Cultivating Joy: A Self-Care Routine

I’ve written about self-care on this blog before. One post on the benefits of making a self-care meal for yourself once a week. Well, my self-care meals have turned into a self-care routine that has been evolving since its meal time inception. And it’s something that’s given me a fair amount of joy in the process. I was so focused on pushing myself to achieve, that I almost completely forgot how to relax. No bueno. So my solution? Some forced fun and relaxation : )

I’d like to go over some of the parts to my self-care routine, as it is now, and why it’s so important to my mental health. It has been a difficult road, learning how to care for myself as I would, and have no problem doing, for a loved one. Hopefully, my realizations will help others who have struggled with self love also. Maybe we can relax our way into a healthier version of ourselves, together. Let’s step into something a little more cozy : )

“Find What Feels Good” -Adriene, & Keep Doing it

This was a tough one for me. Because when I started out on my journey to finding what I enjoyed doing, I didn’t really know what I liked. The ways I spent my time in self-care before was by numbing my emotional experience of the present. Usually by playing video games, drinking or watching TV.

These activities felt good, but it wasn’t the type of feeling that was satisfying, and weren’t really self-care. Not the way wrapping up a night by the fire pit with friends and a good conversation feels. It was more about passing the time without engaging in what was happening around me. Much like being on autopilot. There, but not there.

Or the feeling I get when I achieve something. This, however, can be dangerous. I was using the feeling of achieving and being productive, like a drug. I would keep pushing past what was healthy for my body, all to feel the high of my accomplishment. As Melba says, “it’s no easy”.

So what’s the solution? How do we “find what feels good” and pursue that in healthy moderation? And then how do we turn that into a sustainable routine? Something we derive joy from on a regular bases? To be honest, I’m still figuring that out. But I have some ideas. Let’s take a look at what I’ve come up with.

Step One: Get to Know Yourself & What You Even Like?

This one is tricky. I thought I knew what I liked. I thought this one was a no-brainer. And for some, maybe it is. But for me, getting to know what I liked was a challenge. Some of the conclusions I’ve come to on the subject are, I was so busy chasing something I thought I should like; i.e. a lifestyle and image, clothes and cars, that I lost touch with what I really enjoyed.

I’m not saying anything that’s new or mind blowing by any means. It seems that each generation struggles with this a new. But when you wake from, and realize what you’ve been doing, that’s worth paying attention to and to cultivate healthier habits. For me, and I imagine most people in my age and demographic, looking like Tylor Durden from Fight Club was what I thought happiness looked like.

There’s something so deceptively enticing about waking up and feeling completely satisfied with how you look, that you feel will lend you the confidence you need to be the person you want to be. And no matter how often we hear the perennial wisdom, “just be yourself”, there’s still that part of me that thinks I’ll be happier if I’m just a little bit different, a little “better” than who I already am.

Step Two: Breaking the Cycle

So, in order to break the cycle of making yourself chase somebody else’s idea of what we should like, stop, look around at your surroundings and ask, “do I like what I see?” If you’re like I was, it’ll take a while to recognize what you’re looking at. I had so little structure, so little order in my life, that there were very few threads that I could hold onto and say for certain, “this is who I am, this is what I like.”

And to add to the confusion, we change. Who I am now, isn’t who I was 10 years ago. And some things have changed, but only slightly. For example, I still love good food. Only now, I prefer to cook my meals at home instead of spending a night out at a restaurant or bar. I know what I like to eat. That’s one area that I’ve discovered I have a strong opinion about. Hence the self-care meals I prepare.

And like I said above, be patient with yourself. This process may take you some time, as it did me. Don’t be discouraged if you think you like something, only to realize that it doesn’t quite bring you as much joy as you thought it would. Or maybe you’re in a place where you’ve racked up a considerable amount of debt, holding you back from pursuing your interests. In this scenario, I’ve turned to the planning phase for solace. But be adventurous. Try new things. If something looks interesting or fun, give it a shot. How else are you going to find what you enjoy?

Step Three: Make a Plan

Making a plan is something that is comforting and doesn’t cost you any money. And if it’s something you’re going to enjoy doing, it’ll also bring you joy to plan for and think about it. For me, I enjoy the act of planning my self-care days. The routine that has become a somewhat regular part of my week. I spend some time picking out the meal I’ll be preparing. The dessert as well. The type of bath I’ll be taking and the scents that will be involved. Maybe choose the podcast I’ll be listening to also.

Sometimes I’ll write it down in my journal and actually have a template of what my day will look like. It helps me to illustrate what I’m planning. This way I have a sense of permanence to what I’m looking to achieve. I know that I already have an idea of what I’ll be doing, and need only to take a look at the structure to remind myself that I already have support.

This type of support is important. Most days, after working six days straight and some being fifteen hour days, I don’t have the energy or will power to sit my ass down and come up with a plan. Even if it is a plan full of things I like and are relaxing. Having support means that I’ve already laid out the plan and all I need to do is pick a recipe. And I’m pretty much always in the mood to look for something tasty to eat : )

Step Four: Schedule a Time

This is equally as important as making a plan. Because without a scheduled time, this day may never come to fruition. I usually pick my day off. Setting aside the latter half of the day for my routine. This way I can get done what needs my attention in the beginning of the day, then turn that attention inwardly towards my self-care routine. Win, win.

Ideally, when picking a time, it’s best to choose one where you won’t be rushed from your state of relaxation. Or a time that’s sandwiched in between tasks. Rushing from relaxing to something stressful, for me, doesn’t embody what I’m trying to achieve with a self-care routine. Stress, is usually what we’re trying to care for with our self-care. So if possible, planning a chunk of time where you won’t feel rushed to wrap up quickly do to other, pressing matters will go a long way in finding ease in your self-care routine.

Step Five: Relax : )

This step is a lot easier said than done. It sometimes feels a though this is the great trick that biology played on us. The one thing we’d like to do most, is just out of reach. But, it’s not impossible to get to a relaxed state. It only takes practice.

