What Happens When You Don’t Know How To Live Your Own Life: Five Areas That Need Our Attention; 1 Budgeting

I have been thinking about mending things with my caregivers recently and in an attempt to understand the scope of what was troubling me with our relationship while I was growing up and beyond, I went over the areas in my life that I feel have been neglected by; first my caregivers, and then by me. It was this realization, that I had been carrying the legacy of neglect on for far too long, that brought me to the point of wanting to reconcile. I was floored.

The amount of neglect I endured is somewhat staggering. As I tried to organize the areas of my life that were either neglected or I just didn’t know needed attention, I felt a sense of taking charge of my life. There are many places that need tending to, to be sure, but organizing these areas feels somehow like a foothold in what seems like a mass of an insurmountable pile of, for lack of a better term, a life that needs to be lived. And what makes me even more optimistic, is that I’ve already begun the work. A lot of which has been written in the pages of this blog.

In the next few posts, I’ll be going over the areas of focus I’ve been attending to in my life as a form of reparenting what was never taught to me, or what I was too angry or disconnected to want to learn. The areas I’ll be going over will be; budgeting and finance, nutrition and health/exercise, school and career focus, healthy relationships romantic and friendships, and self-care. I’ll be covering each topic in a separate post, and how they are integral to helping us move past the wrongs done to us in our pasts. By being better versions of ourselves, we can learn to forgive and heal from the wrongs done to us so we can move on with our lives. Let’s start with budgeting and finance.

I’ve spoke about Dave Ramsey before on this blog. He’s a financier who made a bunch of money buying property and then went bankrupt when the housing market crashed in the late 2000’s. He helps people get out of debt, and that was definitely something I had found myself in. I had taken out a bunch of credit cards in my early twenties, just to have credit! I didn’t have a plan for the money I was borrowing, I just kept on borrowing until I maxed out all my cards. It was not a healthy place to be.

It took me almost a decade to pay back the debt I ran up. I don’t even like to think about the amount of interest I paid on what I owed. But what was most concerning about what I was doing was, I was borrowing money because it’s what was modeled for me. I watched my caregivers shop endlessly for stuff they didn’t need, so I did what they did. And ran up a sizable bill doing so. I just didn’t know any better. This is the sad truth.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I took out student loans at the height of the student loan lending frenzy! Not to mention I had no idea what I was going to do with my degree once I got it. I was just getting it to get it. So by the time I was in my early thirties, I was close to a hundred k in debt and with nothing to show for it. This was sobering.

Here was the point where I made the decision to dig myself out of the hole I had dug. It was not easy. This also was the place where I found Dave Ramsey and began my debt free journey.

I began with a written budget. This was kind of a shock. Mostly because I had no idea where my money was going. I think the biggest surprise was finding out that I was regularly spending upwards to six hundred dollars a month on food! And that was just for one person! Things definitely needed to change and they needed changing fast.

I started with all the sectors of my personal spending. Areas such as rent, food and phone were no brainers. But other areas too such as; self care, gifts and donations, food and friends, areas that have gone neglected in my life for far too long. I was finally shedding some light on these places that so needed my love and attention. This is how I found out how much I was spending and on what and where. I realized I needed to set more structured boundaries around my financial life.

While I was setting my budget, I also realized I had watched one of my caregivers faithfully going over the spending for the household, sitting at the kitchen table. This was a ritual they did often, though sadly, one they never passed on to me. I realized that these were some of the missed teachable moments that I just never received. These were the lessons that my caregivers should have been pulling me aside to teach me while they were doing them. And I realized this is how we pass on the knowledge of what we know to those who are in our care.

And I was sad. This was no easy realization. I had spent so much of my time seeking approval from just about anywhere, but mostly my caregivers, by doing irresponsible things, that when I stopped to realize what I was missing out on, in short, the basic skills I would need to run my life, I realized I had missed out on the building blocks of what it means to be family. I was missing the most fundamental experiences of being part of something loving and functional.

So it wasn’t only the life skill I was missing out on, but the parts of what it means to be a family. What it means to take care of one another. The difference between caretaking and caregiving. The first being a way to do for someone, instead of showing someone how to do for themselves. I would later find out that none of my caregivers had racked up debt in the same way I had. They had been very disciplined in regards to their spending habits.

This made my journey sting a little bit more. Had I known what my caregivers had known, I would have been in a far better financial situation. But lessons learned the hard way tend to stick better. I’ve learned how to manage and pay down large sums of debt. How to build an emergency fund for unforseen circumstances. But also, and most importantly, how to be consistent in my spending and saving habits. By keeping track of what I’ve spent, and setting a specific amount for each monthly cycle. This allows me to set financial goals, such as paying off my credit card debt, and achieve them in a time frame I’ve set for myself.

There were some setbacks for me along the way, but I was still able to achieve my goal over the course of the time I planned for myself. This gave me the feeling of agency over my financial situation. Knowing I could make a plan and follow through felt strange but satisfying. Strange in that this was something that was so foreign to me because, well because no one ever followed through with anything they ever showed me.

I was left to my own devices by the time I was nine years old. Direction, goal setting and being shown how to be persistent were not values and skills I was taught how to pursue. But by the same set of circumstances, it made me being able to set these goals for myself, the learning how to pay down a large sum of debt and following through to completion, on my own, so much more gratifying. It feels as though I really earned what I had taught myself, lending even more to my sense of accomplishment.

The way I got there was fairly straightforward. As I said above, I followed Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps to help me pay down my debt. I’m currently still paying off student loan debt, but am on track to finish with my loans just inside of two years. For a link to Dave Ramsey’s site, head on over to my Community Page.

The plan was to pay off my credit cards one at a time, starting with the card that had the lowest balance first, then working my way up to the largest. I could then take the minimum payments from the cards I had paid off, and apply them to the next card. The result being a snowball effect, due to with each card paid off, I would then have the minimum payment from the previous card to put towards my debt. It was satisfying to not only watch my debt reduce, but at the same time, watch the amount of money I was freeing up to pay off my debt, increase dramatically.

By the time I paid of my credit cards and was on to my student loans, I was putting a sizeable amount of money towards it each pay period. And this was heartening, because this was the amount of money that I will be later saving and putting towards other financial goals. Instead of paying off a creditor that has already leveraged an unreasonable amount of interest from my financial unknowing.

After my debt is paid down, the next step is to create an emergency fund of at least six month’s expenses. Dave suggests between three and six months expenses, but I’ve been living paycheck to paycheck for far too long. There were many a time where I was uncertain if I was going to make rent. I’ve been very lucky in that regard, and I don’t want to tempt fate by being underprepared. I have a friend who is going a full year’s worth of expenses. When it comes to being financially stable, go with what feels right.

This will look a little different for everybody. For me it’s six months, my friend twelve. The most important aspect of setting an emergency fund is how comfortable are you with the number you’ve decided on. Don’t do it just because someone else told you you should, or because someone told you this was the best way to go about it. Do it because it makes you feel comfortable with your financial situation.

And if you’re with a partner trying to hash out a number, make sure you both agree at the end of the talk, which number feels right for the both of you. This is how we begin to open those lines of communication and start to feel more connected with one another. This is precisely where a younger me would have wanted to jump into the conversation about finding the place that makes you feel safest in your financial situation. To know how to best care for and attune to this need.

