Gathering News: How Waking Up Earlier Helped Me To Stay Informed Without Burning Out

Sleeping In and The News

I have a confession to make. I’ve stopped listening to the news. It’s not really out of character for me, as I’ve also stopped watching T.V. too. I do watch some shows once and a while, and I read headlines of news stories on my phone, but I’ve just gotten out of the habit of doing both, listening to the news and watching T.V.. I don’t miss it, but this kind of worries me a little. Just because I don’t stay abreast of current events doesn’t mean that they go away. And it also feels good to stay informed. Not just for my sake, but for others as well.

I want to stay on top of what’s happening in the world, but the other aspect of not doing it is, I just don’t have the time. I work two jobs to pay down my student loans and the times I’m not working I’m either cooking for the next two weeks, doing laundry, cooking dinner with family, trying to cram all the tasks I didn’t do during the week into my day off, working out or blogging. It’s amazing how quickly time fills up when you’re busy living your life.

I have another confession to make. On the days I don’t have to wake up at 5:30am to start work, I sleep till around 12 noon and sometimes as late as 2pm. It’s a problem. I think the worst part of me waking up so late is, I don’t really feel that bad about it. Therein lies the problem.

In fact, it wasn’t until I rolled into work 15 minutes late again, and my boss said something about me needing to be on time that I finally felt that something needed to change. You may be asking, how does me being lazy relate to listening to more news? Well, I’m glad you asked. Let me tell you how I changed both habits at the same time by waking up a little earlier.

Feeling Tired and Overwhelmed? Sleep Less

I was constantly feeling a little tired during the day and not looking forward to certain tasks. I’m sure this sounds familiar to some and I know I’m not alone. My alarm would go off at 5:30am and I would hit the snooze button thinking, “if I can just get 10 more minutes of sleep, then I’ll be satisfied.” But 10 minutes turned into 20 minutes, turned into 30 minutes. I just kept hitting snooze until finally I was showing up 15 minutes late for work almost everyday.

This was a blow to my ego, as I pride myself on my work ethic. I’m usually 15 minutes early to appointments and responsibilities. The times I used to be late for anything were few and far between. So when my boss told me we needed to talk, I knew I had to make some changes.

That Extra Half an Hour Matters

So, I hopped on the internet and started looking up ways to make it easier to feel awake in the morning. The problem I feel I’m having with waking early is, I just need more. I somehow thought, when I was under the impression that I could wake up at a reasonable hour, that my body would tell me when I’ve had enough sleep and that I would wake up feeling refreshed when I met my quota. But the more I slept, the later I would want to sleep. It was a cycle that was feeding into itself, the more I fed into it.

Some of the research I read suggested that I immediately turn on a bright light upon waking up. This sends a signal to our optic nerve that it’s time to start moving and triggers some biological functions in our bodies that help us to feel awake.

I also decided that I wanted to eat a healthier breakfast, without feeling rushed as I usually do. So I came up with a plan to wake a little earlier and start my morning routine off on the right foot. Instead of waking up at 5:30am, snoozing for 20 minutes and rushing to get out of the house, dressed and all my things gathered in 10 only to arrive at work at 6:15am, I set my alarm for 5am. This way I can wake up with ample time to get ready for the day.

Instead of hitting snooze, I get up right away and turn on the light to help my system get acclimated to being awake. I then head downstairs and make my morning cup of green tea and a green smoothie to get something healthy in me to start my day. I can then take my time getting ready for the day while I drink my tea and smoothie, without feeling rushed to get out the door and inevitably bad about being late to work. Win win.

That’s Great On Days I Work, But Can I Still Sleep In On The Weekends? Not If You Want to Stay Up On The News

Short answer, no. Some of the research I was reading suggests that you keep your schedule consistent throughout the week. Waking up at the same time everyday helps to get your body in a rhythm that will become self sustaining. So instead of waking up and wanting to hit snooze, you’ll wake up and feel more refreshed the more often you stay faithful to your schedule. And maybe you’ll just find the time to listen to the news again.

The first day I had off in which I woke early was incredible. The day prior I had slept till 2pm and felt rushed and mildly guilty about the losing so much of the day. I had forgotten about some plans I made with my father to check out the local hardware store to look for lumber to build some raised beds with. So the guilt of missing out on plans, added to the shame of me feeling as though I wasted an entire day and worked to leave me feeling pretty bad about the entire situation. It was not a good state to be in.

So that night I set an alarm for 7:30am, hoping to get a jump on the next day. Things couldn’t have worked out better. I woke at 7:30am, ate breakfast and drank tea, and got started in on my to-do list. I got more done between when I woke that day to the time I woke the day before than I had in the past three to four weeks.

I was crossing things off of my to-do list with excited fervor. I went to the local YMCA to look into a membership, I switched my current credit card to a greener, more sustainable one. I balanced my budget, put my shopping list together and chose recipes for the next two weeks. Blogged for a bit and yes, even listened to the news while I was getting things done. It. Felt. Good.

Okay, I’m Listening To The News Now, But It’s Depressing. Now What?

As soon as I started listening to the news again, I remembered why I stopped listening in the first place. There are so many negative stories happening, that it’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed or fatigued by just being informed.

When I was in my twenties, I hopped on the Tom Ashbrook bandwagon and listened to a lot of On Point. I was also watching CNN, listening to NPR and just taking in as much information as possible. I took it to the extreme and my habits were definitely bordering unhealthy. This was also around the time I was mean spirited and forcefully, vocal with my opinions. Not a good combo.

What I’m realizing now is, that I was mean and opinionated to cover over the fear and uncertainty I was feeling while I was taking in all of this depressing news. I didn’t like it, but I chased after it to try and fit in with the image of who I thought I should be. So how am I now reconciling my distaste for the negative bias of the news and wanting to stay informed? Balance.