For me, I sometimes, okay, most times focus on how everything needs to be perfect. If I’m making a meal, it has to not only taste delicious, but look insta worthy as well. The place I’ll be enjoying my meal has to be immaculate and all my creature comforts need to be within reach.

I enjoy all these aspects of my self-care routine. The cleanliness helps me to feel more at ease and I like like sharing something I’ve spent time and love preparing for myself. But what I need to remind myself is, that it doesn’t have to be perfect. That even if my surroundings are a little disordered, or my meal looks unappetizing, but tastes delicious, it’s okay to enjoy what is. Without the critical judgements that pop up. The judgements will come, but we don’t need to listen to them and respond to them. We can just enjoy what we’ve created.

Practice Your Self-Care Routine & You’ll be Practicing Joy

And it’s in practicing these self-care routines that we can learn to derive a sense of joy from them. This is why it is so important, for me, to come up with a plan and schedule a time for these events. Because it is in coming back to them that we learn how to come back to the things that bring us a sense of ease and where we learn how to come back to joy.

What’s so strange about this lesson, for me was, that it took so long to learn. Almost all of our states are products of us practicing them. We aren’t born stressed. This is a trait we pick up from consistently over loading ourselves with tasks and responsibilities, while we slowly take away our recovery time. For most of us, this is a life long process. But if we can practice our way into a more stressful lifestyle, the good news is, we can practice our way out.

Stick to Your Self-Care Schedule

This is why a routine is so important. Practice, practice, practice. And the more we practice these weekly routines, the more we can throw a few smaller ones in throughout our days. Maybe you find that you enjoy the essential oils you put in your weekly bath so much that you find a shower steamer to use during your morning shower routine.

Or there’s a snack you find during your self-care meal prep that you make a part of your regular, after work routine. Whatever it is that you find that brings you a sense of ease during your week, practice that. Because it is here where you will find your joy and ease. And it’ll be worth all your while when you are able to relax, knowing that it is a state that you’ve cultivated through positive and healthy habits.

Practice, Practice, Practice

This cannot be under stated. You need to consistently practice these routines and what brings you joy. Even on the days when it just seems like too much work. Especially on these days, because this is when you need a little self-care the most.

What I’ve found is, when I schedule my routine for a specific day, I tend to look forward to that day all throughout the week. It helps to keep me in a positive frame of mind during more difficult aspects of my days. When I’m tired or looking at a task I know I don’t want to do, I remind myself gentle that there is something to look forward to. And in the larger picture, when I’m out of debt and living according to my new values of thriftiness, I’ll be able to go bigger on my self-care routines : )

So friends, start actively looking for the things and activities that bring you joy. Start small and see where they take you. Before you know it, you’ll have dozens of little things that bring you joy everyday. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credit:”#2. Tea” by ben matthews ::: is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Fitting in Or Desperate for Attention? What does it Mean to Accept Somebody Unconditionally?

I’ve come to some pretty difficult realizations lately about the relationships in my life. The main take away being, I was so desperate to feel liked or accepted, to feel as though I were fitting in, I had completely changed my personality to cater to those I wanted to be liked by. And no surprises, I completely lost myself in the process. I’ll be talking about how I woke from the trance of not knowing that I was “playing a part” to feel as though I was fitting in with those who I saw as the keepers of me feeling accepted and ultimately loved. But let’s start first with the beginning, where it all started for me.

Withholding Acceptance & Not Feeling as Though I was Fitting in

I believe one of the very first lessons I learned from my family was, when they looked at me with a critical, judgmental eye, that meant that I was not meeting their expectations. And maybe more importantly, I didn’t belong. This is were much of my personality was forged. In the search for approval from those who were supposed to love me unconditionally. And as a child, if you don’t feel loved by your family, you’ll go to great lengths to gain the love that is being held back.

I can remember very distinctively, pulling back from my family at an early age because I just didn’t feel like I was fitting in or a part of my family. My sibling and cousins would often times drink in the hot tub together. Something that sound relaxing to me now. But I hid from them. Too scared to be a part of their revelry. Knowing that I would incur some emotional wounding if I jumped in with them. So I spent a good portion of my time on my own.

Because my family, including myself, excelled at withholding love from each other and doling it out, not unlike a drug, to keep the other person constantly in a state of feeling as though they were about to get the love we needed if we could just measure up. We did this to feel as though we were needed. By having someone begging for our love. To feel more valuable. But what happens when those who are withholding love, don’t know how to give and receive love?

When We’re all Uncertain of How to Feel like We’re Fitting in

What I’ve come to realize is, that nobody in my family knew how to feel loved or belonging. We had all been so afraid to open up for so long, that we just forgot how to do it. Withholding love was so second nature, that even if we did manage to measure up to some impossible standard, we’d have to raise it higher because we didn’t know how to nurture affection.

So we were all left in very lonely and confusing states. Wanting to be loved, but not knowing what to do when somebody willing, showed us that they needed to be loved. This is when we would run from the other. Wanting to love and be loved and not knowing how, but also too afraid to open up to the hurt the other would inevitably cause. These were the lessons that were passed down in my family and the ones I used to navigate all of my relationships in life.

The Legacy of Uncertainty

From friends to romantic relationships, I was trapped in this cycle of not knowing how to feel belonging, mixed with being to fearful to open to those closest to me. Eventually, I learned to fit the mold of what I thought others expected from me. In order to feel that the other saw me as worth belonging to, as fitting in, without question. But this left me adjusting to what others thought fitting in looked like. This left me unable to express myself as I truly was or wanted to be.

Though even if I was granted permission to be unapologetically me, I didn’t know who I was. I had been so focused on what everybody else wanted from me, that I completely lost who I was. And I was scared of being ousted from my friend group and family if I stopped being what was expected of me, but also feeling lonely as well. I never felt as though I could relax around those closest to me. This left me feeling as though I had to protect myself from those whom should have brought me comfort. This was what was so confusing, me not realizing I was trying to be somebody I wasn’t to be liked.