When I was married, there was not a lot of communication, and especially around money. I think we were both coming from inexperienced places. I know I was. I came from the understanding that no one ever talked about money, ever. This was unhealthy and one of the reasons I had no idea what to do when it came time for me to take the reigns of my own financial life. My ex was, I think in the same boat as I was, only I don’t know because we never talked about it. This should have been a warning sign to me. But I was in a place of numb and muted emotions, trying just to survive the day to day. Any ideas of planning for the future seemed so far off it may well have been in another life’s time. But the lessons I’ve learned from this situation was, talk early on, and talk often.

And once you’re finished setting up your emergency fund, it’s time to start saving for your future. This comes in the form of some type of retirement fund. Conventional wisdom suggests to open a Roth IRA. This is an individual retirement account, where the money you put in gets taxed when you put it into the account. So when you are ready to make withdrawals, the money you take out is tax free. There is a cap you can put into a Roth IRA, and that’s 6,000$ a year and up to 7,000$ a year after you’re 50th birthday.

Of course, each individual’s situation is going to be different. So it’s best to find an advisor that can guide you through the process of planning for your retirement. This is definitely not the time and place to wing it! This brings up another lesson that was not taught to me when I was younger, which has gotten me in trouble time and time again. If you don’t know something, ask someone who does.

This seems like such a no brainer, but the amount of time I’ve spent making poor decisions because I thought I’d look either weak or stupid if I asked for help makes me a little uneasy to think about now. So incase you haven’t heard it before, or was in the same boat I was, let me tell you, it’s okay not to know. Find the people who do know, and make them a part of your support network. And don’t be afraid to ask around either. I have a friend who works in the financial industry, and they were able to steer me in the direction of someone who could explain to me what it would take, and look like to take hold of my financial future. If it wasn’t for them, I’m sure I would have found someone, but I feel more connected and sure about the choice I made knowing that I’ve been aided in my search by a trusted friend.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, after you hammer out all the basics of how you are going to survive, paying off the debt, building an emergency fund and saving for retirement, then you can actually enjoy your money in the here and now. It’s sometimes strange for me to think about. A time after my debt, because I’ve been in debt for so long. But the entire reason we’re working to pay off our debt and plan for the future is because we want a future worth planning for.

For me, I’ve been living as barebones as possible while I’m paying off my debt. I don’t buy too many things just for myself unless I need them. For example, I think the things I’ve bought for myself most recently have been iced teas in the mornings where I need an extra boost of energy and a pair of running shoes I desperately needed. Asides from those things, I’ve been funneling all available funds to my debt.

I’ve been living like this for so long that it seems just the norm to not splurge on anything other than a coffee here and there or a new pair of shoes. And this can get a little depressing, I won’t lie to you. But I have started a list of things I want when I no longer have debt. This list, in and of itself is something of a motivator for me. Looking at all the things I’ll be able to indulge in when I’m financially stable enough not to worry is something I’m looking forward to considerably.

For example, on my list are a variety of teas I enjoy from a seller who has an exceptional variety. Knowing I’ll be looking forward to my morning cup of jasmine green tea will be so much sweeter when it’s brewed from a tea I know I love.

I also plan on buying spices from an organic spice company I have used in the past and love their product. Their quality is excellent and knowing that I’ll have a freshly rotated stock of all the spices I use brings me a sense of joy. Knowing my meals will be that much more flavorful is another motivator to help me achieve my financial goals.

I’m also planning a trip to celebrate my debt free journey, to take some much needed rest after my marathon race to finish my goals. And I will feel so much more at ease knowing I’m not living on borrowed money. Knowing I’ve taken the time to take care of my financial needs and will be able to enjoy the benefits that come with a well planned for financial future.

So if you’ve left the financial sector of your life neglected for far too long, maybe it’s time to take another look at where you are, and where you’re headed. Creating some much needed boundaries around spending can be an eye opening and fruitful experience. If this is your first thought on the subject, I definitely suggest talking with someone who can guide you on a successful path towards your financial future.

And if you, like me, have found yourself in the depths of what seems like an unfathomable amount of debt, it is never too late to start digging yourself out. As I’ve said above, head over to my Community Page and take a look at the work Dave Ramsey is doing with helping to get people out of debt. Also Mint, another site on the Community Page, is a powerful tool in helping to get control over your spending and finances. Check out community sites such as Reddit, personal finance. There are loads of people with questions that are crowdsourcing answers from people who have been there before. And remember, you’re not alone. It is difficult and scary at times, looking at the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. But it is totally possible and doable to get ourselves out. Good luck, and peace, thanks for reading : )

Image credits: “I’m So Confused!” by Ian Sane is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Alone: Being Resilient While You’re with Yourself

Being alone isn’t easy. Take away the distractions that we often pump into our day to day and it’s nearly impossible. People expend a lot of effort to get away from the life they find right here. This is what Tara Brach calls “the unlived life”. And it’s aptly named, because this is the life that is usually filled with concern, worry or anxiety. All emotions that nobody really wants to be around.

What happens if I disagree with my employer, or boss at work? What happens when I feel differently than what most people feel as being “normal”, or status quo? These are some difficult questions, and ones that come with a host of feelings, all revolving around feeling excluded or alone in your experience or emotions. These are vulnerable places to be.

And this is where we have a choice. A lot of people, including my past self, choose to run from these places inside ourselves. It’s easier to do what is expected of us in order to keep the order of the existing established rules. Even if this order, and sometimes, especially if the order is dysfunctional. Because those that are keeping the order sometimes need the added validation of their existing situation, of running from their vulnerability, to feel as though they are doing what is best, all in the name of avoiding their unlived life. I.e. the vulnerability of the difficult emotions of uncertain and unanswered questions.

And, all of this isn’t easy. That’s why it’s being run from in the first place! If it were easy, I’d imagine we’d all have many more healthy relationships and the world would be filled with a lot less conflict. But the truth is that we live in a world that is fraught with these types of relationships. And on top of the vulnerability, these habits and ways of being can sometimes be difficult to see, making them even more insidious as the root cause of much of our anxiety around varying relationships.

When you are stuck in the middle of the uneasy feelings, i.e. perceived expectations or mind reading, established relational roles or pigeonholing, most often it is difficult to see past the immediate dis-ease of feeling vulnerable, alone and uncomfortable, and instead we stay the course of what has been historically accepted, avoidance. In other words, the path is clear to follow, but it’s not always the healthiest path.

And this intricate dance, this confusing maze of expectations mixed with emotions and perceived expectations, can be the cause of much miscommunication. From my experience, when you expect a person to behave, act or take on/conform to certain unspoken standards, this is where people feel as though they are never adding up to another’s expectations, or just plane don’t feel enough. And a life’s time worth of feeling as though you’re not adding up is a lonely place to be.

So if we are constantly trying to live up to somebody else’s standards, and we feel as though we’re coming up short, how do we break the cycle of handing the responsibility of living our own lives to others by trying to live up to what they expect of us? I found, for myself anyways, that setting goals and owning my feelings are paramount to taking the leading role in living my own life.

