? Start here. What are they doing that you admire, are drawn to? Do you have behaviours you are unhappy with, or wish you could change? These areas may be worth exploring a little more as well. Maybe find someone who has been in your shoes before. What are they doing, how have they changed?

I hope this has been helpful to you in some way. It isn’t an easy path, to nurture something that has been neglected for a long time, but it’s worth it in the end. Stay strong, and remember, you were built for this! Thanks for reading : ) peace.

Image Credits: “Blurring Boundaries” by Karthick R is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Living Your Life: Relationships, Romantic

Here’s another topic that I was completely in the dark about. Along with friendships, romance and intimacy were so far from my definition of what a healthy relationship is that I’m amazed I was able to find anybody at all to share my time and experiences with. But as I was taught to develop friendships via poor role modeling, something I went over in my last post, the same rubric was also true of my romantic relationships. Only instead of looking the part by being popular or in charge, I was taught that sex appeal was the most important attribute and way to be valued in a relationship. This was unhealthy, though at the time I didn’t know any better or any other way of being in relationship.

So I chased this impossible standard that was laid out for me. Looking back at how I saw myself in my relationships, I’m not even sure what it was that I was seeking. I had an unrealistic image of what I thought I should be, and no real guide or understanding of how to get to where I thought I should be. And most of the time I think I was just chasing a feeling. Comfortably numb, as Pink Floyd aptly described it.

And if I wasn’t getting the connection and intimacy that are available in healthy relationships, does that mean my partners were also void of these experiences? Or was it a one sided phenomenon? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but my former wife told me before we split up that she had felt safe with me. I felt unsafe most of the time so maybe it was a one sided experience. What I do know for sure is that I had problems feeling intimate and close in relationships, especially with romantic partners.

And I suppose some of this understanding comes from a question of perspective. What does intimacy mean to different people? One popular dating app I am currently using has this as a question for matching purposes, “does intimacy mean sex”. For me, the answer is definitely no, though, that’s what it has meant in the past. It’s an aspect of intimacy for sure, but the way the question is worded suggests you can only be intimate with those you are having sex with. And that seems too close to confusing sex for love to me. Especially being raised by people who’s number one value was sex appeal. This feels much like the environment for conditional love.

So what did I do to over come these doubts blocking me from feeling intimate in my relationships? It took a lot of feeling uncomfortable in my relationships and trust that I would eventually feel a sense of comfort and ease in them. It wasn’t easy, and it’s something I’m still working on. But it’s also something that I can feel myself getting stronger in, and have seen noticable differences in my moods and relationships.

I started by first, reaching out. This may seem obvious for those who have healthy relationships, but for those who have been in abusive or conditional ones, it can be a daunting task to open up to another human, not knowing what to expect. I’m currently using a couple of dating apps, and one way I’ve been reaching out is through sending messages to people I feel I would match well with.

Just the act of letting someone know you are interested is the first and most important step. The environment I grew up in was a very cold one at times. We learned to hold back our emotions and feelings of affection for one another, almost as a way to punish or keep the other person wanting what they can’t have by making it seem as though our regard was unobtainable. But the older I get, the more I realize that this is most likely due to being too scared to open up and be our emotional and vulnerable selves around one another. The feelings of being unlovable were too painful to expose to one another so we hid our feelings and felt ashamed of who we were seen as.

And these were the types of romantic relationships I sought. Where sex appeal was the most important attribute and a relationship that I didn’t have to be responsible for. Either for myself or for my partner. I wasn’t looking out for my partner because I felt as though I had to be constantly guarded to protect myself. I’d later find out that I was hyper vigilant due to the trauma I experienced in my childhood, but while I was experiencing it, I had no idea what it was that I was experiencing. Only that everybody was a potential threat, especially those closest to me, like my partner.

And that’s not to say that there weren’t times where I felt intimate. But these times were not a priority to me in my relationships. I was mostly seeking pleasure, the way I would drink to numb feelings that were too raw. These are the same ways in which I viewed relationships because it was what was shown to me. To switch this way of viewing relationships, as something I used to give me pleasure, I began to accept the people in my life, myself included, for who they are.

Now I no longer look to fit an image of how I think my life should look in order to live up to some comparison, to how I think others will most likely accept me. I’m making decisions based on who I feel I am. But this takes some digging to get to. There were a lot of different voices from my past trying to strong arm me into believing I wasn’t good enough just being me. And even worse were the voices of my past abusers telling me their projected images of who they thought I was. This mostly came in the form of toxically masculine standards and the ideas of what it means to be a man.