I had been taught from such an early age how to pretend to be something in order to fit in, that I hadn’t realize what I was doing. It was the norm in my family. We were so disconnected from what we truly liked and enjoyed, that we just didn’t realize when we genuinely liked something, from our authentic selves. Or if we liked it due to it being just a fad that was popular.

Fads are for Fitting In, Not Finding our Authentic Selves

This type of seeking approval was most apparent with my grandmother. She was a model in the 40’s and 50’s for home beauty products. And this experience, of gaining acceptance for her physical appearance, was one that was at the core of her identity. Everything had to be brand name and looks were more important than any other type of bond. She was also emotionally and verbally abusive.

She would viscously criticize her daughters appearances consistently and once, slammed my hand in her car door and left me there for fifteen minutes. This type of behavior is more in line with fascist dictators that with a loving matriarch. So it’s no wonder that we were all left scrambling to figure out what fitting in looked like in this climate of fear.

No body ever asked, “what do you like?” Nor did we ever ask what the other person was like. We were all too busy telling each other how we were, in order to control the them. So we would know for certain how to feel loved by them because we controlled them. And all this while judging how to change ourselves to be most accepted by those we saw as holders of our belonging. So to be our authentic selves would mean that we’d have to be brave enough to sever ourselves from the ways of belonging we had been taught. Which meant we’d be completely on our own. And we just weren’t strong enough to be this vulnerable or our authentic selves. Not on our own anyway.

Finding Support in being Our Authentic Selves

This was a tough one for me. All I knew of belonging was of what others were expecting of me. So when I decided to be my own person, I needed a new map. Luckily, we can’t ever completely lose ourselves. I had some ideas of what I liked and so that’s where I started. I think the place where this was most apparent was with the music I was listening to.

Music

No matter who I was trying to be, I was always honest with myself around the kinds of music I liked. And it’s important to be able to relate to this aspect of your personality. I know for me, that the music I listen to is usually a reflection of my mood. Fitting in, when it comes to music, was never a concern for me. My connection to music has always been an emotionally cathartic one. The tones and beats, to the lyrics and cadence, the music I relate to is usually a reflection of how I feel. And embodying that feeling is empowering. So if you’re looking to get in touch with yourself, music is a great place to start.

Fashion

As I’ve said before, I spent much of my childhood shopping with my family. Looking to feel belonging through what we purchased instead of who we are. I went through a period in my twenties where I was wearing designer clothing because it was what my friends were doing. I wore lots of cologne and drank expensive liquor, thinking this was what fitting in entailed. This lead to me feeling uncomfortable in my own clothing most of the time. Not to mention uncomfortable with myself.

Now my dress suits my personality. I dress in mostly thrifted clothing and in plain, understated pieces. For example, I’m wearing a a yoga with Adriene sweatshirt with my favorite pair of jeans and a bandana from an old work shirt and a pair of crocks for comfort. And on occasion I’ll wear sandalwood essential oil. Comfort is priority for me now. I still like the way I look, but it’s not the core of my self worth.

Friends & Family

And when it comes to friends and family, I’m finally surrounding myself with people who are accepting. I’ve lost a lot of friends along the way. Mostly due to the ways I was choosing to be in relationship with them. Now that I’m valuing my authentic self, I’ve also implemented some much needed boundaries around my relationships. This was no easy task seeing how most of my relationships were built on unclear and unhealthy boundaries.

I used to believe that any boundary, as healthy as it may have been, was a block to me feeling loved and accepted. So I would allow those I was in relationship with, to do whatever they wanted to me. This left me feeling hurt, guarded and uncertain of where I stood in their regard.

Now, the people I rely on for support all practice healthy boundaries. We are able to support each other without losing ourselves to the other. There are no longer the thousand tiny wounds I used to incur by just being in relationship. I know now that I am keeping myself safe by removing myself from relationships that are harmful to me. And those that I trust, have shown me that they are trust worthy and safe to be around. And that feels good : )

Outlets for Creativity

Finding a way to communicate my personality is another important aspect of finding my authentic self. Bullet journaling is a great example of this type of self expression. Journaling is a place where I can plan and organize. Two facets of myself that I enjoy expressing and are helping me to live the life I want to live.

This blog too, is a place where I can unpack my experiences and make sense of them. Writing down my experiences, matching feelings to them and organizing them into a fashion that’s cohesive, is the map I’m able to use to navigate my narrative. My bearings in my emotional life. Because in my youth, there was no mirroring. My upbringing was so volatile, that I was thrown into one crisis after another, without time to stop and understand how my circumstances were effecting me.

Blogging not only allows me to make sense of what’s happened to me, but also shows me how to be more of myself. And relax a little more in the process. I’m unpacking the past and making some much needed room for myself to feel at ease with all the pieces I’ve been unpacking. Getting to know myself better by relating to the experiences I’ve been through.

Finding Your Place

This type of work isn’t easy. For me, there was the fear of not knowing how to belong, followed by the anxiety of desperately trying to find a way to feel acceptance. When I realized I wasn’t going to feel accepted by those who couldn’t accept themselves, there was the confusion of what to do to feel belonging. And finally, the work I had to do to help to make myself feel at ease in knowing that I can choose healthy ways to belong, in healthy forms of relationship.

But doing this type of work is important to feeling at home in your relationships. It was for me anyway. Without feeling like I belong to the people I choose to be in my life, I feel a loneliness. Because we belong to each other. No one person is built to do everything on their own. We need each other, and it feel good to be needed. An integral part of somebodies life.

