Finding Support: When you Just Don’t Know Who to Turn to

I’ve been writing a lot about how I wasn’t supported and in some ways, I still lack emotional support. Luckily I’ve come to a place where I no longer blame those who neglected me. But that sadly doesn’t ease the pain of the lack of feeling supported. I’d like to explore this area of our relationships. The place where we are looking for help from each other and maybe coming up short, but also in connecting as well. What does it (connection) look like and how do we foster the sparks that build them. Let’s start with where it isn’t found.

For me, there wasn’t any emotional support, connection, intelligence or recognition of, happening at all in my family. From what I’m able to tell as for why this was the case, there was just too much trauma floating around in our family. All of it being covered over, denied and ignored. And without support from each other, it would be crazy to dive into all of our badly hurt and unattended, traumatic feelings alone.

Dissociating From Our Emotions

So we escaped from one another. The most prevalent ways we did this was through drinking alcohol. Ways to numb ourselves from what is happening in ourselves in real time while avoiding the emotions we recognized in others that remind us of our own hurt selves. We covered over what the others in our lives were feeling by telling them how they were/are feeling also. This way, we were safe from the unexpected ideas and opinions of others while not challenging our views about what we thought our relationships and ourselves should look like. We wanted control over the others experiences of us.

This was one of the ways we avoided change and growth. Another way was avoidant, dissociative behaviors. Drinking for sure is one, but I’m mostly talking about watching t.v. and reading as a way to escape from our own and the emotions of others. This type of self absorbed behaviour is a way to disconnect from the relationships in our lives and skirt personal growth at the same time.

And as maddening as it is, to be unable to connect with a loved one emotionally, it’s most likely not their fault. This was a hard pill for me to swallow. I had a series of emotional breakthroughs, resulting in my emotional world being more clear and well defined. But when I returned to those I had lost so much time with in neglected relationships, I realized that they were in the same place I used to be. Unable to recognize and attune to their emotional worlds.

This explains why I was never able to make the emotional connections I was seeking, but is still a difficult place to be left. So the question is, how do we start to rebuild the connections we’ve lost so long ago? Or build new ones if we’ve never had them in the first place? Short answer, I don’t know. But, there are somethings I’m trying in hopes that I can start building my relationships a fresh.

Reconnecting to Ourselves and Our Relationships

This has been especially difficult work for me to do. Seeing as how I’ve had no guidance or role models in the relational realm. Everything I’m doing is either something new I’m trying, or blind advice I’ve received from a trusted therapist or source. Here are some of the ways I’m practicing personal connection, in hopes of fostering healthy connections.

Being Consistent

This is an important one for me. I had zero direction from those who were supposed to be there for me in relational role modeling. Which means that I had no one to guide or model for me how to connect in a healthy way. I either took on too much responsibility for the other person, or none at all for myself. Now that I’ve recognized that I’m in control of my half of my relationships, I’m learning to be accountable for myself in them. This is also a standard I set for those I’m in relationship with. They need to be accountable for themselves as well.

For example, I have a standing date with a friend of mine for mondays. We’re both off during the day and it seems a good time to connect. But we’ve been getting a little lax about our Mondays as of late. This usually happens by not acknowledging our standing date and letting them go by without making plans.

So, I’ve set some new boundaries in the relationship. This is a person I want to spend time with, but if the relationship is one sided, i.e. one person doing all the work, it isn’t a relationship between two people. So the new boundaries are, every Monday, one of us will make a plan for the next Monday and we’ll switch off weeks. This way, we both have an equal role in making the relationship work. Instead of one person doing the work and building up a resentment about the lack of shared responsibility. Aka, being actively involved in the relationship.

But this doesn’t come naturally for some people. For those of us who have been severely neglected, the most basic relational maintenance and upkeep are a mystery. This is why practice, patience and persistence are of the utmost importance. We sometimes need these schedules to remind us that there is work we need to do. Because if all you’ve ever looked after was yourself, then there’s a good chance you won’t be able to tell what the subtle nuances are that your relationship with another needs some attention.

This is especially true for those of us who have learned to neglect our own needs. If you were neglected and abandoned as a child, there is no way to gauge how you are being treated. If you haven’t had any guidance, this type of attunement is like putting a puzzle together blindfolded. This is where self-care becomes an important aspect of finding support as well.