You Take The Good You Take The Bad…

I first had to find out what my reasons were for wanting to stay informed were before I could subject myself to the negativity that was omnipresent in the world of news. I ‘ve come to the conclusion that staying informed is more than just fitting the image of the responsible man I had in mind. It’s mostly about being support, for myself and others.

Just because I wasn’t listening to the news, didn’t mean those events affecting those whom are closest to me weren’t happening. I’ve come to realize that when I’m actively listening to the news, I can shape my opinions about what’s happening in the world and share them with those close in. We can offer solace to one another when terrible things are happening, as they are with the pandemic and in Ukraine currently. We can plan together when we hear about gas prices increasing or the current supply chain shortages. In short, we can help one another, be there for each other and all thanks to just by being informed.

With So Much Worry, What About The Positive?

But there needs to be some balance to the equation. I’ve recently downloaded an app called “The Good News Network” that sends push notifications with positive or uplifting headlines. This way I can get a balance, with the more sobering news from the mainstream media, paired with the uplifting ones from “The Good News Network”. It’s been a good shift, and really cute at times : )

I haven’t started yet, but my plan is to get my news in the mornings via NPR or a podcast with similar values to stay current, while reading something from “The Good News Network” in the evenings to end my day on a positive note. This way I’ll balance the stressful impact of the more difficult headlines with those of the more uplifting ones.

And there’s also an element of self-care that goes along with listening to the news. No longer will I pump large quantities of negativity into my life without checking in and giving myself the breaks I need from what’s bothering me. I think I used to operate under the assumption that “real men” could handle anything, including listening to an endless stream of horrifying headlines.

Gone are the days where I wallow in the angst and unrest of the world’s pain. Now, if something feels overwhelming I’ll take a break from the news and do some resourcing to help me through the difficult emotions.

Some of the podcasts I’ll be looking into are, NHK’s World News Japan, English News, and Morning Edition from NPR. The NHK network has a different cultural perspective than its American counter parts while NPR speaks to my more liberal-centrist views. Both networks are well respected and deliver quality news stories.

But wherever you get your news from, don’t forget that while you’re in the throws of staying up-to-date on current affairs, it’s okay to press pause if it feels like it’s too much. Listen to some music or just get lost in a crossword puzzle. But equally as important, find a news source that suits your taste. There’s no sense in trying to listen if it’s a chore tuning in.

I hope this has been helpful in some way to those needing a little extra boost to get your day started on the right foot. It isn’t always easy to make changes at first. Especially those that demand a bit of sacrificing your personal comfort. But I think you’ll find that the more you practice these new habits, the easier they’ll become. So if you’ve found yourself in some unhealthy habits when it comes to feeling more apart of the world around you, try these suggestions. You may just end up becoming a morning person : ) Peace and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “The news ticker in Times Square mentions the Occupy Wall Street protest happening on October 15th as protesters gather outside” by TenSafeFrogs is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Living Your Life: Self-Care

Self-care is something I’ve written quite a bit about on this blog. And fortunately, there are a bunch of ways to practice it. But finding healthy routines that are sustainable and not getting caught in the trap of finding what just feels good for the moment is difficult. And unfortunately, our unhealthy habits are usually ones that are passed down by those closest to us. There was no class, in my in high-school anyway, for teaching us self-care or how to take care of our needs.

This is an unfortunate truth for those of us who didn’t have the support to find out how to practice self-care. It is also at the core of how we grow and become the best versions of ourselves. That’s why I go over it so frequently in this blog. Because I believe the more we take care of ourselves, the better we our at taking care of our environment. Immediate sure, but also globally. In this post, I’ll be taking a look at some of the ways I practiced unsustainable self-care, and the healthier habits I’ve picked up in their stead.

Learning to Disconnect & Protect

I think the first ways I learned how to practice self-care was by playing video games and watching T.V.. These aren’t inherently bad habits in anyway, but they are ones that I definitely used in unhealthy ways. I was using them, video games especially, to dull my senses. To “zone out” my surroundings so I didn’t have to interact, be a part of what was happening to, or around me. But I was also introduced to video games shortly before some traumatic events in my past took place. So in a way I was playing them to escape the chaos of what was happening in my life. It was a defense mechanism. Something unchanging in a chaotic world.

But they were something that I did for decades. And to avoid those closest to me. I was well into my thirties and still playing games like World of Warcraft for up to 4-5 hours a day. If I had gotten a second job and worked as many hours as I played, I’d have a healthy retirement fund by now.

It also took a toll on my marriage as well. I was spending more time with a video game than connecting with my then wife. This makes me sad to think about now, but I also recognize that I was still in protection mode. I still hadn’t realize that I wasn’t able to trust those closest to me and that I was perpetuating the cycles of my past. Looking back, there was a lot of pain that wasn’t being recognized. Or that I even knew about. First by me, and secondly by everybody I was pushing away with my arrogant disposition.

But that’s the nature of what happens after you experience trauma. You go into emotional shock and dissociate. I was definitely dissociated from all of my emotions. Save for the very strong ones such as pain and anxiety. The times I wasn’t feeling these emotions, I was doing whatever I could to numb myself incase they came rushing back in. T.V. is another good example of dissociation in my case. I spent so many hours watching others live their lives out on the screen, only to avoid what was happening to and around me. Another way for me to zone out, aka dissociate.

Different Methods of Dissociating

But again, I was still only trying to protect myself, the best ways I knew how at the time. Using this method, I could still be around those closest to me, without actually having to connect with them in a meaningful way. I could be around them, and keep up the appearance of being a functioning member of my community, while still keeping largely to myself.

And the same was true of alcohol and medication. For me, being numb was safer than being present. This was because there were so many ways I was afraid of being hurt.

But all the while, using all the different modalities I could find to dissociate, I was really seeking to numb the fear of being with those closest to me. But also with myself. The relationship I was most frightened of was of being with myself and the ways I had picked up the habits and ways of abusing myself, as I was abused and how I saw my caregivers abuse themselves. Because these were the ways they, in turn, abused me. Like a cursed family heirloom being handed down from one generation to the next.