So find those people that bring out the best in you. The ones that bring you ease just being around them. This is where you’ll find your belonging. Fitting in is more than just looking good to somebody else because you say or do the right things at the right times. It’s about finding the people who appreciate you for showing your authentic self. Then we can grow in our relationships in the ways that makes us truly the best version of ourselves. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Hug” by zhouxuan12345678 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Trauma, Blueberries & Recovery: How the Past Informs Who We Become

I’ve covered a lot of ground on this blog. Much of my personal history is written in the pages of this space. I’ve also experienced a lot of trauma. Only some of which I’ve talked about here. This post is a little different than my others, in that I’m going to talk about trauma and the effects it has on our ability to feel, give and receive love. As Jay-Z once said, “it’s a hard knock life”. And the longer I live, the more I see the damage we incur from these knocks. We’re all hurt to some degree and we all deserve a little compassion. So let’s take a look at some of my hurt and how I’ve dealt with it. Hopefully, others will find some comfort in knowing they’re not alone.

My Song

When I was young, my family life was pretty good. My mother’s father was my best friend. We would sit in his den, watching baseball games together on the weekends when I was very young. We lived in the poor part of a very wealthy town, that makes most well-to-do suburbs look a little shabby. And I had a family that was supportive and seemingly loving.

That being said, there was violence happening in our family as well. The men in my family were prone to yelling at whomever wasn’t listening to them, while throwing breakables at walls to punctuate their rage. Also there was a lot of physical corrections being made in the form of spankings that were carried out with enthusiasm and zeal. And if the men in my family were terrifying, the women were just as scary.

Words were their weapons. As well as condescending judgements and withholding love. Also, setting a standard so high in order to gain their regard, that no matter what I did, I would never add up. Not to mention the emotional neglect. And this was the cycle. We were constantly hurting one another and not realizing the damage we were doing because we were so shut off from our emotions that we could barely feel anything. This was trauma inducing to say the least.

The Trauma

By the time I was halfway through my eighth year, things in my family began to fall apart. My aunt had developed an aggressive form of skin cancer that ravaged her body. My mother was the one who took charge and aided my dying family member by taking care of her through the worst of her struggles. I can remember watching my mother stick metal spoons in my aunts mouth to depress her tongue, while my aunt was having grand mal seizures. She had a mouth full of jagged teeth due to this practice. They did this because it was believed that the person having the seizure would swallow their tongue. Medicine has thankfully come a long way.

It was around this time that the fighting between my parents began to escalate. There was more yelling, more cutting words and more dinner ware being shattered. This happened until they finally called it quits. But by that time, my mother had been taking my sibling and I to the neighboring state, most times at 1 AM, after my mother got off from work, to comfort my deceased aunt’s family. This was where my abuse began.

Nighttime Visits

After having witnessed my aunt lose her violent battle with cancer, wasting away to a ghost of her former self, my family fell apart. I was spending more time with my deceased aunt’s family in an unfamiliar setting, away from all my friends and family, save for my mother. But that was about to change.

I don’t remember when these visits started, but at some point during the summer, my uncle had taken to coming into the room where I was sleeping in the dead of night, 2-3 AM, and pulling me from bed. I would later develop an obsession with vampires because of these visits. Usually he would yell at me while drunk, about what it means to be a man like a drill Sargant. I was living in constant state of fear for my life, not knowing how to keep myself safe. The first of many times he did this, he poured water on my groin and then violently rent me from my bed. He then punished me for “wetting” the bed. Making me clean up “my mess”. I have never felt terror like the night I was looking at myself in the bathroom mirror, not knowing what to do or where to go.

This painting sums up how I felt after my family divided while incurring all of the violence and trauma I was going through. Figure with Meat, Francis Bacon “Figure with Meat” by lluisribesmateu1969 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Later, I told my mother what was happening, taking a chance after being given strict instructions not to tell her by my uncle during his drunken rages. But when I told her, she turned her back on me and walked away. It was at this point that I was left completely on my own with zero support. I was eight and had experienced events that some people, thankfully never experience, and others that were usually spread out over a life’s time. And I experienced them all within six months and with no one to take care of me or to support me, at eight years of age. This is where my emotions left me. Frozen to keep me safe. It would take decades for me to feel safe enough to open to these emotions again, to defrost.

Living with the Trauma

As I aged, I would experience more traumas at the hands of my family. Only now I was old enough to start taking matters into my own hands. I stopped going to school by the time I was 14. My family life was deteriorating rapidly as well. My step-father was abusive and addicted to pornography as well as drinking too much. Something my entire family did and did well.

And, the apple did not fall far from the tree. By the time I was 15, I was drinking and staying out all hour, also addicted to pornography and looking to have a good time. Of course, this was what I was telling myself. But I was really terrified to go back to my house because I would most likely be abused. Either physically or psychologically and the neglect was a given.

By the time I turned nineteen, I got the boot from my house because I wasn’t going to college. I had stopped going to school by the time I was 14 because I was unable to be around others without feeling tremendous amounts of fear and anxiety. But by some miracle I was expected to go to college and do well. So I got my first apartment with two friends that were in similar situations and was on my own.

On My Own with Friends

Our first apartment wasn’t too bad. But we were living on our own, with zero life skills. I remember one of the first nights at the apartment, I came home from work and the fridge was completely filled with 40s. There was no food. Only beer and videogames. And that’s how it was most nights. We drank to manage our anxiety and fear. The only tools we had to navigate our out-of-control lives. We would eventually get the boot from that apartment inside of a year living there. Our neighbors, as it turned out, were selling heroin. So clearly, in the mind of my landlady, we were selling heroin as well.

We moved from that house to a temporary house that was going to be torn down in a few months time after we moved in. It was better to live there than to be homeless, so we moved in. This was the apartment that I lost my childhood friend to drugs. He didn’t die, but he was spending more and more time with his drug dealer than with his other friends. He moved out into the garage and started cutting ties with us. After that we became strangers to each other. Not an easy thing to experience, and only one of the many friends I would lose along the way. But what made this so difficult was, he was the only friend I had that was support from before my childhood trauma began. Losing him was a big blow.