Self-Care as Guidance

Showing up for yourself is more than just a trend. It’s a way to give yourself love and respect. To find out who you are and what your likes and dislikes are outside of the expectations of others. In the family I grew up in, we were constantly cutting each other down for not fitting the mold we thought they should fit into.

This was a terrifying and difficult place to try to practice self-care. In fact, it was impossible to do so. We were so busy tending to our wounds, the ones that were being inflicted by one another, that we had no space to nurture the small things that brought us joy. In most cases, we didn’t even know what those things were.

But these were the places of self discovery and care that needed our attention the most. For example, one of my caregivers would tell me I was “fat and lazy” constantly. In a way, they were correct. I was overweight and I had a poor work ethic. But I couldn’t have been more than 13 at the time. Any lessons I learned about weight management and the ability to be productive I learned from them.

So instead of recognizing that we collectively had a weight problem and that we did for others as a way to feel needed and simultaneously resenting those we did for, we called each other names. This however, made everybody feel ill at ease. We were all just reacting to whatever emotion was coming to the surface without asking ourselves, “how can we change the way we’re interacting that won’t result in pain?”

This is where being taught self-care would have been a way for us to heal these wounds and be more at peace in our own skins, together. By learning how to nourish ourselves in healthy activities and connections, such as exercise or how to manage a healthy amount of responsibility and boundaries, we could have framed our goals in a more positive outlook instead of tearing eachother down for not reaching a most likely impossible standard to begin with. The end result being, building up self-confidence and self-worth. Having a sense of being intrinsically valuable. This is the power that self-care holds if fostered.

Reaching Out Often and Fostering Relationships

Another way I’ve been reconnecting with my relationships is a pretty straightforward one. I’m actively looking for ways to connect with the people I’m choosing to be a part of my life. This may seem like a no brainer but it can be somewhat counter intuitive.

When I was in my early twenties and thirties, my friend group was already incorporated into my daily routine. I worked with a fair amount of them, I lived with a few and we usually drank at the same bar every night. This made it easy to find all my friends when we weren’t playing video games together.

But the older we got, the more self contained our lives became. We no longer shared apartments and seldom crashed on each others couches. We worked separate jobs and moved to different cities. These are all natural events over the course of a friendship, but if you let them slip by without recognizing that new effort needs to be expended in order to keep the relationship alive, you could end up as I had. With very few friends.

I found myself without friends to share exciting news or people to grab dinner or lunch with. It was a lonely place that I realized I had built for myself. So, I started where I was. The few friends I had left, I made it a point to stay in contact with them. And the more I reached out, the more they reciprocated. I even began reaching out to people I hadn’t spoken to in decades to find that we were able to pick up right where we left off.

These were welcome connections indeed. I now make it a point to stay connected with the people I’ve been cultivating a relationship with. We share recipes we’re cooking, hobbies we’re interested in, visit interesting and new places together. Make future plans, things to look forward to. Everything you’d expect from a healthy friendship.

And the difference between the relationships of my past and those of my present? In the present, we are all putting in the effort to stay in touch with and foster these connections. The bonds are stronger now that we make the effort to take an interest in what the other is doing. Our common shared interests can no longer be summed up in the phrase, “can you pass me a beer.” Not that there’s anything wrong with sharing a drink together. Only drinking shouldn’t be at the center of the occasion or relationship. Celebrating the friendship should be the most important part.

Sharing Intimacy

There was a lot of time spent in my family on how we thought we needed to act to feel acceptable. As though we needed to live up to some impossible and ever changing standard. One that I’m not even sure where it came from or how we came to a consensus on it, if everybody was so uncertain of themselves all the time. It kind of blows my mind a little to think about the origins of our standards!

But we had them none-the-less and they did a lot of damage in our relationships. So shedding those standards by first recognizing them, and actively working to deconstruct them through self-care was imperative to heal in them. Some examples of impossible standards are, perfectionism, always being agreeable and never complaining. Fostering healthy connections is my new goal to living a more connected life with healthy friendships.

And hopefully, if we work on these places of our relationships with care and attention, we’ll create a shared sense of intimacy. A place were we can open to one another and share our goals and aspirations. A place where it’s safe to ask for and receive help. Without judgement or ulterior motives. To ultimately be ourselves.