Waking Up & Finding Resources

And while I was avoiding and numbing my relationships and my feelings in my other relationships, what I didn’t realize was that I was numbing the most important relationship, with myself. I had no idea outside of alcohol, video games and T.V., what brought me a sense of joy. I had no idea what I liked as a way to treat myself. Asides from the unsustainable methods. This was a shock. When I realized how disconnected I was from who I am.

Luckily I wasn’t completely in the dark, or without resources. I know that I like music. Still a great source of comfort for me. Also one that has been there for me, in one form or another, for most of my life. I can remember the first time I ever heard and loved a piece of music. I was probably no more than four or five years-old and I had just gotten my first alarm clock-radio. Not that I had anywhere to be back then. But I remember scanning the stations and exploring my new musical gift. I came across a piece of classical music and was mesmerized. The violins in particular were what struck me. From that day on, I knew I loved music.

Becoming Re-Acquainted with Myself

But it was exactly these types of memories, this type of intimacy with myself, that I had lost or forgotten. The moments of, “I enjoy this, this makes me happy”, was something I had lost touch with shortly after my trauma. And then again when I was actively seeking to numb myself with whatever I could. AKA, video games, T.V., drinking and medication. It was definitely not easy to come to this realization and account for my neglected emotions. I usually felt as though there were some unattended emotion, just waiting around the corner to make me feel anxious or fearful if I stopped my methods of numbing them.

And there were lots of neglected emotions. I still hadn’t dealt with my abuse and the trauma I endured. How could I have, when I was actively seeking to numb them for so long! So it wasn’t until I stopped my numbing methods that I truly began to feel and understand my emotional life. The one I was neglecting.

How I Got to Know Myself, Alcohol

I first started with lessening my alcohol consumption. This was a difficult task. Seeing as how I was drinking five to six drinks a night just to wind down. But I gave it up save for a beer with my self-care dinners. And as a bonus, I’ve felt healthier ever since. I’ve replaced my nightly beers or mixed drinks with a few cups of herbal tea. This way I can relax and unwind without being intoxicated. I can stay present in the moment instead of zoning out.

It’s important to remember too, that this is a big transition. Or it was for me. I sometimes feel as though I’m drinking too much tea. This is where it is important to reality check myself. Having three, sometimes four cups of herbal tea is not the same as having four mixed drinks. I like to think of this part of me as Freud’s classic super-ego. This is also incidentally the part of me that is a perfectionist. The one that sets unreasonable standards and then will beat myself up for not achieving them. This can be dangerous if left unchecked.

How I Got to Know Myself, Healthy Eating

I’ve also been eating healthier overall, leaving one night a week where I make a special meal for myself. This way I am eating healthier foods and making healthier nutritional decisions. But also treating myself to something tasty. Something that I can look forward to making for myself. I also plan a dessert into my special meal. Something I feel is a break from the norm, a treat.

When I was drinking as much alcohol as I was at night, I was 80 pounds overweight. Also the meals I was eating were definitely not planned in regards to their nutritional value. I was overweight and felt unhealthy. So the time I spend on taking care to nourish myself brings me a sense of satisfaction. A sense that I’m looking out for my health. But also finding foods I enjoy cooking and eating. I’m happier knowing that I don’t have to sacrifice the things I like, in order to take care of my nutritional needs. Such as flavor or the act of cooking for myself.

How I Got to Know Myself, Yoga & Exercise

Yoga is another way I incorporate self-care into my routine. With the amount of T.V. and videogames I watched and played, I needed to get my body moving. Also to reconnect with the parts of me that had been stagnant for far too long. And it’s worth mentioning that it took me a while to figure out a routine that was healthy. One that took care of my need to move and connect with my body in a healthy ways and not over doing it the ways I had with TV and videogames.

For example, when I first started doing yoga, I was going to two 60 minute classes a week. On top of that, I was running 10 to 20 miles a week as well. Until recently, I was also working out three days in a row. Two days doing yoga and one run day, without a rest in between. My cycle was three days on, four days off. This was tiring and it left me feeling depleted, drained. I enjoyed the workouts, but the intensity of doing it all in one block was too much. Again with the super-ego : )

I’ve since switched to a workout every other day. I now take two days off in a row at the end of my week to get some much needed rest. This way I have a chance to relax a little between workouts while also not feeling as tired on a workout day. I also look forward to my workouts more often. Knowing that I’m taking care of my need to rest between workouts is a huge step towards me being able to listen to and care for what my needs are. Learning how to listen to what my body needs and is telling me.

How I Got to Know Myself, Rest

I’ve also been paying attention to what my body needs for rest more frequently as well in the name of self-care. I used to stay up late. Two or three am. And for no reason other than to watch more T.V.. Or I would play videogames for stretches of 4-5 hours at a time. Now I go to bed when I’m tired. Or at very least I recognize when I’m tired without trying to cover over those feelings with alcohol or caffeine. It’s amazing what your body will tell you when you’re not trying to drown out its messages with something stopping you from listening.

How I got to Know Myself, Budgeting

Another way I’ve been trying to implement some self-care into my routine is in an unlikely place. Though it’s one that needs some attention nonetheless. My budget. I got into a lot of debt when I was in my twenties and thirties. Credit cards, student loans… If it was money someone was willing to lend me, I was willing to take it. Now that I’ve been paying off my debt, I’ve kicked it into overdrive and have been going hard. Again with the Super-Ego.

I picked up a second job/side hustle and am funneling all available funds towards my debt. I’m using the Dave Ramsey method to get out of debt. I was going so far as to not buy a cup of tea or coffee on the mornings I was working 18 hour days. Including a three hour commute! This was going a bit too hard.