And of course, I took these messages into my relationships. Trying to live up to the pre-approved standards that were laid out for me to adopt as my own. But they didn’t work. And more importantly, they didn’t suit who I was. I thought I needed to be loud, in charge and have strong opinions. To be in control of every situation and never show weakness. I needed to be hard in order to be the “man” I thought I was supposed to be.

But of course, this lead to me being largely unable to feel my emotions. This is ultimately what lead to me being unable to understand and seek out qualities of intimacy and tenderness in my relationships. And this was the major reason my relationships ultimately failed. I was incapable of responding to my own, and my partners emotional needs with tenderness through the emotional walls I had built to keep others out.

Now that I’ve learned from my past mistakes, I’m viewing looking for a partner in a different light. My values shifted. Instead of looking for a woman whom is attractive and has sex appeal, I’m looking for someone who is loving and caring first. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be physically attracted to the woman I eventually fall in love with, only that the quality and ability for us to connect in a loving way is more important than how she looks in a pair of underwear.

One of the habits I’ve been doing to change the ways in which I think of and view relationships is, I’ve created a values list. This is a list of attributes in a partner that I value. Some examples are, loving, caring, kind, beautiful, loyal, creative, adventurous, sexy. Notice that being attractive is still on the list, only this time it isn’t the foundation of what I’m looking for in a partner. Being loving, caring and kind precede beauty. But attraction is still important in a match. Only now I have a healthier perspective of where it is as a priority.

As I’ve said above, I’ve been on a few dating sites and have developed a few habits around when and how often I use them. I’ve recently listened to a podcast called “Deeply Human” where the first episode was on dating. The host of the podcast was interviewing a doctor who studied the process of making decisions. He said that if we are given too many decisions, then we have a difficult time keeping choices in perspective. We tend to take the best qualities of each potential match, and compare them to who we are looking at. The result being, that the more potential matches we look at, the more likely they are to not add up to the conglomerate ideal we’ve mashed together from disparate parts.

With this in mind, I’ve begun to pair down the amount of potential matches I’m looking at in a given session. The doctor on the podcast suggests to only look at between five and eight potential matches. I’ve also limited myself to messaging only three potential matches at a time. This way I’m reaching out while also giving each match the attention they deserve without feeling overwhelmed.

And it makes sense to put some boundaries around this area of my life as well. I know that if bring an unreasonable amount of intensity to dating, then I’ll end up feeling desperate and as though I’ll never find someone to be with. And this is a very scary and vulnerable place to be. So slowing down helps to keep my values and priorities in focus while I’m looking for a partner. Win, win.

It also helps with self confidence as well. The more profiles you read, the more you can’t help but to compare yourself to those your looking to match with. It’s kind of like the social media effect, where you are constantly comparing yourself to the very best of what your friends are posting and maybe feeling as though you’re coming up short.

The same goes for dating apps. Everybody wants to show the most amazing aspects of their personality, lifestyle and careers. If we look at the positive self projections of others for long enough, we may feel like we’re not good enough for them, not adding up. And we all have our things, nobody’s perfect. Slowing down is also good for keeping some much needed perspective in an environment where everybody is trying to sell their best selves.

These are the habits that I’ve come to cultivate while looking for a partner. I’m sure it’ll look a little different for everybody, but it’s good to have some foundation, to know what your looking for and so hopefully, when you do meet the one that’s right for you, you’ll recognize them for who they are. And one last bit of advice, be persistent. The road may not be easy, but I believe there’s someone out there for everybody. Peace : ) good luck and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Dates?” by .::RMT::. is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Living Your Life: Relationships, Friendships

Oh man, this was a rough lesson to learn. With so many different types of friendships, if you’re not shown or told how to navigate them, it can be a confusing task to manage on your own. Friendships can be especially confusing if you’re not used to being in healthy forms of them. My motto through my teenage years and twenties was, “bridges are for burning”. And not surprisingly, I ended up with few people I could call my friends after I finally pushed everyone away. I’m still amazed that the few people who actually did stick around, even through my neglecting our relationship to the point of not talking to anyone I knew for years, decided to stand by me. And to them, I am forever grateful. It must have been no easy task to endure the petty and neglectful ways in which I managed my friendships. And if anyone is reading this who is my friend, thank you, I’m sorry, and you are truly great friends.

But I also didn’t have many stable friends growing up. This was mostly due to my caregivers not being able to model what a healthy friendship was, or the lifestyle that would lead to lasting and loving relationships. In one case, one of my caregivers had no close friends save one, and on the other end of the spectrum, my others had many, but were rancorous in their judgements of them. I was stuck between complete isolation or being surrounded by rowdy and rancorous pettiness. These were polarizing ways of seeing the world and a very confusing place to be. So the few friendships I had, I held onto for dear life. As a way to escape the chaos that I was surrounded by. This was unhealthy too, as it set the standard for me to depend on the few relationships I kept, too much.