After that apartment, we moved into an apartment that was too small for us, so I squatted in the entre way. Again, better that than to be homeless. That apartment was dirty. We had trash drifts in areas of the apartment that were up to our knees. I later upgraded to a bedroom when a roommate moved out, but that was still hard living. Another friend of ours moved into the entre way. Again, much like our first place, it was filled with booze and videogames. We also lived across the street from a bar that we frequented. This did not help in the drinking department.

Moving Up, Sort of

From there I moved again a few times, but by this time I had met my now ex-wife. We worked in adolescent group homes. Me at the one for boys and my ex in the one for girls. I was still emotionally numb from the undealt with traumas I had incurred when I was eight, but I somehow stumbled my way into a relationship that was somewhat stable.

I was still drinking regularly, about 100 pounds over weight and still viewed women as sex objects. I’m not sure how I managed to find someone to be with, because I had zero luck when it came to relationships. But we were together for about eight years.

Unfortunately, things still looked the same for me. I was in a state of stasis. Unchanged from the ways I had been living from the time I had been abused as a child. I was just coasting along, unable to appreciate what I had due to me being so numb from my early childhood and family trauma. So when I started waking from my emotional cocoon, things took a surprising turn.

Waking Up into My Emotions

Oddly enough, it was somebody that I worked with that started me down the path of waking up emotionally. I can’t explain why it happened with her, but there was a combination of feeling heard, with an empathic understanding and willingness to be vulnerable around me that made me feel awake around her. Also feeling safe with my current partner gave me the stability to open emotionally again. I was so used to being told how to feel and what was going to happen for me, that this was something completely new. There was a possibility present that I had never felt before.

So I started spending more time with this woman, in hopes to gain some of that emotion that was missing from my life. Looking back I would have done things differently, but I didn’t stand a chance. I was eight years old again with her, dealing with 24 years of trauma that had been piling up at my doorstep. To say I was in over my head is an understatement.

I realize now that what I was experiencing was finding a friend, friendship. Someone who had been through some of what I had been through and understood. She had her own list of trauma that she was dealing with. The term, “real recognize real and you lookin familiar” describes some of what I was feeling for the first time in a quarter century. But these feelings were all new to me and I was just tying to stay afloat.

My ex did all the right things however. She got us into couples therapy and desperately tried to find out what was happening with me. The only thing I knew was that I was feeling again for the first time since I was a child. I didn’t know what I was feeling, but I was feeling again. And finally, after I had come to a place that was relatively still waters for what I was experiencing, in one night heavy with tension, I stood in the kitchen with my ex and asked her if she wanted to try to make our relationship work.

I had no idea what was happening to me, but something inside of me knew that I needed to give our relationship another shot. But she was unwilling. She said that I had had an emotional affair with the other woman. And that, she couldn’t forgive. I didn’t know what emotions were, let alone know them enough to have an affair. So we parted ways that night. And it’s important to say I don’t blame my ex for leaving. For all I was experiencing, she was dealing with her own struggles. No one was struggling more than the other.

After the Separation

I lived with the woman who helped me to wake into my emotions for a while. It was a good time for me. I stopped drinking, started exercising regularly, meditating and started thinking about my future, all for the first time in my life. I didn’t feel like I was drifting anymore. But not too long into the relationship she told me to leave. She couldn’t handle the weight of the guilt of how I ended my relationship with my ex. So I moved in with family, something I had been running from since I was eight.

I was working a series of part time jobs after moving in with my family. And I was starting over at the ground floor, looking to build myself back up. I started dissociating, which is a way for me to protect myself from the feelings that were too trauma packed to feel all at once. How I discovered I was dissociating was, I had crashed two cars on my way to work in the morning. One into a suburban fence, and the other on I-95. The only thing I remember about the accidents is suddenly coming to and walking around the flipped car on the side of the highway or crashed into a fence. I’m lucky to be alive and that I didn’t hurt anybody in the process. This was jarring.

Also, shortly after I moved in with my father and step-mother, I went into a manic state two times and tried to run to Maine to start a blueberry farm to win back my ex-wife. I thought that this was a reasonable reaction to feeling the loss of my former relationship. Again, I was eight years old, standing on the landing after my mother turned her back on me after telling her about my abuse. I felt completely alone and unsafe. If it wasn’t for an old roommate of mine who happened to be driving by me while I was running, I don’t like to think what would have happened to me. Again, lucky to be alive. Thanks Jon.

It was here that I was feeling the full force of my unfelt trauma from my childhood. I was looking for something safe, running from what was too difficult to feel. But they say the way out is through. So I stayed. I stayed in what was more than uncomfortable. Staying with what was traumatic. With family, with my feelings and most importantly, with myself. It was here that I really learned how to heal from what had been a life’s time worth of neglected and abused emotions. No easy feat.

Continuing to Heal

I’m now in a much healthier place than I’ve ever been. I’m still exercising regularly, meditating as well. And I’m eating healthfully and am at my ideal weight for the first time since I was a child. I have boundaries for the first time and am building new relationships built on mutual trust and communication. It feels really good knowing that I have my future in focus after a life’s time worth of running from my past. Knowing I’m here for myself, and as a friend of mine says, “I’m here, I care” to my emotional world, makes me feel like a whole new me.

The trauma I’ve experienced in my past is only a story now. Not something that makes regular visits. The support I have from the community I’ve built around me is also world class. I can’t say enough good things about the people who have stood by and support me through some of the most challenging times in my life. And none of this was easy.

If you’re dealing with trauma and the effects of trauma, at any stage of your life, know that you are not alone. I’ve found the help of my therapist to be the guiding light out of my darkest times. Because as Tara Brach says, “we were wounded in relationship, so we heal in relationship”. This talk from Tara Brach, Buddhist psychologist, was pivotal for me learning how to navigate my emotions again. If you’ve experienced trauma, please take a look at it and seek help. There are good people out there doing good work.

Reflections on the Past

These are only a sampling of the trauma I’ve endured. I’d also like to say I’m not seeking sympathy, only sharing what I’ve experienced in hopes it may aid somebody else in their journey. Because life gets weird. And without each other’s help, we can be overtaken by the difficulties we encounter. So take heart and know that you are strong enough for this life that was given to you.