It’s difficult work, but it gets easier the more we do it. And the payout is, we have healthier, stronger and self-sustaining relationships. Win, win. So what’s holding us back from connecting in these healthier ways? Take a look at some of your friendships and see where there may be room for improvement and start there. But equally as important, don’t forget to celebrate the places where your relationships are already going well. It’s good to recognize the work you’ve already put in. Peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Cast iron classical” by Darkroom Daze is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Being Grateful: How a Little Gratitude Can Help Change your Perspective

A common theme during the holidays is to be grateful for what we have. This is a great theme and frame of mind for sure. But as the gift giving part of the holidays is starting for some and wrapping up for others, it can be difficult to focus on what we have that brings us a sense of gratitude. We’re so consumed with what we have to get for others, beating the crowds and getting the right gifts, that being grateful takes a back seat to feeling obligated to buy and do for others.

And that’s not such a bad thing. Giving and receiving is a great way to connect. To make someone special know that they’re important to you is something to be grateful for in itself. But the fatigue of buying gifts for so many often times makes us lose track of that sense of gratitude.

It’s also tough to recognize that we may not be as grateful as we “should” be for what we have. This can be especially true for those of us who come from a place of privilege. “I should be more grateful”, or “I should be volunteering or donating more” may be ways that we should all over ourselves.

But if you already have a busy schedule, a load of obligations and other responsibilities to meet, is it realistic to hold ourselves to these impossible standards of giving more than we have? And are they prerequisite to feeling grateful? They help, but if you’re already pressed for time and resources, then beating yourself up for not doing more is something Tara Brach calls, the second arrow, and is something that will easily keep us feeling low.

The first arrow is feeling guilty about not doing enough. The second arrow is when you beat yourself up for feeling guilty. So much guilt and self deprivation is inconducive to keeping in a grateful frame of mind. So how do we cultivate gratitude? We need to remember first that it’s not always so easy.

Being Grateful, It Ain’t Always Easy

I work at a family shelter as a second job. I’m working there mostly to pay off student loans, but also because this is my preferred career path. The first response I get from people when I tell them I work at a family shelter is usually, “that must be gratifying work”.

For sure, it has its moments. But there’s much more heart break happening than there are feelings of being somehow righteous and grateful in my chosen career path. The people I work for have, and are, seeing some of the worst life has to offer. And they aren’t grateful all that often.

And that’s not too say they don’t have things to be grateful for, or a judgement of their disposition in any way. Only, that they are circumstances that need dealing with that are more pressing than the time allowed to take stock of what they are grateful for. When you’re on fire, it’s hard to take a moment to appreciate the times you weren’t on fire. Or when you’re not going to be.

And you don’t have to be homeless to get caught up in feeling a lack of gratitude. We all have times where we just feel overwhelmed with the amount of fires we’re putting out. Or maybe we’re going through a rough patch at work or at home. Whatever the reason, it’s okay to not always feel a sense of gratitude for what we have and where we are.

This doesn’t mean that we aren’t capable of feeling grateful, or that we’re not grateful at all. Only we need to make room for other emotions that may take up more space than we have room for both they and gratitude at the same time. For example, obligation takes up much of the same space that gratitude does for me. With so many obligations and demands to meet, it’s sometimes difficult to see out of the tunnel vision I get when I am in the midst of fulfilling my obligations.

A good example of this is, I work 60+ hours a week. When I work at the family shelter, I have more time to accomplish other tasks on my todo list. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be getting things done for myself, while budgeting my time efficiently and reaching my financial goals simultaneously. But the feelings of fatigue, tiredness and obligation, are most of the time greater than the feelings of gratitude. But my feelings of gratitude are still present, only muffled.

Practicing Gratitude

This is where practicing gratitude comes into the picture. Because when we practice the feelings of feeling grateful, they become stronger. And as I’ve said above, the other, more unpleasant feelings will still be present. The goal isn’t to get rid of these more difficult feelings, but to make the feelings of gratitude stronger than the unpleasant feelings. They can coexist simultaneously. As my therapist put it, when you try to not feel some emotions, you begin to numb them all. This is something I know a lot about and is a dangerous frame of mind to maintain for any length of time.

One way to practice gratitude is, the next time you feel grateful for something, pause and remember how you feel. This is something Tara Brach calls, turning a state into a trait. When we allow ourselves to really experience our states, and work to remember them, then it will be easier to find our way back to these ways of being. Think of it this way: we became anxious in the first place by worrying about everything all the time. Why would it be different for other, more positive states of mind?

So how do we make the switch from anxious based thinking to gratitude based thinking? There are a few ways we can help to cultivate this space for ourselves. I’ll share with you a few ways I practice this for myself, and maybe give you some inspiration to create your own space of gratitude for yourself.