And this fear based way of maintaining relationships, as you’ve probably guessed, was unsustainable. The only people I was in touch with regularly were friends found for me by my then wife. I spent most of my time by myself, drinking and playing videogames. I was avoiding opening up to others due to the considerable amount of distrust I learned to have of others and by the time I was 11, I had experience the loss of a loved one to cancer while my parents were divorcing due to the stress of the event. I lost both my best friends due to more unfortunate events in their lives, and the slow decline and neglect of my family left me on my own. On top of the trauma I experienced, I had lost everybody I loved and was left completely alone to handle all of these traumatic emotions. This is and was a lot to handle for anybody, let alone a child of 11.

So I learned to distrust those closest to me, my caregivers and support network. This was the model I would later use to navigate all of my relationships, a.k.a. tactfully avoiding any type of close contact with others, especially those close in, so as not to get hurt again when they eventually decided to turn on me. This lead to, as I’ve said above, lots of beer drinking and video game playing.

When I was younger, the types of friends who I would drink and play video games with were a good time. But as we aged and life progressed, the more video games I played, the more disconnected I became from my life and the relationships in it. And this isn’t a soapbox for railing against video games or the people that play them. They can be a fun distraction and intellectually stimulating. Even bring out a sense of creativity. But I was definitely using them to avoid people. In fact, as if I were trying to tell myself as much, I was playing and replaying Zelda’s, “Ocarina of Time”. The original Zelda being the game I first played before and when all the traumatic events happened in my young life, and the premise of the latter game, “Ocarina of Time” is that of Link, the main character of the series, going back and forth through time, from his younger self to his adult self, in order to do battle with monsters from his past and present! Talk about meta! Art imitates life maybe 😉

So I managed to create a sort of comfortable cocoon to insulate myself from my role in my relationships. I say sort of comfortable because it took an immense amount of energy to keep myself so disconnected. The right amount of vice mixed with the right amount of avoidance. It was a balancing act for sure. But when I came to, I realized I had almost nothing in the way of authentic connections with friends. I was alone, and thankfully it took me a while to get scared, otherwise I’m not sure I’d have been able to handle the reality of my situation crashing down all at once.

So when I did come to, after my divorce and ending of the relationship that was the catalyst for my divorce, I had one close friend who remained loyal to me, (thanks Jon) and my parents. That was about the extent of those I had to support me. It was a sad situation to be in. Luckily I had taken to hiking which helped me to reconnect with myself a little and develop some healthy habits. This would later give me something to do with those I was trying to reconnect with. Because I first had to reconnect with myself, befriend myself. I had spent so much time running from others and burning the bridges behind me, that I could barely trust myself that I wouldn’t do that to me. This is an ongoing process of getting to know myself and trust that I’ll treat myself with respect and love. It’s also not an easy task.

This is where I discovered what my likes and dislikes are. Why I do certain things and what things mean to me. Such as certain songs, my relationship to my style and how I want to be seen. The ways I nourish myself and the care I provide for myself with meals, grooming habits and caring for my surroundings. These were the foundations of me coming to trust myself and that I have my best interests at heart. Tara Brach calls some of what I’m talking about as resources. As example, some of mine are burning candles, drinking herbal tea and listening to music. Basically whatever brings you a sense of comfort and ease. Once I was able to make acquaintance with myself again, and gain some trust in myself, I was then able to extent that practice to others.

I started out small. Like I said, I only had one friend at the time, so it was important for me to stay loyal and in touch with them. We went for hikes, got coffee and lunch together. And basically just did the normal everyday things I had previously taken for granted. We were friends in highschool and roommates in our twenties, so there was a shared history, but I had only just begun to know him as a person and as my friend. It’s been a good feeling getting to know him again and appreciating him for the person he is.

Then my friend group began to grow. Soon after I started running with an old friend from highschool every week. My other friend got married to an amazing woman and also a brilliant friend. I was also reaching out to people I hadn’t spoken to in years. Some live across the country, others a few towns over. I was amazed at how many of the people I reached out to were responsive and more over, friendly to the idea of being friends. As one friend who I recently reconnected with said, “our younger selves would have bullied our older selves for who we are”. And we were mean back then. But to know that we’ve made the change from bully to responsive and friendly adults is comforting. Knowing that the strength of our empathy and caring is stronger than the anger and bitterness of our past is reassuring more so now then ever.