I was so used to deferring the responsibility of the choices that needed to be made during the course of my days to somebody else, that it just became second nature. And there are no shortage of people that are willing to take up that role if you let them. So I first had to recognize what it was that I was running from, in order to take up the reigns of my life again. And this takes patients.

Patients first with you’re emotional experiences and second with finding the ways to best take care of yourself and your emotional needs. If this is something you’ve been leaving for someone else to manage than it is going to be a steep learning curve for sure.

For me, I had left that job for the person I was in relationship with. I had learned this from my caregivers, so I actively sought out this relationship dynamic. And as I’ve said above, there was no shortage of people looking to live my life for me. It wasn’t until I had ended these relationships that I was left with the unsettling truth that I needed to show up for, and live my own life. This was a shock for sure, because it was a dynamic that I was almost completely unaware of until I was left with myself.

I had to make all the decisions for myself, by myself. Everything from grocery shopping and cooking to budgeting, exercise and work decisions. All were left to my better judgements. It was scary and overwhelming at first. I remember feeling as though I couldn’t possibly take on the entire task of living my life all at once. But what I found made the biggest impact, which helped me to make these decisions without being overwhelmed by the scope of them was, patients, and taking things one step at a time.

Taking things slowly was important to learn. To recognize that I didn’t need to do it all at once, that I could take each task on slowly and deliberately. This helped me to not only make healthier choices, but I also had a clearer presence of mind while making the decisions. So I was also making better choices.

And also learning how to be patient with the emotional experiences as they were happening. Knowing when that little voice that pops up, the one that tells you that you need to act immediately, or else! And how to let that voice have its piece, but also not responding from that voice by being patient enough for the feeling of urgency to wear off, in order to then respond from a place that is more calm and able to see the situation from a more clear perspective.

And instead of feeling stressed out and as though you are frantically looking for answers to a situation by yourself, patients with ourselves allows us the time and space necessary to feel comfortable with the connectic feelings of urgency and uncertainty, while also allowing us to take a responsible and grounded approach to taking care of any situation that needs our attention.

For me, one of the ways this has played out in my recent past is in my professional life. I’m currently in the middle of picking up a new role and responsibilities at a new place of employment. I went in for a shift, and it was unlike the experience I was used to in a similar role at a different agency in the past. My first reaction, instinct was to walk away from the role. I thought that “this is unacceptable” and I was unwilling to compromise. This was, for me, the voice of urgency telling me I was in a situation that wasn’t safe.

But I decided to give the issue some more thought. I talked it over with a trusted friend, and came up with some thoughtful and direct questions that would communicate what my concerns were and how I was feeling about everything I was experiencing. But I had to do it on my own. Sure, I got some advice and guidance from a friend, but it was a new perspective that I gained. I still had to go inward and explore what I was feeling about the situation I was getting myself into.

What are my thoughts and feelings about what I’m about to do or plan on doing, and how am I going to address and attune to my feelings. This is where resilience is cultivated. Because essentially, these are the places where you meet your fears, feel them and find out what they are telling you, and then make some decisions about how you’re going to accept the fear, but move through it anyway to a place where you are confident in your ability to progress.

And like most ambitions in life, it’s not always easy. In my taking on a new role in a new position, I had some fears about the role, some concerns about how things are, and how I was used to them being in the past. I then had to be patient with my initial response which was to walk away from it out of fear. And then feel the fear and understand what I was trying to tell myself by exploring why I was uncomfortable. Once I explored my concerns, I then came up with a plan to take care of and attune to my feelings so they didn’t grow unchecked and take control of my actions.

Another step to this process is, being present with the discomfort of the feelings that are arising when I’m exploring and encountering new situations that provoke fear and uncertainty. Because if it wasn’t for the ability to stay with the feelings, especially the uncomfortable ones, then you would be constantly running from the situations that provoke these emotions. Keeping yourself in a comfort zone where you are unable to grow.

And this is how we learn to navigate our fears and anxieties, while moving forward with our lives in a positive direction. Staying flexible enough to face each new feeling that rises to meet us, but also holding our ground and knowing that we are enough to meet and grow through these new situations. Again, not always an easy task, but there’s something to be said for overcoming a challenge.

These are the decisions that we need to take care of, that come into our lives that we all have to face on our own. As I’ve said above, I used to defer this part of self-care and life responsibility to others. I can remember vividly Living with an ex-partner, in an apartment they had found, working at a job I wasn’t very happy with and going to school for something I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do. I had no idea what I was doing in life, but regardless, I just kept on going being propped up by those around me.

And it’s not as though I’m not grateful for those who helped me along the way. But I wasn’t allowing myself to come to terms with where I was in life by surrounding myself with those who were happy to be in a position of caretaking for me. And this is where we had been trapped in an unhealthy cycle of relationship. Me by not facing the emotions I was running from because I thought the responsibility of living my own life was too much, and my partner who was more than happy to tell me what to do and how to be for her own reasons.

And when the relationship finally ended, it came as a surprise to all parties. We were all finally forced to confront what it was that we were avoiding, but what came as the biggest surprise, to me anyway, was that I realized I was strong enough to change.

At the time, it was the affection of another that woke me up, to realizing that I had the ability and strength to face my own fears, but where it really took shape was when I told my partner about my feelings. How someone else’s affections had woken my emotions, something that had been dormant since the trauma, and that I was willing to work on what was right here, the relationship in the unhealthy form it had taken.

Ultimately my partner had said she was unwilling to work on our relationship. I don’t blame her for ending the relationship, only knowing that she, like me, was running from the difficult work of understanding the whole relationship, including the places of fear, vulnerability and uncertainty makes me sad for what we could have been if we had faced those emotions together. But first we need to do the inner work, to know what we are bringing into the relationship.

So if you have found yourself in a similar situation, or know this one well as a place you keep returning to, take heart. Resilience is possible as long as you are patient with yourself and stick around while you’re going through and sorting the difficult emotions. Feeling alone while you are sorting through these emotions is common. But it’s something we all have to face eventually and it also helps to know that you are not the first.

Many have come before you and have done the difficult work of coming to terms with their fears, vulnerabilities and anxieties. And it doesn’t last forever. It may take some time coming to a place of understanding these feelings, but we all get there eventually. I hope this has been of some help to you, and as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Niagara Falls Peaceful Solitude” by ***Bud*** is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Where do You Draw the Line? When are You Taking on Too Much Responsibility For Other People’s Emotions

This is a loaded topic, and one I’ve recently had to come to terms with. It’s difficult enough in the day to day, sorting and responding to our emotions. But when you add a layer of taking on the responsibility of absorbing somebody else’s emotional state, it can be overwhelming. This is a skill that I definitely learned late in life, and one I’m still grappling with today, as I try to sort out my emotions from the unhealthy lessons and emotional baggage of my caretakers. This aspect of handling emotions in our daily lives is so important, I’m surprised that we don’t have a curriculum for it to help those who are navigating this in their early teens. Another topic for another post for sure.

What started me thinking about about the idea for this post was something I said in last weeks post on dealing with unreasonably high standards. I grew up in a family where my caregivers would often say, “you made me do this”, or “you made me feel this way.” These were powerful statements to hear, especially at such a young age. This was the foundation of me taking responsibility for not only my own emotions, but also those of my caregivers and just about everybody else in my life that I had an emotional bond with.