Also, I’d like to take the time to apologize for how I treated all of the people I hurt in the past. If you are reading this and I’ve injured you to some degree, know that I am truly sorry. My past is no excuse for treating people the ways that I had. And for this, I am truly sorry.

If you’re looking for someone to talk to about what you’ve been through in the past, this article from The Good Trade goes over some online therapy sites that can help in your journey. So dear reader, this is where I leave you. Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, I’d love to hear about them down below. You’re the best and as always, Peace & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Plant in dried cracked mud” by Aproximando Ciência e Pessoas is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Relaxing: As a Man This Isn’t So Easy

Recently, I’ve been making relaxing a priority in my life. Though this has proven to be much more difficult than I thought it would be. Just sitting still was difficult. I felt as though I was supposed to be productive in some way. This led me to feel guilty about just being as I was. All of this seemed strange to me, seeing as how I used to have no problem relaxing. But when I thought back to those times I was relaxed, I realized I was usually in front of a screen, drinking a beer or mixed drink. Something I’ve gotten out of the habit of doing. So I thought about what most people consider to be a relaxing endeavor and I settled on taking a bath.

How Fixing My Bathtub Led to Me Relaxing

But before I could take a bath, I needed to fix the overflow drain on my bath tub first. I had tried taking baths in the past, only my attempt was thwarted when I realized a large amount of water had pooled under the bathtub drain. Then I watched a few videos that suggested looking at the gasket on the overflow drain to see if it was cracked. I checked the gasket and it seemed to be fine, except when I went to unscrew the plate, that held the overflow drain to the pipe, it was barely screwed in.

So I assumed this was the issue. I tightened the plate and went to my local hardware store to get a drain stopper for the tub and to get a second opinion. They said that should probably do it, but to give a call back if I’m still having trouble. So I paid for my stopper, left the store and hopped on the bus, eager to try my newly fixed bathtub. But something didn’t feel quite right.

What Taking a Bath Says About Being a Man

When I got home, I was excited to see if I had taken care of the issue. So I set myself to cleaning the bathroom (something that was long overdue) and try out my new way of relaxing. I cleaned the bathroom, and after finishing up with the tub, I popped the new drain stopper in and turned on the water. Hopefully the tub would fill, the overflow drain would do its job and I would be on my way to relaxing that evening. Fingers crossed, I filled the tub.

To my surprise, it worked! I had a working tub and it only cost me the price of a rubber stopper. Bathroom clean and tub working properly, I set out to a local store to buy a bath bomb to enhance my bath taking experience. But still, something didn’t feel right. I wasn’t quite sure what it was. But I left the house again in search of a bath bomb.

And I can’t remember if I Googled ways that men destress while I was on my way to the store or at home, but when I did, it was eye opening. The first page was filled with, not things men do to relax, but how a woman can relax her stressed out man. This was crazy to me! Somehow, men had outsourced the job of relaxing to their partners?

Taking Responsibility for Our Relaxing & Emotions as Men

I still couldn’t believe some of the advice I was reading, or rather, the audience it was directed to. “Give your man a massage” and “actively listen to your man” were some of the items suggested to calm down your stressed out man. Now don’t get me wrong, I feel that these are good things in general practice, but not as the only source of stress release for men.

As it was, self-care is something that is relegated to the domain of the feminine. Now de-stressing and relaxing are also the responsibility of women as well. This seemed strange to me. Upon further inspection, when I found a Men’s Health article about how men are relaxing, they suggested activities such as playing golf or hitting the heavy bag. This was also unhelpful.

One suggestion said to “Hit the sauna after you workout”. And later in the slide mentioned that men felt more relaxed after a therapy session if they sat in a sauna. The title and the content weren’t even correlated, leading to more confusion. No wonder men have a difficult time relaxing. With advice like this, it’s easy to see the disconnect.

It’s Okay to Like What You Like

So I went out for the night on a date with a woman I had recently met, with plans to take a bath in my newly fixed tub when I got home. We went to a local restaurant, then for a walk on a near by beach. The night went well and we parted promising to make plans to meet again.

After the date, I was on my way to try out my newly fixed bath tub. I got home, readied the tub, brought a few candles in the bathroom and settle in for the night. Ready to enjoy the feeling of weightlessness. I hopped in the tub after putting in the bath bomb and relaxed for a long while. It was better than I expected.

The scents and the feeling of lightness and the dimly lighted room all helped to set the the tone for a relaxing post date evening. While I was in the bath, I was thinking about how so much of what we like is determined by what others perceive is likable, depending on our gender or other measures that have nothing to do with how we feel doing them. For example and from my experience, it’s okay to like being in a hot tube as a man, but a bath is too feminine. This doesn’t make sense to me. You like what you like. And that shouldn’t be an indicator of anything other than, liking what you like.

Relaxing Shouldn’t Be Relegate to a Specific Gender

More to the point, relaxing and what we do to relax also shouldn’t be judged to be the task of a specific gender. It seems our culture has made the act of relaxing, the job of women. I’m not sure how this happened socially, but for my family, I think it has something to do with feeling taken care of.

In my family, the men were hard and the women were soft. It was the man’s job to take care of the family. And all the toxically masculine ideals that went along with the job. And the men had to always be seen as “strong”, physically and mentally, never “weak”. But what we perceived as “weak” was actually being sensitive, kind or caring. All of these traits, we collectively off loaded onto woman. Deeming them as “weak”, because we were too afraid to feel these traits. Most likely because they had been abused in us. All too often by those we made carry them for us. Creating an unhealthy power dynamic.

And these were the relationship dynamics I grew up under. As men we never spoke about emotions because that wasn’t our job. But unfortunately those we were carrying were stressful ones. For example, needing control, anger and unforgiving were a few of the default ways of being as a man. So, we were usually stressed and frustrated with those around us. This left us unable to relax.