Now that I’ve reconnected with so many people, and since I’m a list maker, I’ve put down the names of the friends I’m keeping in touch with on a regular basis, and some bullet points on what they’re experiencing or anticipating in the near future. This way I can open up my note and quickly see what they’ve been up to so I can check in with them and see how they’re progressing or offer some support or an ear to listen or maybe go for a walk and vent some frustrations. An example of this in practice is, I know for instance one of my friends is renoing her house. So I’ve created a board on Pinterest with ideas for her backyard living space and shared the board with her. This way we can have an ongoing conversation about what her focus is on.

On the same note, I also keep a list of upcoming plans I have. This way I won’t miss out on spending time with those I’ve been building a relationship with. It’s been helpful to have a place where I can see everything I need to know in one bird’s eye view so I can adjust and respond to those in my life with care and conscientious actions and words. This is where the rubber really meets the road in that mindfully supporting those who support you can build some seriously strong bonds. You’re there when they need you and you know what they’re going through. This is powerful for someone who is really in need of a friend.

I’ve also discovered some friends in strange places as well. I use a meditation app called Insight Timer. After you meditate you have the option of thanking those who’ve meditated while you were meditating. I’ve made a decision to choose six people to thank after every meditation. Four of them respond regularly, two respond every day, and one has become my gratitude partner. I asked them a few weeks ago if they’d like to practice gratitude with me since we were already kind of doing it by thanking each other every day. They said yes and we’ve been gratitude buddies ever since. It’s been nice knowing that I have something to look forward to in the mornings, something positive to read.

It’s been an intense but amazing journey and one definitely worth the undertaking. So if you’ve found yourself in a similar situation as I was in, do not give up hope! Reach out to old friends, you may be surprised with how they respond. Start some conversations with those closest to you. Work is a great place for this, seeing as how you are already around a select few people on a daily basis. Join an online community, like Reddit. There are loads of people out there looking to connect over shared interests. Find a place to volunteer. This way you can match your passions with your connections and do good work along the way. I met one of my friends at a grocery store. They worked there and went there almost three times a week. We’re both ginger so we hit it off immediately! And a word of advice, stay open. You never know where you are going to meet your next friend. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “friendship” by bekassine… is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Living Your Life: Exercising

Oh man. This was something I used to avoid at all costs. I can’t imagine a person more sededant than the person I used to be only a few years ago. The most exercise I got was walking from the car, to go to the liquor store and then back to play video games. I was the picture of unhealthful living. But something changed in me soon after a major shift in my life happened.

Shortly after my divorce, I started to run. I began with two miles in my local Commons every few days. I had quit drinking at the time and was looking to get in physically better shape than I had been. Which wasn’t difficult because anything was better than the shape I was in when I started running. I didn’t really have a goal or a focus when I began my workouts, I just began. No training regiment, no plans to run a race. I just got it in me one day and started.

Looking back on it now, my ex-wife had began running shortly before we divorced. I feel that this may have been a way for me to process some of the emotions I wasn’t able to feel yet around our separating because I was still numb from the un-dealt with trauma from my parents divorce. Knowing what I know now, I would have done things differently. But you don’t know what you don’t know, and I was pretty much clueless.

But running has been a way for me to stay connected to myself, in taking care of my health, to friends, by picking up running buddies along the way and also a way to stay connected with something positive through the different stages of my life. An anchor so to speak. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been a good way to connect, and stay connected. Which has been worth all the while.

As I continued to run, I picked up some milage and started running races. 5ks at first. Nothing to difficult, but it felt good to put a goal to my training. To give myself some much needed structure. I eventually worked my way up through 10ks, 10 milers and finally half marathons. These were fun, and I got to run with friends I made along the way and old ones I reconnected with. But part of me felt I was doing it more for the t-shirt than the achievement. Or maybe I needed a physical counterpart to my achievements. Either way, physical fitness was something that was part of my routine, but not quite self-care yet.

Yoga is another way I’ve learned to connect to myself in a healthy way. I started by taking classes at my local Y. The classes were held in a ballet studio. The walls were lined with mirrors, and I would go during the evenings. The instructor would put LED candles around the studio for ambient lighting and we would practice our flows in the soothing environment.

More recently I’ve begun doing yoga at my home, before the pandemic. I wasn’t able to get to the classes regularly anymore for a variety of reasons, but have found a routine that works for me after some trial and error. But the same ways I was feeling about my running routine, I was feeling about my yoga practice. I didn’t have a goal when I started doing yoga, and I feel the same reasons for starting running applied to my yoga practice as well.

This was because my goal, when I started working out, was to look good naked. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best, but this was my main goal. Not to be healthy or to take care of my physical health. I wasn’t even sure what the physical benefits of exercise were at the time. I knew that it was healthy, but that was about the extent of my knowledge on the subject.