After hearing one of these statements, usually after a fight or some form of an argument, I would then take what was said personally. As though the entire argument we had just had, and all the hurt feelings and disappointment that was the result of the argument, was my fault. My caregivers almost always had an air of something being offensive to them. As though whatever was happening was not only personally being done to them, but there was also a sense of indignant righteousness. That they knew better than whom ever was offending them, and they (the offenders) were inherently bad for doing, thinking or being a way that was not to their liking.

And how could I not take responsibility for all the components of our relationship. With standards like my caregivers’, and coming directly from those who were supposed to teach me how to navigate life and my emotional world, I just assumed that they were in control, knew what was supposed to happen and that I just never added up.

So these were the broken and unsustainable lessons I then tried to navigate my world with. I held a sense of indignant righteousness and judgemental attitude in almost all of my relationships. I was unforgiving, of others and myself, when we didn’t add up to my unreasonably high standards, and I was mean. In just about all aspects of my personality.

From my harsh judgements of others, to the cutting and snide remarks I would make when I saw someone not meeting my standard. Or just when I thought they were showing some “weakness” that I didn’t approve of. I remember very distinctly, picking out one individual who I worked with, who I would pick on relentlessly. And the only reason I chose him to receive the brunt of my hostility was because he was kind and considerate without the egotism I thought men should display, by virtue of being a man. Toxic masculinity at its worst.

But picking on someone for showing kindness and consideration, traits I viewed as “weaknesses”, was really a way to stay loyal to the lessons I received from my caregivers. These were really there views, their reactions to their emotional landscapes and the lessons they were taught. And in order to feel belonging, I assimilated them as my own. I became the person that was expected of me by my caregivers by absorbing their attributes and taking them on as my own.

This, however, lead to me not understanding how to be, or what intimacy in a relationship was. This left me feeling that most of my relationships were very superficial and without feelings of connection. This was a very lonely place to be.

As well as not being able to develop and foster intimate relationships, I was also actively afraid of the people that reminded me of my caregivers. The ones who had taught me how to be in, and seek out these unhealthy relationships to begin with. So when I met a new co-worker, or was around someone who resembled my caregivers to some degree, i.e. being highly critical of others with a sense of malice for the sake of sport, there’s a sense of fear that comes on, with a feeling of, “this is my fault, the reason their being so mean is because of who I am.” Even if they are talking about somebody else, I was always in the position of feeling as though it was only a matter of time before their attention was directed towards me. That I was somehow always a moment away from displeasing and totally disappointing whomever was talking because I was always disapproved of by my caregivers.

This is a pattern that still plays out to this day. I feel as though I’m finally on the mend from a life’s time worth of feeling like a disappointment, but it’s taken some considerable effort to break free from the cycle of my caregivers lessons. The first step was recognizing how I was feeling while I was interacting with someone I have a relationship with.

This started for me while I was interacting with a co-worker of mine. Everything seemed fine at first, but later I noticed he would get really quiet around me when it was just us two. And the more I heard him in conversation with others, the more I came to know his personality. He would say things like, “I live to gaslight people”, which was something I would expect to hear from one of my caregivers. If you’re not familiar with the term gaslighting, it means, to “manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.” (Google Dictionary).

How I felt while I was around this particular co-worker, was as though I had done something wrong, but I had no idea what it was that I was doing. I felt the fear in my belly and groin, as though something were about to happen to me. This must be where the expresion, “gird your loins” comes from, because I definitely felt my fight or flight response kick in while I was around them, viscerally. I knew that I was uncomfortable around them, and as though something bad would imanantly happen, and that it was my fault.

But even this aspect, learning to trust my emotions was a difficult process. As I’ve said above, when you are surrounded by people who are constantly telling you that you are making them feel a certain way, and avoiding responsibility for their own emotions and reactions to them, it becomes more than a little fuzzy on how you feel, and if what you are feeling is actually your feeling. some of the questions may be, is somebody else making me feel this way? Is this my emotion, or the other person’s that I’m feeling?

This may seem elementary to most people, and I hope that is the case, but for those of us who were taught poor, or no emotional boundaries, this is a very confusing place to be. So building those boundaries became paramount to me being able to navigate how I feel in situations. One boundary being, knowing that no matter what, what I’m feeling is my own feeling, and therefore my responsibility, was an important one to learn. This allowed me to see how I am feeling, in real time, in reaction to a situation that is happening currently. I can then see the feeling, then see all the thoughts that I’ve learned to associate with that feeling, and work to separate them from one another, and deal with the present situation and emotions accordingly.

So in the example above, with the co-worker who “lives to gaslight”, I can hear the comment, feel the fear in my body, recognize that the emotion and the feelings are coming up because of the abuses I’ve received in the past at the hands of my caregivers. Then recognize that I am in a different situation, with different people, that I am in control of keeping myself safe, and that these are only feelings that are telling me that this person may not be a safe bet to trust with my emotional wellbeing.

Another example, I was in the middle of batch cooking for the week ahead, and cleaning out the cabinets and taking stock of what I need to use up before it goes bad. The counters were covered with food stuffs, and I had been in the kitchen for hours at this point. Someone I live with walks into the kitchen and asks, “what are you up to?” I was a little tired, but the question seemed kind of ridiculous to me. They had been sitting in the next room over for the entire time I had been in the kitchen cooking. And anyone who walked into the kitchen could clearly see what it was that I was up to. I did respond in a short tone with, “really?” But I wasn’t angry, it was more to point out how ridiculous the question was. They then became defensive and indignant, saying “it’s not ok to ask a question? Are you in one of your moods?”

What bothered me about this interaction was, the assumption was made that I was being mean on purpose, when I really thought the question was funny, I was just tired. I later apologized for being short, because it was rude of me. But these were the types of interactions that had laid the foundation of all of the communication efforts with my caregivers growing up, sans the apologies. This was also the source of a lot of hurt feelings and perceived abuses, when all we really needed to do was to not take everything that someone was saying so personally.

And this is no easy task. From my experience, if you have a foundation of misperceived comments and what feel like personal attacks based in malicious intent, then there is a lot of armoring that you pick up along the way to feel safe. Especially if you have to live with the people who are attacking you, and the attacks are more commonplace than loving gestures. From this perspective, being in relationship, with anyone, is a scary proposition.

So if clear communication takes a healthy dose of trusting one another, and not taking things so personally, how do we begin to loosen the armoring that comes with the distrust and thinking it’s all directed towards us? For me, not taking things so personally was a gradual process. I first had to let go of my own indignation. To have a little faith that not everybody had some ulterior motive to their actions. And as I’ve said above, when you absorb disappointment from your caregivers growing up, this is tough to break free from when you see it in others.

For me, in my affirmation I say during my daily meditation, “I’m strong enough to be who I am, while allowing others to be who they are”, has done so much for me to establish some much needed boundaries in my personal life. This was the foothold for me to be able to begin to trust others. Because if I knew I was strong enough to feel my emotions, and know that my emotions are my own, then I can begin to understand how to draw the line between feeling like a disappointment, and recognizing others displaying disappointment in me.