You’ll be happy to know that I now buy myself a tea once and a while. But I also plan on budgeting a treat for myself while I’m paying back my debt. I plan on treating myself to a massage for every 10k I pay off in loans. This way, I’m still focused on my goals, but also have something to look forward to in the self-care department while I’m in the mists of working two jobs and doubles. This can be stressful incase you’ve never been in that boat. : D But also necessary to keep some balance and not feel completely burnt out.

Self-Care, Get Involved : )

These are a few of the routines I’ve developed in helping to live a healthier, more balanced life. I’ve stopped watching T.V. almost completely. But plan on watching again, as I don’t want my super-ego to get out of hand. Having healthy habits isn’t always easy. But it’s possible and also rewarding. So if there’s a habit that you feel you’ve been leaning on too much, that may be unsustainable like watching too much T.V., maybe try replacing it with a healthier hobbie.

Exercise is a good one to start with for self-care because a lot of what you need to start is free or cheap. Yoga with Adriene is a great resource if you’ve been thinking of yoga as an outlet. And if running is something that’s piqued your interests, all you need is a pair of shoes! And keep in mind, you don’t have to make major life changes all at once! Living a healthy life takes time and practice. And if you’re an over achiever, don’t give into the super-ego. : ) Take your time and you’ll be in good shape. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Juicy Mountain Retreat (Göcek, Turkiye 2018)” by paularps is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 10/24/22

Clean Your Plate!: How Healthy Boundaries With Food Can Help Us Heal From Old Wounds

Every Tuesday night, I make a special self-care dinner for myself With the types of food I know I’ll love. Usually I’ll search for a recipe, something that has caught my eye during the week. Then I’ll go shopping for my meal that night and take my time while cooking my meal. I do this to really savor the time I take preparing something I know I will enjoy. I even had a co-worker make a special bowl for my weekly ritual. And I usually make a large batch of what I’m making, so I have leftovers to eat during the week. And last Tuesday was no different.

Clean Your Plate

However, there was something different about my meal last week. I made a tortilla soup topped with corn chips, cilantro, avocado, cheddar and sour cream. It was tasty, but that wasn’t what was different. What had changed was, by the time I got to the end of my bowl, I felt as though I was forcing myself to finish my meal. I had at some point stopped enjoying my meal and began forcing myself to finish.

This was confusing. I make these meals so I can enjoy and connect with the experience of cooking something I like, while also nourishing myself in the process. Why am I now forcing myself to enjoy something? After I had already enjoyed the process and what I had of it?

The more I think of it, the less sense this made to me. The bowl I had my friend make was the second bowl she made for me. The first one was too small. I wanted something I could fit a lot of food in. Additionally, I usually make and served myself way too much food. while having three to four drinks and a dessert to follow and a tea to round out the meal. I wasn’t concerned about my portion control, only how much I could consume.

What’s on Your Plate

This switch, from a ritual I created to forge a new and soothing relationship with the food I’m making, to something that was not as enjoyable as I had initially planned it to be, had me feeling uneasy. Then I realized there was more beneath the surface relating to my food consumption than what I was experiencing.

What I started to notice first was my portion sizes. I was serving myself way too much food. So much so, that I felt as though I was muscling through my meal rather than enjoying the experience in a relaxing way. I was using my experience with food, the joy I received from making the meal, to sitting down and relishing in the flavor combinations, like a drug. And from this perspective, more equals better. But I was also covering over some other feelings that had been left unattended. The feelings of how I learned how to relate to my food.

Digging in a Little Deeper

When I was growing up, my experience in relating to food was not an enjoyable one. I do have some fond memories of holiday meals being prepared. The smells of rosemary and roasting meats wafting through the house as family gathered to celebrate. But a majority of my time spent with meals was not so steeped in revelry. I would often hear from my caregivers, “clean your plate” as a way to say finish the food that was given to me.

I also spent very little time with my caregivers during meals. And the time I did spend with them, was filled with petty arguments and cutting insults. A thousand tiny cuts. They would prepare meals for me, but family mealtime ended for me by the time I was 12-14 years old. My caregivers were gone until 2am most nights. Leaving me to fend for myself when it came to nourishment. It felt more like survival most nights. This is a bit of exaggeration, but the loneliness mixed with not knowing how to cook for myself or how to pick healthy meals that would leave me feeling my best was anxiety provoking and confusing.

Mixed Messages

And when we were together, my caregivers referred to me as a “human garbage disposal”. This was also confusing and a direct contradiction to my prime directive which was, “clean your plate.” I was confused. Paired with no direction on how to please my caregivers, it seemed that everything I was doing was somehow wrong or unacceptable.

And to further drive home the ire my nickname carried, my caregivers were more than a little intolerant of overweight persons. This was also confusing. Because my caregivers and I were also overweight. There was literally no sense to be made from any of these interactions.

One of my caregivers went so far as to offer me money to lose weight. I believe the arrangement was 40$ to get down to my ideal weight. I agreed, but what 13 year-old wouldn’t want 40$? Though with no support on how to lose weight and being fed the same foods that got me to my then, current weight, I didn’t stand a chance. This left me feeling like a failure.

Past Lessons Inform Future Food Choices

Fast forward to my mid twenties and I was overweight and had zero boundaries with the food and alcohol I was consuming. But I stayed faithful to my caregivers instructions of wanting to be thin and to look good naked. I chose Brad Pitt’s character from the movie, “Fight Club” as my role-model. This was how I thought I should look… What hurts so much now thinking about all of this is, that I had no idea how unreasonable these standards are and were. I thought these were perfectly normal and reasonable aspirations. Mostly because they were expected of me by my caregivers.

I should also mention that one of my caregivers top values is being attractive. Which, unfortunately for me growing up, was reinforced time and time again. So I wasn’t aware of how unreasonable their standards actually are. And to add to the confusion, these standards are backed by a society that is equally image obsessed. It took a great strength of will to even see past the idea that looking thin and attractive was not the most important aspect of life.