So now that my perspective has shifted on the subject of exercise, and most of the things I’m doing now, what are my goals now? To be honest, I haven’t really given it much thought beyond “it’s good for me”. And this makes me a little sad. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into these hobbies, only to find out that, first I was doing them to look good naked, and second, I couldn’t find a reason why I kept doing them after I had realized that wanting to look physically fit isn’t the healthiest reason to be exercising, because beauty fades. So how do I reconcile the time and energy spent on these hobbies?

Well first, I had to take a look at how I was feeling about myself. I had previously been about 40 to 50 pounds overweight before I started exercising. I was drinking a lot of alcohol and eating unhealthy, so this was no surprise. But what I hadn’t thought about was the standard I thought I needed to live up to, that had been drilled into me by my caregivers and society in general. These images mostly revolved around what it means to be and look like a man.

For a very long time, I thought that a man had to look like Brad Pitt from “Fight Club”. How unreasonable is that standard! But my caregivers were not confident in their own feelings of security of how they looked, so there was no way they could pass on a healthy self image to me. So in turn, I picked up the unhealthy version of what it meant to look like a man by society, advertising and the entertainment industries. I know this is something that women usually struggle with, imposible beauty standards, but men are also inundated with unhealthy messages of how we should look as well. And what’s worse is, we are the ones who are putting out the standards for everyone. So it’s difficult to garner sympathy for men’s image standards when we’re the ones setting them.

So now that I know the standards that I’m up against, how am I dealing with them? I think for me that I need to remember the good times that I’ve spent out on the road, or in the yoga studio. How do I feel when I’m actually doing, instead of what the outcome will be. For example, I don’t know if I’ll ever stop checking myself out in the mirror before I hop in the shower, but it will be better to focus on the times I remember enjoying my runs. Or a relaxing time I had a yoga session instead of how I look here and now.

And this is more difficult than it may appear to be at first glance. Everybody wants to be in shape, but the image of health, i.e. the perfect, chiseled body, seems to be more important than actually being in good health. This is why it is so dangerous to focus solely on how you look naked. A well sculpted body does not always translate into the picture of health. It’s a step in the right direction, but not the sole indicator.

For me, the picture of overall health is determined by a few varying factors. Regular exercise being one of them, but also a healthy diet, clean and organized living space, healthy attitude and relationship to my work, and tending to and enjoying my hobbies. Staying physically fit is just one aspect of my overall health.

When I began working out in my early twenties, I started with lifting weights with a few friends. The goal was to get as ripped as possible so we could pick up women at the local bar. Looking back on our plan now, it seems a bit ridiculous. But we were also in our early twenties. So a lot of the things that we were doing and thinking were on the ridiculous spectrum to some degree : )

Lifting weights did not last very long, and my next iteration of exercise became running. As I said above, I started about ten years ago, after my ex-wife left me. I’ve been running ever since, and this is something that is a bit more sustainable than trying to lift as much weight as possible. It was with running that I learned how to push myself beyond my limits of what I thought I was capable of achieving. This is where I learned stamina. And after running, I picked up yoga.

Yoga has been a go to choice of exercise for me for a while now. The first time I went I was hungover, and went with my sibling to a class at our local gym. It was an unforgiving 40 minutes. Since that day however, I’ve learned to enjoy getting in touch with my body through yoga. Where I learned to push my limits with running, I learned how to sit with the discomfort in yoga. If I was having a particularly difficult day on the mat, I learned how to stay, until the difficulty passed.

Running and yoga taught me patients with myself, and how to stick with what I was experiencing. Regardless of how difficult it seems to be at the time. Because life gets difficult at times. And we don’t always have the patients or resources to sit with ourselves when times get tough. But the good news is, that this is something we can cultivate through practice. And exercise is a great way to begin to cultivate these attributes in ourselves.

In case you’ve never thought about the prospect of getting a workout routine started for yourself, let me give you a run through of how I got started. So you’ll at least have a reference point to get involved if you’re feeling up to it.

I started with running, which was fairly easy. All I needed was a pair of running shoes, some workout shorts and a T-shirt and a stretch of road. As I said above, I started working out in my local commons. For me, two laps around equals one mile. So when I did four laps, I was at two miles, no extra equipment needed.

But I eventually graduated to longer runs and runs with friends. For these runs I didn’t need to buy any special equipment, but having an app that keeps track of my workouts for me has been invaluable. I use MapMyRun to track and keep a record of my runs now. Currently I’m also using it to keep in touch with a friend of mine who is training to run a marathon. It’s a great way to stay connected while also offering a bit of moral support during what can be a tough process.