Once you start to own your emotions, it’s easier to see how others are feeling. For example, in the interaction with the person I live with above, when I shifted my focus on the anger and indignation they were displaying, it was easy to see that they were hurt by my short remark, which I said because I was tired from cooking and cleaning all day. Not because I was angry at them.

And this takes patients. With ourselves and with others as well. But also knowing when someone else may not change. This is a difficult one for most people. Learning to accept where people are. It’d be great if everyone could just immediately understand where we are coming from whenever we have a new thought or perspective. But the reality of relationships are, this just isn’t the case.

For me, I need to accept that there are some relationships that are just not going to change. For example, when I tried to explain how I wasn’t angry even though my response was short, with the situation above, it only caused more frustration and misunderstanding. In this case, I need to accept that I will be misunderstood, and not take it personal that they don’t understand where I’m coming from. This is just where we are in our relationship.

And that’s not to say that either person isn’t capable of changing, or coming to an understanding. Only that it can’t be forced on someone before their ready for it.

And in some cases, I’ve had to let relationships I’ve had with friends and family members go. There was just too many hurt feelings and unresolved issues for me to stay in relationship with them. This was no easy task, and not one I’m suggesting to do or think about lightly. For me, knowing that I had to draw a hard line on where I feel safe or comfortable with the relationship ending helps me to feel as though I’m taking care of myself. That I know I have my back, and my best interests at heart.

And that’s not to say that I’ve written these people off, or burned any bridges. I heard somewhere once, “never write a person off.” I’m not sure why, but this piece of wisdom has always felt right to me. That’s not to say I’m leaving the door wide open for them to come back in whenever they like. And relive some of the abuses of boundaries that I’ve lived through in the past. It means that I’m not giving up on their ability to change.

If they come back into my life, it will be a fresh start, and one I embark on very cautiously. Setting some strict boundaries around our relationship until I can feel confident in who they are now and how they’ve changed from the ways they used to be. And again, this isn’t easy. But for me, it’s worth it if you can salvage a friendship, because they are definitely worth the effort.

There is also a fair amount of vulnerability that comes with being in relationship as well. This can be difficult to manage on top of the other emotions that we are already trying to sort out. It can feel like at times trying to untangle a bunch of live wires! Trusting that others will not project their emotions onto you, while already dealing with your emotional perspective of the relationship can feel like you’re being overloaded.

These are the times where it’s best to find some time to resource. A little self care goes a long way when we’re feeling like we are being overwhelmed with emotions. Ours and/or somebody else’s. Don’t be afraid to take the time you need to sort through what your feeling. Alone or with a trusted friend, knowing how you’re feeling while trying to untangle your emotions from another’s is important to clearly communicate what your needs are and understanding what the other person is asking of you.

And take your time. Don’t feel as though you have to rush to a conclusion. You will get there eventually, and if you take your time, you’ll probably get a better picture of what it is that you are trying to understand along the way.

I hope this has been of some help. Emotions can be tricky, especially when we’re not sure whose emotions are whoms. Just remember to be kind to yourself and the other while your trying to sort it all out. And forgiving too, when you come up short on the kindness front! As always, peace : ) and thanks for reading.

When is Enough, Enough? How to Navigate the World of Unreasonably High Expectations

This is something I’ve struggled with for almost my entire life. As soon as I knew what it meant to do a “good job” with something, I knew almost immediately afterwards what it felt like and meant to not add up in some way.

What’s strange though, thinking about it now, I don’t really remember much about how I didn’t meet the mark. Only that I just never met it. I can remember doing chores when I was younger, maybe eight or nine. I would vacuum the downstairs carpets, wash the woodwork around the base of the floors and dust the furniture for a small allowance every week. The chores started shortly after I experienced trauma that would change the course of my life, adding another layer of impossible expectations to an already daunting list, but I don’t ever remember being shown or told how to do them or if I was doing an adequate job.

The same was the case for school work. I remember before I gave up on school completely in the tenth grade, doing projects and homework, always on my own. Of course I was alone almost all the time, so this wasn’t new. But what I hadn’t realized at the time was that my situation was not normal. At some point it seems like there should have been someone there to help catch me, before I fell through the cracks, or just to help at all. But that just wasn’t the case with my situation.

And what’s more, I was consistently criticized for the poorly done work that I was doing. Again, thinking about it now, from the perspective of a fully functioning adult, I can see how maddening the whole situation is. Not only from the perspective of my younger self, trying to navigate life and discovering how I fit in the whole concerning other’s expectations of me, but also the fully actualized perspective of my adult self, I was just being asked too much of. From people and caregivers that had not only high standards, after all having a high standard can be a good thing, but impossible ones to meet. Asking me to meet their standards would be akin to asking a seven year-old to grocery shop and cook for themselves for the week while staying in budget and hitting their nutritional necessities. Impossible.

Later, I was however, excelling at meeting other of my caregivers standards. The ones where I would drink until I was so sick, I couldn’t see straight. Or being judgemental and cruel for no other reason than to fit in with the image of how my caregivers where acting. Thinking back now, I would have much rather have studied and done well in school, but when your very belonging is on the line with the people that are supposed to love you no matter what, you’re going to do whatever you’re able to, to feel a sense of love and belonging. Including trying to live up to not only impossible standards, but contradicting ones as well.

Because if you don’t feel like you belong, you don’t feel safe. And that’s when your survival instincts kick in. For me it was studying my caregivers like a detective, to try to read their minds of what it was that they could possible want from me so I could meet their standards and feel safety in belonging. I was also experiencing a fair amount of abuse from them as well, which added an extra layer of confusion. But when you’re in survival mode, nothing else really matters. Even the abuse.

These experiences were the foundation of the impossible standards that I in turn, adopted from my caregivers. I later, would set the standards so high for myself, that I was left paralyzed in not knowing how to move past where I was. If it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t worth the effort, in my distorted view of how I learned to navigate my internal world of expectations. And I believe that I really thought perfection was something that was obtainable! This blows my mind now, to think of it. I was trying to achieve something that just doesn’t exist and tearing myself apart in the process. This was no bueno.

And it wasn’t just me, I was being told this impossible standard was possible not only by my caregivers, but most of the culture as well. I remember vividly sitting in an empty room with a desk I bought from some expensive retailer, with a decanter of whiskey and a few glasses next to it, thinking to myself, “just a few more pieces of furniture, and the right body, and clothes, then I’ll be who I want to be.” There was a sinister air about this affirmation. One that I associated with success, only in a way that was measured against someone else’s expectations. This was one of the ways I became my own abuser. By setting my self worth at something that was outside of myself and unobtainable. Because I wasn’t already enough to my, and everybody else’s measure.

So setting the standards too high, I discovered, was really an act of abuse. Trying to achieve something I never would, to gain acceptance from people who couldn’t accept me because they didn’t accept themselves. This was punishing. And to add to the confusion, I didn’t even know what I was doing to myself. So if it was this impossible standard I was pitting myself against, how did I wake up and realize that I was never going to meet it? I think I’m still finding out what it means in some of the areas of my life, to be happy with my efforts and self as I am and they are. But I know it has a lot to do with listening inwardly to myself. Knowing how I’m feeling and sitting with the uncomfortable feelings instead of trying to push past them when it feels like too much. When am I pushing myself too hard and are these really reasonable expectations I’m asking myself to meet.