All of these unhealthy messages I received growing up left me feeling confused. Angry with myself for not being able to live up to these unreasonable standards and highly judgmental of others who couldn’t live up to my and my caregivers standards. As well as just plain unsatisfied. By the time I hit my early thirties, I was overweight and angry about it. My diet was the most unhealthy it had been at any point in my life. I also still had no clear direction on how to make healthy, lasting changes. Something needed to change.

Making Lasting Changes

Exercise

I started with exercise. I ran two miles every few days in the local commons. At the time I was going through a divorce and there were other major shifts happening in my life as well. One of the ways I was able to take some steps in a healthier direction and take control of my life was by getting out on the road and hammering out a few miles. This was the start of me making more health conscious decisions that would directly affected my life for the better.

Food

After I got into a routine of regularly exercising, I shifted my focus on what I was eating. This was particularly difficult considering the environment I was in. I was living with a woman who was in her early twenties, living life the same ways I was at that age. This should have been an indicator that I was moving backwards with my life choices. But I was under a considerable amount of stress and dealing with a life’s time worth of unchecked emotional baggage. I understand why I made the decisions I did, but would not make them again. Needless to say, our eating habits were not ideal.

I was, however, able to make healthier food choices and change my habits while I was living in less than ideal circumstances. I began grocery shopping as I would for a family. Planning and preparing meals for us for the week. I was roasting whole chickens and preparing other whole foods. Straying away from fatty and sugary prepared and processed foods of my past. I was taking control of our nutritional needs and moving us in a healthier direction.

Coffee & Alcohol

This was also around the time I decided to reduce my alcohol intake as well. My change stemmed from me taking a conscious effort to part ways with the habits and patterns of my caregivers.

And as soon as I stopped drinking so much alcohol, that’s when my health really started to take shape. I was less sluggish. I was losing weight due to the sudden decrease in caloric intake. Not only from a lack of the unhealthy foods I was eating, but also the empty calories in the beer and mocha-lattes I was drinking. And speaking of coffee, I also lessened my caffeine intake. I was drinking around 4-5 double or quad shot mochas a day! This was excessive by any standard. Not to mention the money I was saving!

So in the course of two years, I had turned my eating habits from something unhealthy, to exercising regularly, watching my alcohol and caffeine consumption and eating healthier in general. All in all I had made some pretty remarkable changes in my personal life. So fast forward a few years and I’m still defaulting to some of my old habits. Why was this so?

Revisiting the Past

From what I am able to tell, my patterns stem from avoiding my old feelings of not adding up to my caregivers growing up. I was still looking for the external validation by living up to my caregivers unreasonable and contradictory standards. The ones that I adopted as my own that told me to clean my plate but be thin. All the healthy eating and diet changes were a way of trying to live up to my caregivers impossible standards. The difference now is, I have tools, such as drive, that I never had before. Now I know how to please my caregivers by putting a plan into action.

But this is still an unhealthy way of living. Trying to live up to impossible standards is exhausting and dangerous. One night, after working a full shift (10 hours) without eating breakfast or lunch, I ran three miles and did thirty minutes of yoga as well. I was so exhausted, that when I got out of the shower and bent over to towel off, I passed out on the bathroom floor. One of the people I live with, came into to the bathroom to see if I was okay. I clearly was not.

So I’m still holding on to these conflicting and unhealthy messages from my past. Which all stemmed from, “clean your plate”. Even after all this work, I’m still holding on to some of these lessons. Why?

What am I Holding On to?

From what I’m able to tell, I feel a sense of accomplishment from “cleaning my plate”. This is the external validation I am looking for. Validation that I never received from my caregivers. So how do I change this unhealthy way of relating to myself and these unreasonable standards I’ve adopted? How do I learn to be okay, just as I am, while still striving to be the best version of myself in a healthy way? I think it started, for me anyways, with my meditation practice.

Meditation

During meditation, I recite a set of affirmations. Ones I’ve selected that help me to be the version of myself I want to be. One of the lines is, “it’s okay to be me, just as I am”. I need this constant reinforcement. To help to break the old patterns of not feeling as though I’m adding up. And to me, not adding up meant feeling like I didn’t belong to my caregivers. This made me feel unsafe. Add some early childhood trauma to the mix and you have a recipe for difficult patterns and expectations to break free of.

This affirmation also helps to let me know I’m not perfect. And that that’s okay. When I was younger, I really thought my belonging hinged on the good opinion of my caregivers. But when you’re a child, what else do know but the approval of your caregivers. Now that I know that my caregivers are just people, it’s a little easier to forgive myself for not living up to their standards. I no longer view their words as absolute law.

Kindness & Patience

Also, being kind and patient with myself is an important aspect I learned from my meditation practice. When I was forcing myself to finish my meal a few days ago, I was feeling uneasy and a little sad. I needed self-care then more than ever. Because there was and still is confusion and mixed messages around my food intake and sustaining myself. And my younger, emotional self is still holding out for that chance to make my caregivers proud of me. For doing what they asked. But this will take some time, for my emotional self to feel better and heal. And the most direct way to come to terms with my hurt emotional self is through kindness to myself and my feelings as they arise.

Exercise and healthy eating are still integral routines to my lifestyle choices. But for different reasons than they were before. It’s still okay to want to look and feel good physically. Only my perspective has shifted from looking and feeling good as being my top value, to being a means to living a healthy and active life. Because when I was living a sedentary lifestyle, overweight and drinking too much, I was unhappy.

Finding Satisfaction

I was drinking caffeine and alcohol to numb my emotions while watching T.V. and playing video games to avoid living my life. I was also overweight and unhealthy. And most likely, I was headed for some health complications due to my lifestyle. So knowing that I’m living my life, to be the best and healthiest version of myself, is now my number one value when it comes to health choices and making value based decisions. And this makes me feel healthier. My values are no longer set at how good I look naked. And that feels good : )

Perfection is not Prerequisite for Satisfaction

And finally, knowing that we are not perfect. This one was a difficult one for me to come to terms with. My caregivers focus on perfection was omnipresent. I felt as though, if I didn’t get that A, or wasn’t the perfect image of what my caregivers wanted of me, regardless of how impossible the image was (see Brad Pitt’s character in Fight Club for example), I was unsafe and unloved.