It’s also nice to look back at your runs and see how you’ve changed over time. How your runs have evolved during the evolution of your running journey. You are able to track times and miles, through time. Remembering old routes and old split times can be a fun way to remember your connection with the sport.

For yoga, I started off doing classes, like I said above, at the local Y. There are likely many studios where you live, and yoga has a good reputation for being all inclusive. Also, practicing with a group of people can be a great way to keep yourself motivated to get out of your house, and on to your mat. For me, as I said above, remembering those times when I was on the mat in the intimately lighted room was what brought me a sense of calm and ease. I have fond memories of that studio and that community. And those are the memories that last.

But if you’re more the type to practice on your own, there are plenty of places to find videos online to help you start your own yoga practice. I like Yoga with Adriene for my practice. She has a ton of free videos, and is definitely experienced at her craft. I’ve been to a lot of studios, and Adriene is one of the most positive and knowledgeable yoginis teaching.

Adriene often does 30 day yoga challenges, or journeys, as she calls them. These are great ways to jump into a workout that will keep you moving through a set amount of time. If you’re feeling motivated, these journeys can be refreshing as long as you’re willing to commit to the time.

If you don’t have the time to squeeze a practice into every day for 30 days straight, she also has videos by length, and by skill level. For example, she has a playlist for yoga basics called, “Foundations of Yoga“. These are videos that go over the basic shapes, or asanas of a yoga practice. So when she says “we’ll be meeting in downward dog”, you’ll know exactly what she means.

Adriene also has playlists organized by length of time and by skill level. When you go to most classes in a studio, the length of time usually extends from 45 to 60 minutes. Sometimes these are just what the body is asking for. But we don’t always have that much time to put into a class. I know for me and my schedule lately, I’ll be lucky if I can find 30 minutes to get in a workout.

Adriene has a few playlists that have practices that are anywhere from 10 minutes, to 50 minutes. These have been great for me lately where I find I only have about 30 minutes to hop on the mat. And if you do some searching, you can also find practices that are specific to different areas of the body.

For me, I’ve been working mostly on a total body experience. But I’ve also wanted to focus on areas of the body for preventative care. Areas such as the back and core. So I can keep my posture and body in good working order as I age. She also has videos for yogis that are also runners like me. So I can get an extra stretch in my hamstrings, to help keep my runs injury free.

Next, it’s important to find a block of time for you to practice. Something you can commit to, so you’ll know you have a certain time each week to get into your workout. For me, I try to keep the time as static as possible. I know that my best time to workout is directly after work, and before I jump into the rest of the day. I try to keep my days off workout free so I have some rest time.

I currently have three days in a row blocked off for my workout. One day running and the following days yoga. It helps me to keep the days static during the week, but if you have a crazy schedule, like my friend training for the marathon, you may find yourself out on the road at ten o’clock at night, rounding off that eighth mile. Whatever your schedule may be, find something that works for you and something you’ll want to stick with. Workouts can get derailed pretty easily if you don’t stay on top of them.

If you’re more social, find someone to go on your workouts with. When I was running in the upper miles, I had a running buddy who I would consistently run a five mile route with on a weekly basis. This was a great way to connect, but also have some company along the way. Although I gotta say, it gets difficult (for me anyway, my running buddy had no problem with it) talking after the second mile in 😀

And don’t forget, these are only my workout routines. There are so many different ways to get involved physically. I have a friend who boulders and swears by it. That has always seemed a little intense for me, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t look like a good time. Tennis is another great way to expend some energy. I tried to pick up swimming while I had my Y membership, but to no avail.

The key is to find something you enjoy and stick with it. That way you can enjoy all the health benefits that go along with your new practice. Speaking of health benefits, both yoga and running improves cardiovascular health. Yoga helps to improve strength and flexibility. While both practices leave you feeling in a better mood over all. There are so many benefits to exercise that it is in your best interest to find something you connect with and do it regularly. And don’t worry, the more you do it, the easier it gets!

So if you haven’t thought about starting an exercise routine, maybe now is the time you find something that suits your lifestyle and disposition. Maybe you’ve always wanted to get into hiking. With fall right around the corner, there is no better time to get out into the mountains. Just remember to find something you enjoy, make time for your new practice and stay committed. It’ll be worth the effort, and you’ll feel better in the long run. Peace : ) and thanks for reading!

Image Credits: “DIY Yoga” by timsamoff is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Living Your Life: You Gotta Do Your chores

As I’ve said in earlier posts, I’m currently living with one of my childhood caregivers. This wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it’s one where I didn’t have a lot of other options to choose from. All in all it’s been a good decision. We’ve gotten a second chance to reconnect and learn what it means to be a family. So with that in mind, the subject of this blog post wasn’t in the initial outlined plan, but it certainly fits with the theme of this series of posts and is one that I’ve come to realize after cohabitating with people I’ve come to rely on in our living space. After all, taking care of your living space is essential to your overall happiness and speaks a great deal to how we feel about ourselves.