When all you have are critical judgements placed on you, it’s difficult to understand what a reasonable request is, or when we’re calling for something to ease up inside. Our internal voice becomes mute and we take on the harsh critic that we are so used to. We also seek out others to fill this role, of harsh critic, that we are so used to trying to satisfy. For me, it manifested in many of the jobs I took. I didn’t know my own self worth, or what the work I was doing had via the value I was bringing to my tasks. For example, my current employer is very vocal about what their expectations are, and how nobody ever achieves them. I’ve been there for about a year and a half, and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard them compliment anybody for a job well done.

This is a difficult place to work, but in my case, it’s a place I was looking for because it is something that I’m so used to. Something I know well because I grew up under these conditions. Cold comfort. I already knew how to navigate this world, and the defenses that went along with it. The sense of superiority and indignation that came with thinking and feeling somebody else is inept because they are asking me to reach an unachievable standard, when I set the standard too high already. I would often think, “because they’re not meeting my standards they are inferior”. In other words, “you think your standards are high? I’ll show you high standards!” This is unhealthy.

But it’s how I kept myself at a distance from those I would have liked to have built healthy relationships with. Not only that, I was constantly disappointed, a little angry, ok, maybe a lot angry and never happy or satisfied with anything or anyone around me. While also burning bridges with people every chance I got. It is and was a very lonely place to be. And I’m honestly surprised that the few friends I have now stayed by my side.

For me, there was and is a lot to sort through. As I said above, the first and most important step towards releasing the impossible standards we place on ourselves, is listening inwardly when we find ourselves frustrated with ourselves. Where are the places in our daily lives that we get frustrated and disappointed. How are we feeling and what are we expecting from ourselves and others when we feel this way?

When the critic comes forward in my day to day, it is usually coupled with a sense of indignation. Most of the time I’m judging someone as selfish or insensitive and possibly inept, because they ignored the ways I expected them to act or respond to a situation. This is dangerous because; I’m measuring them up against a standard that they have no idea what I’m expecting, because they’re not mind readers, and I’m also expecting events to unfold the ways I think they would work best. This shows that I’m unwilling to change, and that I think my methods are the best methods for accomplishing tasks. This type of reasoning and thought train leads to black and white thinking, and isolating myself from others by feeling consistently disappointed in others.

To break this cycle, I have to be aware of my feelings, emotions and expectations when I interact with others. When I begin to feel frustrated, I need to make sure to focus on what is happening in the moment. I do this by acknowledging the emotion, clearing my mind of what’s happening in my thoughts, and ask myself, “where is this frustration coming from?” In some cases, there is a clear connection between my frustrations and what is happening in the moment. For example, while at work, if I’m expecting support from someone and I am left with little in the way of understanding how to proceed with a task or what their expectations are around the task, this is a frustration worth exploring.

But it is important to not take that frustration and discharge it towards the person you are experiencing the frustration with, or anyone or thing else. This is where many of us get tripped up, I know it was a sticking point for me for a long time. It’s important to feel the frustration, but then respond to the emotion inside yourself first. You can do this by asking it why it’s here, or what am I trying to tell myself? I know for me, if I feel like I’m not being listened to, or I’m not meeting the mark in some way, that can trigger some old emotions that are pretty charged. And if I’m not careful, that emotion can become destructive instead of constructive. So slowing down enough to listen to where the emotion is coming from and what it is trying to tell you is the first step to responding in a constructive way.

Then you can understand the emotion in how it is effecting you. Is this a situation that deserves this level of concern? Am I being too demanding of the other person? Is this a reasonable expectation that I am setting for another, or myself to meet? These are some of the questions that we can begin to explore when we aren’t so caught up in the initial reaction to the situation. And there will be times that you will need to respond in immediate ways with authority. But having this time to assess the needs for the situation could mean the difference between a situation handled with care or hurt feelings.

After we explore where the emotions are coming from, and what they are trying to tell us, then we can take the appropriate actions and begin the process of calming ourselves down. It doesn’t help any situation to react from a place of anger and frustration, especially where high standards are involved. This is where self soothing comes into the process and is an important part of communicating from a constructive place. Self soothing can help us to feel heard and taken care of. And coming from a place of knowing that our emotional response to a situation is valid, is important to us feeling as though we matter, in that we are part of the solution, and not just collateral damage in a situation.

This is the power of self soothing and how it can come to help us to communicate and be fully present with ourselves and others. We gain a sense of agency and confidence when we’re calm, and are better able to handle what the situation demands of us and how to respond to someone’s unreasonable expectations. And this isn’t a guaranty that you will get the support or help you need. For instance, my above example of not feeling or being supported to the necessary degree or if I’m meeting their expectations. I may calm down and recognize why I am feeling the ways I am in the situation, and I may even be able to communicate them from a clear and rational space, instead of expecting them to read my mind. But there is no way of knowing whether I’ll receive the needed support from those I ask.

The difference between doing the work to understand where your emotions are coming from and then sorting through them to know how best to respond to them, as opposed to getting angry at the person or situation is, you don’t take it so personal. You’ve assessed the situation and have done as much as you’re able to do. After you’ve done the work, it’s a matter of waiting for something outside of yourself to change for you to move forward in a situation. And this takes patients.

First with yourself. This is where sitting with difficult emotions comes into the picture. Especially those around feeling like we’re not meeting others’ expectations. And we will do just about anything we can think of to push past or numb that type of discomfort. For me it was drinking coffee to push past them, and alcohol at night to numb them. But other common modalities include, watching T.V., cleaning or constantly staying in motion, reading or constantly having your nose in a book, or constantly checking social media or flipping through your phone or some other device. Another one is ruminating or obsessing over something. Also thinking of how unfair the other person’s standards are and ways that you would right the situation if it was up to you.

What all these modalities have in common is, that we are trying to push past the discomfort of sitting in the emotion of feeling whatever is causing the discomfort. In my example, the discomfort is not feeling supported by those who I am supposed to rely on for help by never meeting their unachievable standards. This leaves me feeling underappreciated and slightly taken advantage of. These are the difficult emotions that need my attention and that I need to reconcile inside myself first.

Second, we need to have patients with those who we are in conflict with. This is also difficult, and really difficult if you haven’t found patients with yourself first. It helps if you or the other person are able to see different points of view from differing perspectives. But this isn’t always the case, and we need to have the patients necessary to help others to understand where we are coming from.

Unfortunately, this is where a lot of arguments spark. Misunderstanding another’s perspective can feel like, to the other, that you’re not listening to their point of view. So it also helps to add a healthy dose of kindness in the conversation. To help set the tone for an understanding mindset and defuse some of the tension that can arise in these types of situations, especially where unrealistically high expectations are involved.

And even with all these precautions, sometimes people will just disagree. It’s especially important in these situations to not take it personal. This was a tough lesson for me to learn due to being raised in an environment where everything was taken personal, regardless of the actual intentions. My caregivers never took responsibility for the ways they were feeling or how they responded to them. “Somebody made me feel this way” or “you made me do this” were statements I heard a lot in my youth.