I went so far as to study Val Kilmer’s, Jim Morrison from The Doors, because they liked The Doors. Also Jim seemed to be living life like my caregivers. I had no idea how unhealthy this dynamic is and was. But what I do remember is how lonely it was for me growing up. with no one around and not feeling loved or some type of belonging. Now I’m realizing that I don’t have to be somebody else. That “it’s okay to be me, just as I am”, has done so much good in remembering I don’t have to add up to someone else’s standard. That it’s okay to be me, flaws and all.

Practice Practice Practice

And it takes practice. Sometimes I’ll still try to conform to someone else’s ideal of what it means to be loved. Or to feel belonging. It’s in those moments that I remember the things that I’ve come to value. The friends I have who know and love me for me. The activities I find joy in. Like yoga and hiking. And the plans I have for my future. These all help to ground me in who I am outside of somebody else’s standard.

So know if that if you’re struggling with a set of unreasonable standards you were presented with before you were able to form your own healthier standards, you are not alone. And also, it’s not too late to change these standards. Be persistent. Take the time to learn who you are. Your likes and dislikes. What are the moments that bring you joy? Maybe there’s a song that you like to play. Do you enjoy a certain meal? Or maybe a treat you make for yourself on special occasions? These are the pieces, that when added up, make you satisfied in who you are. Be faithful to those and you will find your way : ) And as always, thanks for reading : ) peace.

Image Credits: “Clean Dishes” by Geoff LMV is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Updated 10/13/22

Self-Care: How We Treat Our Pantry and How It’s Related to the Ways We Nourish Ourselves

As I mentioned in last weeks post about neglecting our needs for clothing, I have been going through a lot of areas in my life that have been neglected for far too long. The kitchen pantry and how I nourish myself being one of them. And it’s one that is packed with loads of unattended and badly neglected feelings. Food is difficult for many, seeing how it is so closely connected with our survival.

Lessons on How to Nourish Were Not Priority

The environment I grew up in was one filled with many conflicting messages about how to nourish myself. And food was a source of great confusion. As I’ve said before, my care-giver’s focus was on how we looked. How we were seen was priority number one to them. So along with wearing the right thing, we also needed to look the part. And to my family this meant being thin. It wasn’t until very recently that I’ve gotten to my “desired weight”. Or the one that would be approved of by my care-givers. It’s ironic because looking thin is no longer a top priority for me. My goals now are to be at a healthy weight through diet and exercise.

Learning Difficult Lessons From Family

But how they went about showing me that being thin was a priority was what was most confusing. One of my care-givers offered me money to lose weight. I believe the arrangement was 40 dollars to get to my ideal weight. And I couldn’t have been more than twelve at the time, so I agreed. I wanted the money for sure, but also the opportunity to please them. To feel loved and accepted, whatever the cost, by my care-givers.

What was most confusing about this task was, that I was given no direction on how to change my habits. And what was more confusing was that I was being fed by them as well. I had no idea what to do to lose weight or how to acquire the resources to get me to what seemed like an impossible goal on my own. So I felt like a failure. This was a huge blow to my confidence and one I’ve carried with me for a long time.

And to add to the confusion, instead of being shown the resources and support to achieve my goal, I was ridiculed for my weight. I was called a “human garbage disposal” while my entire family laughed at my expense.

Mixed Messages and More Confusion

Another layer of confusion was when I told my care-givers I was hungry they would almost always reply with, “there’s a fridge full of food in the kitchen”. That wasn’t untrue, but I had no idea how to cook or prepare meals for myself. And the extent of my culinary abilities lie in being able to open a box of cereal or bottle of soda. No one was around to show me how to make a meal for myself.

I remember once pulling pork chops from the freezer. I thought I’d try and do what my caregivers suggested and cook a meal for myself. So I defrosted the meat and cooked them in a frying pan. Thinking back now that wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But I was on my own with no one to tell me that undercooked pork is potentially dangerous. But I finished cooking them and ate them. luckily without issue. I was kind of proud of myself for trying to nourish myself and was feeling pretty good. Until my care-givers came home and scolded me for using the pork chops they were saving for later in the week.

So there I stood, not knowing how to nourish myself and my need for food, being told that there was plenty of food in the fridge. Only now I realize I wasn’t allowed to eat it without the consent of my care-givers. Who already thought I was eating too much because I was overweight. And I was overweight because my diet consisted of cereal, soda, and whatever candy I could buy at the local convenience store.

And With No Guidance to Show Me How

Also my caregivers were gone from 10am to 2am most days. So there was nobody awake in the house by the the time I left for school in the mornings. And by the time I got home from school, my care-givers were working. I went to bed whenever I wanted and ate whatever was left over in the fridge. Sometimes not seeing them for days. So getting consent to make meals for myself or to be shown how to nourish my nutritional needs wasn’t even an option.

Food Food Everywhere But Not a Meal to Nourish

Fast forward to two weeks ago and I’m rearranging my cabinets to make room for new purchases. It was then that I realized that there are some food items that have been in my cabinets for about half a decade. That’s a long time for a box of pasta to be sitting in the cabinet. I was treating my pantry like a museum. Curating different “staples”, things I should have, to have food on hand. Though I only ate a few meals. I only just started learning how to meal prep and had no idea how to put together a pantry. Speaking of building a functional pantry, Minimalist Baker has a great post on how to set up your own pantry. In case you were in the same boat that I was.