Lately I’ve been feeling a bit uneasy when I’ve been in my bathroom. I wasn’t entirely sure why at first, but as the weeks went by I couldn’t help but to notice that the unease I was feeling would not subside. The bathroom has been left unfinished for many years now and that has something to do with the feeling, but there was something more to it than that. Something that was growing more tangible with each visit.

So last week I decided that the bathroom needed new bath mats. I made a plan to go to a local home furnishings store and get a few to replace the ones already in use, after my shift at work. As I was going to the store, during my commute home, I made plans to clean the bathroom after getting the new mats. I wanted the feeling of walking into a freshly cleaned bathroom, crisp and new, after I was done with cleaning it. So when I got home from the store, I lighted a pine tree scented candle, rolled up my sleeves and got to the task of cleaning my bathroom.

It was dirty. I had swept up a sizeable hairball from all the dust that had accumulated for however long, maybe the size of a salad bowl, and the shower curtains were in the same shape as the bathmats. It was in such bad shape that the plastic lining was flaking off and the bottom was discolored from the mold that was lining it. The plunger was cracked and the cabinets needed a good purging as well. It was at that point I realized that the bathroom looked an awful lot like one of the bathrooms in my first apartments and that’s what was making me feel so uneasy.

To give you some context as to what my bathrooms used to look like, there was a constant layer of mold on and around the bathtub, sink and floor. There was trash plastered to the floor and walls, and the floor was missing pieces of tile in strategic places showing the subflooring. Once, for a period of about a month, maybe longer, there was vomit on the wall from one night where I ate a whole pizza, then got into a shot contest where I took a shot of tequila that had a cigarette butt in it. Let’s just say I missed the intended receptacle.

This was a shock for sure. Everyone in the house is an adult, we should be on top of this type of thing. The bathroom wasn’t in as bad shape as my early apartments were, but sadly, things had been left unattended by pretty much everyone. We had been treating our living space the ways we had been treated, with neglect instead of care.

Not only that, but we were shirking the shared sense of responsibility of keeping something alive, the household. We were collectively avoiding cleaning as one way to make our house feel more like a home. There are other things that bring people together to feel more connected as a family as well. Such as shared experiences and meals to name a few, but making your living space a place you want to be in, surrounded by things and a feeling of cleanliness, is a huge part of feeling at home. Comfortable. This is what we were missing from our shared time together. A feeling of shared responsibility and comfort in knowing that we are taking care of one another by taking care of our dwelling.

After I made this realization, I shared it with my childhood caregiver and their spouse, and it all started making much more sense to me. I had been feeling as though I wasn’t really part of the family. There were only certain areas of the house I felt comfortable in. My bedroom and the kitchen being two of them, and the rest felt like it was off limits. Add the fact that we are all too polite to ask one another to do something for one another, like helping clean the bathroom, and you have a pretty cold environment. One definitely hostile towards forming tight bonds.

The act of buying something for the house, even something so small as a couple of bath mats, or a basil scented candle for the kitchen, made me feel more secure as a member of the family. I felt as though I were trying to create a more home-like environment by taking care of those I live with, while also taking care of my own needs. And I have to say, it feels good.

I also spoke with them about putting candles in the bathroom for when I shower at night. It’s a way I help myself to decompress from the stress of the day. But this is also a way for me to express myself and a part of my personality in our shared space. More ways of feeling connected on a more intimate level. We all felt more connected after the talk and the conversation flowed a little more freely. They agreed that they had been a little lax about some of the cleaning responsibilities and I agreed I could have been doing more to help out.

So I decided to make doing chores more of a routine. The same way I meal prep for myself, I am creating a schedule and a general maintenance list for the house. This way we can create our home together, by sharing the work of caring for each other by caring for our shared spaces.

I divided the house into two parts, with the two most important rooms in the house as focal points. The first is the upstairs, with the focus being in the bathroom. The second part being the kitchen and downstairs. I will switch off doing these two parts every week with someone else in the house, and the alternate week will be the time where I’ll do the part previously undone the week before and someone else will do the part I had previously done.

With any luck, the house will begin to feel more like a warm and welcoming place. One where we want to create memories and cook meals in together, instead of the cold and somewhat distant place it has been for so long. We will learn to rely on each other, and feel comfortable just inhabiting our shared space together. We’ll start feeling like a family again. Only a healthy version. One without the untrusting attitudes and unhealthy boundaries we had previously been used to. Let’s get into the “how” in what I did to create a sense of shared responsibility among the household.