Looking back, it’s no wonder I had so many issues with boundaries around whose feelings were whom’s. I was just never taught how to own a feeling and how to set healthy boundaries around them. And to add being unable to live up to an image of a perfect standard on top of that was just plain maddening.

For me, the process of creating these boundaries worked to help me understand what my responsibilities were, what healthy expectations are, and even what feelings were mine. I did this by simply labeling the feelings that were coming up in me as they were happening and then connecting them to an event while also telling myself that my best was good enough. The more I did this, the clearer it became what or why I was reacting to what was coming up for me.

So labeling emotions as they happen, followed by sitting with them through the discomfort and reminding yourself that your best is good enough, can help to loosen the grip that takes hold of us when we’re trying to push ourselves too hard to meet unreasonable expectations, from ourselves or others.

And it takes practice. LOTS of practice. As I’ve mentioned above, I’ve been dealing with these high standards for most of my life, starting in childhood! They don’t go away overnight. But the good news is that they do lessen over time. Practicing forgiveness is another way to help soften the edges of our unreasonable standards. In my daily affirmation, I tell myself, “I’m strong, brave, courageous and forgiving… it’s okay to be me, just as I am”. This helps me to gain a bit of much needed perspective. It allows me to put some distance between the expectation and the emotions that come along with them, long enough to practice some self-care and reality check what I’m expecting from myself.

I feel better knowing that I’m looking out for my best interests, while stopping myself from tearing myself down from trying to reach an impossible goal. And the more often I do this, the more trust I gain in myself. So if you struggle with impossibly high standards, just know that there are ways of easing up on yourself and letting go. You just need to be persistent and kind to yourself. Thanks for reading : ) peace.

Image Credits: “Impossible standards just make life difficult. #fortunecookie” by dziner is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Resources: What Even Are They?

Last week’s blog post was on how I had managed to acquire all sorts of unhealthy resources to navigate and deal with a life’s time worth of unfelt emotions. This week, I’d like to talk about some of the healthier versions of some of my old resources and new ones I’ve developed that bring me a sense of ease and calm. Get ready to feel good!

Let’s begin where we usually start our day, with coffee. As I mentioned last week, I drank a lot of coffee. This was mostly to push past the feelings of not wanting to do something, especially while I was tired. Plus, it felt good. The buzz I got from drinking lattes back to back allowed me to get a lot done in the time I had. It also, unfortunately, stopped me from thinking about the things I was doing and saying which allowed me to shirk the responsibility for being held accountable for my own words and actions. This was what I meant by letting the emotions pile up. I just never thought about them or just plain sped passed them.

So I stopped drinking caffeine for a while but along with feeling like I was avoiding it out of fear, I did enjoy the kickstart to my morning that caffeine delivers. So I started drinking it again, only this time around in the form of tea and set some boundaries around it. I usually only drink two to three cups a day now which is a vast improvement over my old habit, and there’s tons of variety with all the different types of teas!

If you’re into smoky things, I suggest Yerba Mate. It’s a plant native to South America that has smoky note to it. And it does have less caffeine than a cup of coffee, but not by much. So if you’re looking to cut back, this may not be the best option to replace coffee with, one for one. Other favorites of mine include, jasmine green, oolong and jade green. All having about half the caffeine of a normal cup of coffee.

They’re also great for making cold brew for the warmer weather. I usually put about four bags of tea to a gallon container and let the tea steep overnight. I remove the bags in the morning and have tea that’s ready to be iced and taken on my morning commute. So if you’re into iced beverages, this is a great option for making a large jug to drink throughout the week. If you’re in the Boston area, Mem Tea is a great place to pick up some loose leaf tea at a reasonable price.

As I mentioned last week, it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I realized that the ways I was living were not only unhealthy, but potentially very dangerous. I knew things needed to change, only I had no idea where to start. I began by looking around at who I had been looking to for guidance. Most of the people I had shared my time with I no longer spoke to, and the movies and characters I aspired to be like were self destructive. Tyler Durden from “Fight Club”, the Joker and Jim Morrison to name a few.

After I realized that I was trying to emulate the late Mr. Morrison, I knew something needed to change. So I stopped drinking alcohol. Entirely at first, but then I started to feel the same ways I did about avoiding caffeine. So I introduced it into my self-care dinner nights. I would have a beer with my meal, one that I enjoyed, and be present with the experience. I wasn’t trying to numb my emotions anymore. I felt a little relaxed but mostly enjoyed the taste and how it complimented my meal.

I used to brew beer when I was drinking more often, and it’s something I’ve been thinking of getting back into now that I have a healthier relationship with alcohol. And what feels even better is, I know I can have a drink with a friend while I’m out and not have to worry about what I’m avoiding in myself or emotionally. I can just enjoy the company of my friends, in the moment.

Along with incorporating a drink into my self-care meal, I also drink herbal teas before I go to bed now which has become a very important resource for me. Something like chamomile or another bedtime blend like this one from Allegro. And as the same with caffeinated teas, there are so many different types of herbal teas to choose from, I’m surprised that I ever chose to drink the few mixed drinks and beers I did.

I will usually light a few candles and sit back with my tea and relax or calmly plan what my upcoming day is going to look like. Put on some R&B tunes and I’m totally relaxed. It’s much easier now to manage the emotions and responsibilities I have without the fog of alcohol or medication clouding my focus. And I sleep better as well. Sure I’m still tired when I wake sometimes, but I feel more rested during the day.

When I’m not drinking tea, I’m drinking something like this golden milk recipe from Minimalist Baker. This recipe is great for getting cozy on a cold night next to a fire. Or a great compliment to a playlist you’re listening too to unwind from the day. Hot chocolate is another great option. Once you start looking, there are so many different choices to choose from. I usually take some time before I go to bed, about a half hour to forty-five minutes to just be still. This is prime tea drinking time for me.

Journalling is another resource for me, and a big one. This is a space where I plan out what the different areas of my life need, or what I’m experiencing at the time. I keep a planner section. This is where I put practical information, my weekly schedule, todo list, shopping lists, budget. Anything I need to run my household. But I also have other places in my journal to explore my emotions, likes and dreams.

I have lists for what I want my future to look like. As well as a place for the resources that help me to feel my best. Little reminders of what matters. So when I need them, I can just flip through the pages and find something positive. This is also where I keep a traditional journal. About all the things and feelings that are coming up throughout the days. A place to get a birds eye view and understanding of what it is that I’m going through.

Along with my written journal, I have a rough guide of what my week looks like written down on my phone, so I know I have some time carved out to take care of the things that need attention, including myself. I don’t stick to it religiously, but like I said above, it’s nice to know that I have some time carved out for what needs attention. I also use my phone as an extension of my written journal. A place to jot down things to put on my todo list, or emotional explorations for my journal. There’s a link to Ryder Carrol’s Bullet Journal method that I use in my Community page. Do a quick google search for bullet journaling and you’ll find a huge community of creative journalers sharing their ideas.

Cooking is something that has become a very important resource for me. I’ve mentioned in a few of my posts about how I never learned to nourish my body properly due to growing up in a toxic environment which extended to all things food. Also how cooking for myself now has been a soothing routine and has really done so much for my mental health around how I relate to food.