When Relaxing is Provided By Something or Someone & Not Found In Yourself

As a man, I learned that relaxing was something I needed to acquire outside of myself. For me, this meant drinking lots of alcohol at night and sitting in front of a screen. Or eating something unhealthy and lots of it. This was also something I had modeled for me in my youth. There weren’t many trips to a local hiking trail, or time spent around a board game. We seldom spoke about feelings. And when we did, we usually told each other how they were feeling. This added another layer of confusion to knowing whether or not what we were feeling was actually true.

So I never learned how to just be, without help from something else. This lead me to adopt unhealthy behaviors. Habits such as smoking, drinking too much coffee/alcohol, over eating, using pornography. The list goes on. Whatever I could do to distract myself from sitting and just being, I would. But this changed for me when I fell in love with a woman.

Learning That Relaxing Happens From the Inside Out

Something switched in me one day when I was working with someone I truly felt seen and heard by. This combination made me feel as though I could finally be accepted and loved. I was in love with the idea of being loved as I was. That’s when I started meditating, stopped drinking and started other healthy habits.

Habits such as running and yoga. I was cooking more often and more healthy meals as well. I was cultivating a healthier lifestyle around the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Only I hadn’t realized our foundation wasn’t as solid as I had thought it was. She left me and I was left on my own. But fortunately for me, I had a host of healthy habits I had cultivated that would serve me well.

I continued to meditate and learned I could relax, on my own as I was. It wasn’t easy. And I still get caught in what Tara Brach calls, “the trance” of cravings. But now I’m able to know that they are fleeting. The old adage of, “this too shall pass”, fits well this description.

Another way to look at it is from a post I read on New Buddhist, “It’s odd. Instead of feeling like I have to do something about it – if I just relax, recognize it for what it is – I find that it’s not such a driving force as I was thinking it was.” – Michael.

Find What Helps You Most

And finally, we all have different experiences and different circumstances in our lives. Finding the situations that trigger your stress is the first step to handling your stress as a man. In healthy and caring ways. There’s no need to muscle through your stress. Or to taking it out on others. Find what brings you peace in a way that’s in line with your needs. For me, it was taking a bath being surrounded by the scents I love.

For you, maybe it’s a walk in the woods. Or finding a cozy place to curl up and read a book. I like to listen to music in a ambient lighting, listening to a few of my playlists tailored to my moods. Finding what brings you peace will serve you well over time and lead to a healthier way of relaxing. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

If you have ways you enjoy relaxing as a man, I’d love to here about them in the comments section below! Thanks : )

Image Credits: “bath caddy with book wine in glass and scrub brush with foam bubble bath tub towel” by PersonalCreations.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I Have a Work Problem: When You Can’t Stop Pushing Yourself

Work in a “Busy kitchen” by VV Nincic is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Work has been a problem. For me and my family. We have no idea when to stop pushing ourselves past what’s healthy. Or how to set boundaries around who owns what feelings. What has been true for us is, that we feel responsible for the emotional states of others and this pushes us to work ourselves past the point of what we’re capable of handling in order to rectify or cover over our feelings of guilt and shame. In short, no bueno.

The Root

This became clear to me not too long ago when a few things happened that coincided with a perspective shift. I have been working in the restaurant industry for most of my working career, the same as my family has been doing for decades. In the restaurant industry, we work long days, through rushes and under difficult conditions. It was tough, but we had a lot of fun too.

Recently, I’ve switched to a new position that is office based work. I went into the job expecting the same type of environment. High stress and high energy. After all, the people I worked with seemed to be constantly busy and stressed in the same ways we were in the restaurant biz. So I jumped in with both feet, ready to wade through the human services industry. Things did not go as planned.

Change of Perspective

As I said, I started the position with the same tenacity that I was used to from the restaurants I’ve worked in. I was reaching out to people, making plans to meet with them, to find new resources. I was going hard and expecting that everybody else was on board. This however was not the case.

It seemed that the more I was doing, the more I was making others uncomfortable. I hadn’t realized it at first, but I was definitely stepping on some toes. When the situation finally came to a head, my supervisor and my boss’s supervisor called me into a meeting. We spoke for a few minutes when I realized that we were talking about how my attitude had become a problem.

At first this made no sense to me. I was doing my job and doing it well. My instinct was to think, “everybody else needs to step up their game.” But reflecting on this situation now, this isn’t the first time I’ve been in this situation.

Difficult to Manage

One of my old jobs was as a bread baker in a popular, local bakery. I was good at the job, worked hard and not afraid to jump in where they needed a hand. Unfortunately, I was arrogant, mean and not afraid to let my opinions be known. And I had a lot of opinions.

It was in this bakery that I had experienced some major life changes. One being ending my marriage with my then wife. I was in a bad place and hostile. More so than was the norm for that environment, which was pretty hostile to begin with. I was baking with the owner one holiday when I made a big mistake. We got into an argument and he ended up letting me go.

What was so memorable about the experience was, he told me I was a good baker, as he told me to leave in frustration. But difficult manage. And this was essentially what I was being told again. Good at my job, difficult to relate to. Only this time, by the grace of God, I didn’t get fired. So I decided somethings needed to shift.

Impossibly High Standards

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why was I putting myself in these strange and confusing situations. I was good at my job. It was my personality that was the problem. I do this because I feel as though my self worth and value hinges on how hard I work. As a family member of mine would say, “how serious I take myself”. That was confusing too, translating “serious” to “works hard”.

But what happens if you take yourself too seriously? What happens when you take your responsibilities to the extreme, work too hard? Placing your productivity over the relationships you have with those you work with? As I’ve found, you put yourself in situations where you get talked to. Not for your job performance, but for your interpersonal skills. Something I need to work on.

Relaxing Your Standards

Upon further reflection, this too was a learned behavior. I was taught to have a good work ethic. I was also consistently being told I was lazy by my parents in my youth. Their standards were what I would call unreasonably high for a child to add up to. But I tried. And in so doing, I inherited their impossibly high standards. Something I’m now in the process of unlearning.