I began with a quick mental checklist of what needs cleaning in the house. I started with the two most important areas of the house (for me) and radiated out from there. The two rooms I chose are the bathroom and the kitchen. After I chose these rooms, I created two zones in the house around these rooms that could be cleaned and cared for in one cleaning session that would last maybe one to two hours, depending on the level of clutter or mess.

I then went through the zone, and took down another list of the specific tasks that need doing. For example, the bathroom zone needed to be cleared of general clutter, dusted, the bathtub and toilet needed a scrubbing and the floor needed a sweep and mop. Then the hallway just outside the bathroom needed to be swept and vacuumed, and the stairway needed to be swept and dusted as well.

After making these more specific lists of tasks, I now have a jumping off point where I can start cleaning. So when each week comes around, we have a set routine where we know what needs to be taken care of and how to approach the job.

This past week I spent a good portion of time doing a deep clean of the two most important rooms in the house. I didn’t get to all the tasks on my mental checklist, but the job definitely feels more manageable, knowing that I’ve already done the more labor and time intensive tasks. Now when we begin our cleaning routine, it will be that much easier to keep up with. As long as we keep up with the tasks, there shouldn’t be an overwhelming amount of work to do. This may not make the work a joy to do, but it will make the tasks a little easier to accomplish. But if you’re like me, I get a little excited about the idea of cleaning and organizing something. So who knows, maybe it will spark some joy : )

I’ve also started a list of general maintenance items that need to be done around the house as well. This includes items that need to be replaced or small jobs that need our attention. For example, I put a list of items I need to replace for both the bathroom and general cleaning supplies for the house. This way we can keep our place looking and feeling as clean and organized as possible while keeping on top of the tasks and items we need to pick up.

This also has the added bonus of allowing us to bond as a family by planning trips to the local hardware store. Also making a collective effort to add input on what we feel needs attention. If you are anything like we are, you may find that after you do a deep clean and organize some of your belongings, that you have an embarrassing amount of extra or duplicate items that you may not have touched in months or years. This would be a good time to take stock of what you do have, what you use, how often you use it, and what you could you do without.

For us, we have two sets of pots, one brand new and the other just sitting around waiting to be recycled or donated. The initial plan was to get rid of them, but they are still around, haunting or living space. This wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t taking up valuable cabinet space. I like to view extra items in the kitchen, the same way I view unintended plants in the garden. Sure you may have a tomato plant that sprang up in the eggplant bed, but if it’s not an eggplant, then it’s a weed. The old pots are still mostly functional, but we have a new set and planned on getting rid of the old ones. So in my book, the old ones are a weed.

I also have about 15-20 mason jars collecting dust on our shelves. I got them to store my dry goods in. But if you’ve read my post on shopping from your pantry first, you’ll know that the food I bought mostly just sat around in these jars for months, if not years! They looked good all lined up in their storage containers, but they were definitely being underutilized. As I’ve been shopping from my pantry first, I’ve been freeing up a lot of space since I haven’t been replacing the items, and have ended up with an awful lot of empty mason jars.

I use them to store the meals that I batch cook in, but there are only so many meals I can store in the fridge at one time. The rest need to either be repurposed, or recycled. And this isn’t always an easy task to do. I know I’ve developed some sentimental attachments to inanimate objects over the years. And it seems the longer you have an item around, the fonder you become of it! I feel like this is where it enters your comfort zone. You’re just so used to seeing it around, that you recognize it as one of the family.

And of course this is a little different for some items over others. Such as, you wouldn’t want to throw away a pan your grandmother gave you that she made your favorite brownies in. But in the end, things are just that, things. Besides, it’s not the pan that you love, it’s the memories of your Nana’s brownies. But tossing a peanut butter jar you used to store tea in is a no-brainer. Marie Condo is a great resource for just this type of letting go. If it sparks joy, keep it and use it lovingly. If not, thank it for its service in supporting you in your life and donate it or let it go.

This should work to make your living space a more inviting dwelling for everyone. One where you’ll enjoy the time spent in it, together. And as a friend of mine said, we attuning to each other, by paying attention to each other’s surroundings. This is how you build the foundations of a caring family. This is where we really begin to understand what it means to be together, united.

I hope this post serves you on your path. It isn’t always an easy task, coming together to make something, from what sometimes seems like out of nothing. But when people, friends and family all chip in and lend a helping hand, it’s amazing what we are able to accomplish. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Amelia Cleaning” by donnierayjones is licensed under CC BY 2.0