Whether it’s for my weekly meal prep, or my self-care dinner, the act of gathering the recipes and ingredients and slowly following each step of each recipe, while a scented candle burns and whatever I’m listening to at the time plays softly in a warmly lit kitchen, is something that brings me a real sense of ease and care. Knowing I can provide for, and nourish my body in healthful ways, considering that I was never taught how to in the past, has been a soothing ritual.

It’s more than a little scary to think about the ways I was treating myself and what I was putting into my body. There were days where I just didn’t eat. I was solely running on caffeine and alcohol. The food I make for myself now is truly an act of love, and I’m almost always surprised at how well it turns out! I was taught how to cook in a restaurant I used to work at in my early twenties by a woman from Bhutan, who was using Northern Indian cooking techniques to make Mexican and Asian inspired foods. And even though I didn’t appreciate the lessons then, I now understand how lucky I was to learn so much from such a talented chef.

Being able to cook for yourself has so many benefits. Exploring new cuisines and ingredients, trying out new dishes or finding a new favorite meal. Knowing how to cook for myself has carried me through many a difficult day. I’ll usually block off some time during the week to cook for the upcoming week. As I said above, I light a candle and put some music on. Whatever is reflecting of the mood I want to embody. Then I lay out my ingredients and go through the recipes I’ve selected one by one.

The heat from the range or oven, the smells from the freshly chopped veggies or smoked tofu (which if you have a smoker, def get yourself some tofu marinated in Braggs aminos to smoke). The aroma from the sauteing garlic, ginger and onions or the spices melding together in a rich and flavorful curry. These are the moments that turn the simple act of cooking a meal into a method of self-care. And we all need to eat to live! What better motivation to learn how and experiment!

Exercise is another important resource. My exercize comes in the forms of running and yoga. I used to lift weights in my early twenties. And even after I dislocated my shoulder while doing shoulder presses, I still continued to lift weights. This was mostly because I thought it would make me more of a man. One of my caregivers had lifted weights on and off during my childhood, so I was following in their footsteps in a way. And I didn’t mind it so much, but I was truly unhealthy while I was lifting. I was smoking about a pack of cigarettes a day, and was hungover more often than not while I was going to the gym. The whole picture ran counter to the healthy habits I was trying to cultivate. And like I said above, I was more concerned with how it made me look to others than how I felt.

The shift to working out to feel better happened for me in my early thirties. It started with running. I had just gotten out of a relationship after waking up emotionally from the traumas I had endured in my childhood. It felt like a fresh start. And one day I got it in me to start running. I’m not sure why, but I ran once or twice a week. Two miles around the city commons, where I used to live.

After a few years of running two mile routes, my workouts evolved. I gained a few running buddies along the way, increased my speed from eleven minute miles to eight-thirty, and even ran a half marathon at one point. I still run, though my mileage has decreased some. But the feeling of pushing myself just past what I feel my limits are is a good feeling. I no longer need to prove anything by pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of. Just enough to grow stronger. The ways muscle tears to grow bigger, the same happens when we push past our perceived limitations. We open ourselves up just a smidge more and make space to grow.

Yoga is in many ways similar to running. I know that when I hop on the mat, I’m learning how to show up in my body when it gets difficult, and staying with the dis-ease I find there. There’s also a sense of mastery of self, flowing through the vinyasas, knowing that people have been doing this for milenia. Taming the thinking mind and strengthening mind and body at the same time, forging a tighter bond in ourselves, with ourselves.

And the more we show up for our practice, the stronger we get. I practice both yoga and running once every four days, staggering the two, one day apart. And it’s been a relief shedding the limiting belief that yoga is something only for women to do. I was raised in an environment that was toxically masculine. There were strict gender roles that were enforced by threatening to withhold belonging from the familial unit.

When I realized that everyone that was threatening to withhold belonging was doing it because they felt uncertain of their belonging, it was easy to strike out on my own and find my own path. For me, my caregivers wanted me to fit into a specific idea of how a man should behave. And men did not do yoga in my family. But it’s hard to be upset with them, knowing the amount of fear that they are living with constantly. And for anyone who doesn’t think yoga is a workout, try sitting in chair pose for two minutes!

Also, another aspect of yoga that has been helpful is that it helped me to pay attention to my breathe. I hadn’t even thought of it until not too long ago, but I realized that I used to be a mouth breather. This happened after I looked at a few pictures of myself and found that my mouth was open in almost all of them.

Mouth breathing has a host of undesirable effects. One of them being that you only breathe into your upper lungs, which activates the sympathetic nervous system. This produces adrenaline due to not being able to enter a deep level of sleep. When you breathe through your nasal passage, you are breathing into your lower lungs. This activates your parasympathetic nervous system and helps to regulate your emotional state. If you’d like to read more about mouth vs. nasal breathing, check out this article.

Speaking of breathing, meditation is another resource that has given me the ability to stay present with myself and my emotions. I started meditating about the same time I started to run. It has evolved from my first time practicing, but has been a persistent and fulfilling practice. When I first started to meditate, I did so laying down. I think I had been running on fumes for so long that I needed to rest and relax without anything to aid me.

I later joined a sangha for a brief period. I now meditate on my own, using an app that has a form of digital sangha. This feature is nice because it allows you to thank those you’ve meditated with during your session. And the more you practice at different times, the more you will recognize faces from different times of the day. I’ve gotten in the habit of thanking a handful of people I see on a regular basis. And every once and awhile I’ll send them a message asking them how they are doing. It’s become a great way to connect with others over shared experiences.

Music is another of my go to resources. I have a few playlists that I have for when I have a particularly tough day. There’s something special about listening to a playlist of carefully curated songs, maybe while sipping a cup of herbal tea in a candle lit room as I’m doing now, that just feels relaxing.

I listen to a wide variety of artists and genres. When I was in my late teens and early twenties I listened to a lot of hardcore along with bands like Phish and the Dead. It was a strange mix to be sure. Since I’ve transitioned to the softer, singer-songwriter genre, but the love of music and its ability to transform a mood is still something I hold close.

I love the blues, and still remember the feelings of light and color I get when I was introduced to The Grateful Dead and hippie culture. There was a ripeness to it. A sense of welcoming and comfort but also excitement at the same time. And when I listen to some of those old songs from my past, I land just on the edge of that feeling.

I have one playlist specifically for when I need a boost of emotional support. It’s comprised of songs that all have a bit of advice or wisdom embedded in them. Things that I may have wished I heard when I was younger, or maybe some wisdom I need in the present. Whatever the songs mean to you, listening to a playlist of your favorite songs is like saying a kind affirmation to yourself over and over again. In a sweetly wrapped voice telling you that it’s alright, you’re gonna be just fine. This, along with countless other applications, music really has the ability to transform our ways of being.

If you’re interested to learn more about some of my resources, head on over to my community page. There I have many of the resources I’ve listed above. I’d also love to hear what you have as resources! Leave a message in the comments below if you feel so inclined. Thanks for reading, and I hope some of these suggestions have given you a new perspective on something that may be common place. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits:“Relax” by Roslan Tangah (aka Rasso) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0