Practicing Gratitude: A Practical Guide

One of the ways I practice gratitude, and probably the simplest way is to recognize it when it happens. We all have certain things we like. And throughout our day, chances are that we’ve built in some of these likes and tendencies, to bring a little joy to our day. Our job is to then recognize those moments and savor them.

It’s the Little Things

For example, I’m writing this article in my room, that is filled with things that bring me a sense of comfort and ease. I have an album I’ve recently discovered playing. I’m burning bee’s wax candles that naturally neutralise the air, purifying it from toxic chemicals (read here for more information on the benefits of burning bee’s wax candles). And I have a diffuser, diffusing the scent of jasmine into my room. And drinking a glass of iced peach herbal tea, lightly sweetened.

The effect is a very calming one. And every once and awhile, I’ll look up from my computer screen and just appreciate the ambiance I’ve created, to make my space just that much more inviting. It’s a similar state to when you go to your favorite restaurant and soak in the atmosphere along with the tastes and smells that make it your favorite place.

Achieving Goals

Another way I soak in these moments of gratitude is when I’m actively engaged in something that has a direct effect on a goal I’m trying to achieve. For example, I’m currently working towards paying off my student loans. Something I had no idea of what I was doing when I started the process of borrowing money for my education.

When I’m on my lenders website, making a payment, I do the math to see where my new balance will be after the payment is processed. I sometimes go on the site just to look at the progress I’m making. These moments of savoring my balance dropping and me getting closer to my goal, 350$ to 700$ at a time is something that also has a calming effect on me.

I can see myself working on improving my future, one payment at a time. It’s nothing huge, like pulling down a large salary, but knowing that all the extra hours I’m putting into work, and all the sacrifices I’m making in my budget to get me to a place that will allow me the freedom I’m seeking for my future, is worth all the while. Rumi put it best when he said, “what you seek, is also seeking you.” I believe that to be true.

Taking Care of Something

I have a lot of plants in the room I’m sitting in currently. Tending to their needs is also something that brings me a sense of gratitude. When I see that something that is under my direct care is flourishing, there’s a feeling of accomplishment in knowing that I was directly responsible for its well being by my actions.

For example, one of my dracaena plants wasn’t doing so well. Its leaves were browning at the tips and some had died off completely. My rubber tree was also under some duress. The leaves were turning yellow and falling off. In both cases, it had to do with either too much, or too little water.

For my dracaena, I placed it between two of my bee’s wax candles. This worked to suck all of the humidity out from around the plant. This was why the leaves were dying and browning at the tips. I moved the plant, and now mist it every once and a while the same way I do my fern.

My rubber tree was suffering from exactly the opposite reason that my dracaena was. I was over watering my tree, causing the leaves to yellow and fall off. So I switched the watering schedule for the tree. I’m still waiting the see the effects this will have, on both my plants, but actively attending to my plants needs, another living thing, is gratifying. Especially when the changes you make improve the overall health of the plant.

Speaking of improving our overall health, a lot of the plants I own have air purifying qualities that are beneficial for our living environment and our health as well. So if you’re looking to make your space a little greener, head over to my article above and get started on purifying the air in your space in a natural way : )

Take Care of your Body

This is an important aspect of gratitude as well. It’s amazing how much a little bit of exercise will help to prevent injuries and keep us in healthy working order. For example, I do yoga twice a week for about an hour each time. I do two, roughly half-hour sessions with Yoga with Adrienne. One is her core strengthening ritual, and the other is a thirty minute flow. And the other weekly session is an hour long restorative flow at a local yoga studio.

It’s kind of amazing how much difference I’ve seen in my day to day routines after only a few weeks of actively strengthening my core. My workouts are smoother, my strength has improved and I feel better about myself in general. The restorative practice is satisfying as well. There are some strength training elements to the practice, but deep stretching and taking it a little easier on my body has equally as beneficial results as strength training alone.

After both my strength training and restorative practices, I feel stronger, less stressed, more relaxed and also happier that I’m working towards keeping my body in shape to avoid physical injuries and other maladies that comes with inactivity. Also, savasana, after a difficult workout is one of the most relaxing things I’ve ever done. And it’s ease to develop a sense of gratitude during this final pose. As Adrienne puts it, “let the nutrients of your practice wash over your body”. I think what she means is, to me, soak in the gratitude you are cultivating with your yoga practice.