What I had was cabinets full of foods that I rarely used, if at all and no intention of ever using them. They were just there. I’m not entirely sure why, but I have a feeling it has a lot to do with my upbringing. Being told we had plenty of food yet none of it was for me to prepare. I just wanting to know I had food, for the comfort of having it.

New Lessons on How to Nourish my Body

I’ve been cooking for a long time as a way to make a living. I started in a small but successful Mexican takeout place when I was 20 and I’ve been cooking in some form ever since. But when it came to cooking for myself, I didn’t. For a long time I ate takeout and went to restaurants and seldom cooked meals. It wasn’t until the last few years that I started to meal prep. Bring meals to work with me and taking an active role in nourishing my body.

One of the first changes I made that has had a positive impact on how I choose to nourish myself is through batch cooking. I start out with a plan, by choosing about three recipes to cook for the week. Then I keep them in the fridge for easy meals that I can reheat, instead of cooking at the end of a long day. I also batch cook lunch and breakfast to bring to work with me on the same day. One of the benefits is, that I’m able to organize my shopping list around the recipes I choose. This way very little food goes to waste.

Batch Cooking for Beginners

To batch cook, I simply take the recipes I’m going to cook for the week and multiply them by two or three times the original quantity. So if the recipe yields two servings, if I multiply all the ingredients by three, I have six servings. I usually cook only a few recipes and some kind of grain to have some variety, so I’m not eating the same thing day after day. But also because I don’t have the freezer space and they would go bad before I’d get to them.

And after realizing that a good portion of my pantry was old enough to start school, I made a plan to use up what I had. To organize my pantry and hopefully my relationship to the food I eat as well.

I’ve been searching for recipes that use these items that have been taking up cabinet space and am making plans to rotate and keep my stores fresh. For example instead of buying boxes of pasta, just to have incase, after I use up what I do have I’m going to buy pasta fresh from the pasta shop that is close to home (update: I’m buying pasta on the cheap until I pay off my debt). This way, I’ll be eating fresh foods while freeing up space in my pantry. Also supporting a local business at the same time.

Quality and Self-Care in Nourishing Myself

I was a little worried about the price I would be paying. Being a thrifty New Englander and all. But I’ve found that buying fresh isn’t that much more expensive. A pound of pasta is roughly around 4 dollars fresh. Compared to .79 cents for it’s dried counterpart. Yes that’s four times the cost. But if you only eat pasta once or twice a week, or less as I do, that’s only 12 dollars a month for 9 meals. That’s roughly $1.50 a meal, assuming you get 3 meals from a pound of pasta. So it’s affordable and the quality is unbeatable. It’s also a nice way to treat yourself with a special, affordable meal.

I think what sparked this investigation into my relationship with food and how I eat, started with my self-care Sunday dinners. On my self-care Sundays, I spend one day a week to take special care of myself. I chose my Friday, or the last day of my work week which falls on Sunday. And a large part of the day involves preparing and eating a special meal for myself. Something I normally wouldn’t make. This act helps me to enjoy being around food and the process of making it. Being creative, and trying something I normally wouldn’t cook for myself. Before these dinners, looking up new recipes was something I seldom did! I would usually eat the same three or four recipes without veering from them.

Enjoying Cooking Again

In short, I’m teaching myself the healthy habits and boundaries around food I was never given. What used to be a source of fear and anxiety, has now become a resource. I look forward to coming home on my Fridays, knowing that I’ll light a candle, put some music on and cook a meal that I know I’m going to enjoy. It’s a source of pleasure to know I’m able to care for and nourish myself in this way. And I’m also eating healthier foods as well! We spend so much of our time relating to food, why spend that time and energy being fearful of it? Treat your food with love and you will love what you eat. Thanks for reading. Peace :]

Here are a few of my go-to recipes if you’re looking for something new or to start batch cooking for yourself, enjoy!

Roast Vegetable & Quinoa Harvest Bowl

1-Pot Everyday Lentil Soup

Easy Vegan Ramen

Image Credits: “Early 20th century pantry in Pittock Mansion” by mharrsch is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated 7/31/22

Reparenting Resistance to Training: Why a Good Workout Builds More Than Just Strength

My workout of choice is running and yoga. I love the feeling of being out on the road, ending my fourth mile at the top of a hill and also knowing that the ocean’s breeze is just ahead of me, waiting on the other side. I also love the calm on my mat right after we finish our vinyasa and I’m lying prone in savasana, letting the energy from my workout settle over me. But it wasn’t always that way.

Building Healthy Workout Habits

For a long time I avoided working out at almost any cost. Even though I played baseball and soccer in my youth, while also taking taekwondo lessons, I historically have struggled with any form of physical activity since I started middle school. There were some exceptions. Like when I decided to lift weights for stints of two months, every five or so years. But nothing that lasted for very long. So it was to my complete surprise when about four years ago I took to running as a workout and practicing yoga on a regular basis.

I’m not sure what got into me, but I took to both yoga and running so quickly that I was running half marathons in a little under a year’s time and I was doing yoga twice a week. I was making great strides in my overall fitness level and it felt good.

I attribute much of my motivation levels to my quitting smoking, drinking and playing video games. But also as much credit goes to my living situation being the most stable it has been since my early childhood. Probably around the time I stopped playing all the sports I used to engage with in my youth. I had been so worried about my survival first and belonging second, that any energy I had went to those two efforts. These worries consumed my thoughts and dictated my actions.

Finding Stability, Finding Healthy Workout Routines

As I would come to find out, I had been hyper vigilant due mostly to my past abuse, that lead directly to my developing PTSD. I didn’t realize it then, but I was expending great amounts of energy keeping my feelings guarded and isolating from others. I was so guarded that I was dissociating from both my feelings and body almost constantly.

Once my living situation stabilized and I was able to take stock of what personal resources and achievements I had to build from, I realized I didn’t have many. I had spent so much of my time running from every aspect of my life that I had maybe two friends that were well adjusted and stable. I had loads of debt and was pretty physically unhealthy as well. So I suppose it was only natural to take to something like running to get in touch with my body and take control of my health. Yoga helped to slow me down enough to feel what was happening in my body, as well as getting acquainted with the parts of my body I had been neglecting for so long.