And it’s no easy. I find myself picking apart every job I see done. Whether it’s by myself or another. Nothing is ever up to my standard of how I would like it to be. My motto was, “if it’s not done perfectly, it’s not done right”. This is also an unhealthy stance to take. The perfectionist in me is something that took a long time to come to terms with. Something I’m still coming to terms with.

What has helped me is, to sit in the uncomfortable feelings, the dis-ease of my standard not being met. Reminding myself that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be done well, or that good enough is sometimes good enough. Also, reminding myself that I’m not perfect. Which is something I definitely thought I was when I was younger. And another reminder, that even if I feel as though I’m coming up short, I still care for and love myself.

You Are Loved Regardless

And ultimately, this is the message that we send ourselves when we tear ourselves down for not being perfect. Or are being criticized for not adding up to an impossible standard: that we are not loved unless we are perfect. Anything short of an impossibly high standard and you are forced to sit outside of the feelings of love and acceptance. This is a cold place to be.

It’s also a place that needs a lot of inwardly turned attention and affection. Because when the affection of those who were supposed to love me, was withheld, I learned to withhold it from myself. Not knowing why I “wasn’t loveable”. But if others didn’t love me, there must be something wrong with me. This was how I saw myself until somewhat recently.

This changed for me around the time I started practicing self-care Sundays. I realized that I had been living under the harsh and brutal régime of my family for far too long. Beating myself up in ways such as skipping meals, while also upping my workouts. This resulted in me passing out after a shower one night. This is a dangerous mindset to occupy.

Loving Another Starts With Loving Yourself

I was so used to the critical side of me, that that’s all I listened to. I realized, after practicing self-care Sundays, that I didn’t really know what self-acceptance and love felt like. It had been so long since I’ve been able to accept where I am, or even who I am, that I had completely forgot what those states felt like.

This was quite the discovery. And further more, I had no healthy role models to show me how it worked! So I started practicing self-care on faith, really, hoping something would change.

Wading Through Old Emotions

And slowly but surely, new ways of being began to raise to the surface. Patience was one of the more important ones for me. Because without patience, I wasn’t able to sit with the uncomfortable emotions that I was feeling and had run from in the past. The emotions of feeling inadequate and unlovable were two big ones. With the patience to sit with them, I was able to recognize them for what they were. Old messages that had nothing to do with who I actually am.

Patience for me came in treating my self-care dinners as the opposite of working in the food industry. I chose a recipe I knew I would like. Then I would go out and gather the ingredients at my local grocery store. When it came time to prepare the meal, I would slowly and mindfully, gather and prepare all the ingredients. Usually while a candle was burning with a favorite scent of mine in low, ambient light and with soft, gentle music playing and a cup of herbal tea. I took my time and enjoyed the process instead of rushing through it.

I also realized, during these dinners that these were ways my family had felt neglected as well. They were also withholding love and acceptance from themselves by rushing through their emotions. But if we can learn to withhold love and acceptance, we can learn to reengage with them as well.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The key to why my self-care dinners worked so well for me was, because I kept doing them. It was something I dedicated my time to and did regularly and consistently. Showing myself that, “I’m here, I care”, is important.

And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. If it was the consistent disapproval from my family members that brought me to a place where I wouldn’t approve of myself, no matter how much work I did, then it would be the consistent, positive reinforcement of caring for myself that would show me that I was worth the while. I am lovable. I am worth the time and caring affection I was seldom shown in the past.

But again, this is no easy. For this to take hold, you have to make it a part of your routine. I scheduled mine on Sundays, because that was the first day of my weekend. I knew I would have this day to myself, and seeing how I’m still paying down student loan debt, I don’t take many days off. So scheduling is important.

Find a Routine That Works for You & Stick to It

For me, my routine is my self-care Sunday meal. But I do this this because I enjoy cooking for myself, as long as I can take my time doing it. Because if I’m rushed, it feels like work to me. I enjoy slowly bringing the meal together while burning a candle and listening to some of my favorite tunes. The low-lighting and the aromas from what I’m cooking and my tea are soothing to me. Plus, the meals I make are pretty good. Thanks in large part to Minimalist Baker. But this is my routine and not everybody finds peace in the kitchen.

For your routine, find what brings you joy. This isn’t always an easy task. Before I was more attuned to myself, I would find relaxation at the bottom of 4-5 beers or mixed drinks while vegging out in-front of a screen. Either playing videogames or watching T.V.. None of those are inherently bad, but I was using them as an escape from my emotions. I enjoy having a beer or two while I’m out, or with my self-care dinners. But I no longer drink to excess. I’ve stopped playing videogames only because I haven’t found something I like and I still enjoy T.V., just a few episodes here and there.

When finding what brings you peace, ask yourself, “what are the things I do that I enjoy, that I’m good at.” Having a sense of mastery in a hobby brings with it a feeling of satisfaction. Knowing that you are good at something, like my cooking ability, can bring more overall joy to the experience. Or maybe start a new hobby or pick up a new interest. You never know where it could lead to.

Schedule Time For Yourself

And finally, if you’re busy as most of us are, find some time to carve out for yourself. I know what’s true for me is that responsibilities tend to multiply, not decrees. So finding a dedicated time for you to come back to again and again is important for consistency. Because it’s that consistency, that practice that shows us that we love ourselves by giving ourselves our time.

And it’s not selfish to take time to take care of yourself. This is something a younger me would scoff at. My opinion used to be that self-sacrifice was a given, and if you took the time to treat yourself then you were the worst kind of selfish. Self centered and arrogant were adjectives I would have used in my youth to describe who I’ve become today.

But we change. And healthy change can be a good thing. So long as we don’t over indulge. And finding the balance is key. Not going to extremes in either work, or relaxing too much. Take it from someone who’s seen both sides of the equation. Find your balance and you’ll find peace. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Busy kitchen” by VV Nincic is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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