Turning Exercise Into A Resource

Running specifically, was a source of pride and accomplishment for me. I could track the progress in mileage and in time, with visible results. As I said above I was running 13.1 miles from 2 miles inside of a year, so I began to look much healthier pretty quickly. Also the neighborhoods and scenery I was running in and around were beautiful. It helped that I had some running buddies along the way as well. Thanks Jenny : )

One such beautiful run filled with both scenery and running buddy was when I ran a rely-marathon with a friend from Vermont. The course carved through downtown Burlington and the views of Lake Champlain, while running up and down the city’s hilly roads which were lined with rows of vibrant green conifers. This all set behind the clear, glassy lake that reflected the sapphire sky and its low lying supple clouds. It was beautiful.

The run was beautiful, but also running along side so many other people was more supportive than I would have thought. There’s always an excitement on race day. Like this run REALLY matters. No matter how many times you’ve run the course or the race, it feels special knowing there are so many like minded people gathering to achieve the same goal.

Finding Support, Finding Direction, Finding Connection

The feelings of support and community are also true of yoga classes. The dimly lighted room, the open space filled with yoga mats politely distanced to give room to the people surrounding you. And soothing music softly playing as people prepare for the class by coming to stillness and quiet on their mats. The quiet flow of synchronized movement while each person follows the instructors direction to the best of their ability with focused intentions and minds. And finally the release of the session’s work as it melts away from your body leaving you feeling relaxed and filled with life, as you finish your day’s practice in savasana.

My workout routines have been a large influence on my healing path as well. From the time of my abuse till I was in my early thirties, I had no real goals or aspirations to rise to in my life. I was listlessly floating around from situation to relationship to circumstance, completely uncertain about what was going to happen to me or my future. I didn’t feel as though I really had a future to speak of. After I woke up into my emotions and realized I hadn’t any shape or form to my life, running and yoga were two ways I was able to give some structure to my life.

Running and Support

Running was a way for me to understand that I could achieve something, however small. The distances I ran and the connections I made with the people I ran with were markers for me. Markers that allowed me to cultivate a sense of accomplishment. Even if it was only making the jump from mile six to mile seven, I was proud of that mile. As though that mile showed me I could overcome something. Achieve what I never thought I was able to accomplish before. And I didn’t feel it in the moment, rather it was looking back where I felt the accomplishment of my actions.

Or the five mile buddy runs I used to run with my friend Jenny, around the neighborhoods of my past. The unconditional friendship and feelings of accomplishment of consistently running five miles that accompanied me through the streets that I had so associated with past failures. They gave me the strength to feel better about the choices I was making. Instead of the choices I had made, while building tighter emotional bonds with friends.

Yoga

And with yoga it helped me to feel comfortable around people again. Something I was having trouble with while being present in my body. I had been so used to drinking and using medication to soothe myself while around others, that I forgot how to be around someone while in an unaltered state. Yoga, with its comforting setting and gentle flow, while also being a challenging workout, showed me how to be in my body, while I was experiencing discomfort. And to experience these emotions, not only in my body but while being surrounded by like minded people, felt good. Supportive.

Reconnecting To My Body

As I’ve mentioned above I had maybe two friends who stuck with me and were supportive. Most of the people I had surrounded myself with before I woke up emotionally were critical, angry and viciously mean. Both my friends and especially my family were very cold and very cutting. It was no wonder that I was so detached from my body and emotions. Every time I stepped foot inside myself I felt as though I was under attack!

Running and yoga were ways for me to know I could achieve physical health goals if I committed to them, but that they were also ways of being in my body and surrounded by people while feeling safe and being present. Furthermore, I felt that I could choose to make the healthy choices by surround myself with people who I felt safe being around. That helped to show me that I had the agency I felt I lacked for so long, to make healthy choices for myself. I could choose how my future was going to unfold. I could stop wandering so listlessly and find some focus, some center to regain control of my life.

Becoming a Healthier Version Of Myself

I suppose this is why sports are so important for young people. Something to give them the stable yet supportive community that they may be lacking elsewhere in their lives. I know it was for me and I was in my thirties when I started. A younger me would have scoffed at the idea of finding support and feeling good about building healthy habits. But looking back, on what my dedication and the support from loved ones has given me, I could only imagine what it would have done for a younger version of myself.

Fortunately, we don’t have to be experiencing some great trauma to develop a new healthy workout routine such as running or yoga. The benefits are equally as gratifying either way. Also, the more we make showing up for ourselves a habit, by way of committing to our workouts and physical health, the greater the trust we nurture in our own lives will be. Tara Brach a Buddhist psychologist who I’ve mentioned before on this blog, gave a talk related to the support I’ve been talking about. The way Tara puts it is, “that it’s not the survival of the fittest, it’s the survival of the nurtured.” And for me the more often I reflect on this piece of wisdom, the truer it becomes.

So if you haven’t started a workout such as running or yoga, or maybe swimming or tennis has always appealed to you, I urge you to pursue these interests. Be inquisitive and explore your personality some. Maybe hiking has been in the back of your mind, waiting for the time to be right to pick it up and see where it takes you. Make the time for yourself and show up. But be kind to yourself on the way and be consistent. The more you practice, the better it becomes.

One of the reasons I like yoga so much is that there is no competition, no judgement. You show up just as you are. And that will always be enough. Whatever interests or predilections you have, foster them. Who knows where they’ll take you, but wherever it is, it will be satisfying. And you’ll be building support, but also confidence and trust in yourself along the way. Happy trails and Namaste :]

Image Credits: Hot Yoga at The Mat in Liberty Lake, WA. by LibertyLakeAnne is licensed under CC0 1.0

Edited 5/27/22

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