Bringing it All Together

Cultivating gratitude isn’t an easy task. Remember, try not to force it. When it comes to you, try and stay in the feeling and remember what it feels like. You can also tend to your spaces and routines to help facilitate it showing up more in your day to day. Actively work to surround yourself with the things that remind you to be grateful.

When other emotions come that make it difficult for you to feel and stay grateful, don’t push them away. Allow them the time and space they need to feel seen and heard. But try not to wallow in them.

Take care of yourself and of something else. Tending to our own, and others needs is conducive to cultivating states of gratitude. And it’s okay not to feel grateful all the time. Let it come and go, just remember to remember how it feels in your body and mind as it happens. Hopefully, with a little bit of practice, we can turn feeling gratitude into a recurring event. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “gratitude and rust” by shannonkringen is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Holidays are Supposed to be Fun: How to Ease Some Self-care into Your Busy Holiday Schedule

With so many responsibilities and events happening around the holidays, and with your focus being so intent on what you can do for others, it’s easy to let your own needs slip through the cracks. But what good are we to others if we haven’t taken care of ourselves? That’s why it’s especially important to remember to take a break in the midst of the holiday chaos, to recharge your batteries. A little strategic self-care can go a long way during these times of increased stress. Let’s see how.

Lower Light Lowered Energy

As the daylight hours get shorter, so does our natural rhythm. It may just be me, but when the days aren’t as long, it feels as though there’s less time in the day to get done what we need to do. And with so many extra responsibilities around the holidays, this can feel overwhelming.

I’m usually up before the sun, and most days, I’m leaving work right around the time the sun sets. Not being out during the daylight hours has definitely had an adverse affect on my emotional states. Especially the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. With the menu planning, work schedule and logistics of how to get what, where, it all takes a toll.

And with Christmas just around the corner, for me, time can just as easily slip away in December as it has in November. So what’re we to do in the face of all these responsibilities? For me, coming up with a plan is a priority. Otherwise I wouldn’t follow through with many of my thoughts or ideas on gifts to get and meals to cook and people to see. So here’s how I deal with the increased amount of responsibility this holiday season, and during other times of high stress.

Make a Plan

And follow through! When you’re scheduling your time during December and for the new year, take a look at how thin you’re spreading yourself. Did you pick up extra responsibilities at work? Did you say you would host a gathering or attend multiple gatherings? How much time did you leave for just yourself? When is your down time and what do you plan to do to recharge?

For me, work gets a little crazier around the holidays. So making sure I stick to my self-care routines is important. One way I practice self-care is by making a special meal for myself once a week. Also, going to my weekly in studio yoga class is important as well.

Sometimes I feel a little guilty. As though I could be squeezing more tasks into my schedule if I skipped yoga for a few weeks. Or ordered takeout instead of cooking my self-care meal. But pushing myself to the point of exhaustion or cutting corners on what brings me joy is no way to live life. It’s not sustainable for one, and two, Stephen King wrote a few novels about this which should be a clear red flag all its own, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

So before we flip to ax murderer status, let’s try and work some self-care into our schedules. A good place to start with is: what do you already do that brings you a sense of joy and peace? For me, sipping on some herbal tea is a good start, maybe while burning some beeswax candles. A good foot soak is up there as well. With some essential oils and bath salts, it’s something that’s especially relaxing.

And it being the gift giving season, why not work yourself into your gifting list this year? I plan on buying myself a massage before the season’s over. So I have something to look forward to in-between work responsibilities and family and friend engagements. It doesn’t have to be much, but a little self-care goes a long way to keeping your mental and emotional health in the best shape possible amid the stress.

Shopping for Others: It’s Not a Competition

I know when I’m shopping for others, it can feel like I have to find the perfect gift. Also, match whatever the other person is potentially going to get for me. What I’m trying to keep in mind this year is, that gift giving isn’t about the money spent on the person.

Sure, I set a budget for my gift giving plans during the season. But if I come in a few dollars under or over budget, that just means that I found the right gift for less, or I need to reign in my spending elsewhere. The dollar value I put on my gifts does not match the value I place on the relationship. This is what’s most important to remember, and helps to alleviate some of the stress that’s wrapped up in gift giving.

Also, understanding and accepting that the value someone else puts on gift giving does not have to be equal to, or in line with our value system. They can exist independently and not have an affect on our relationship for the worse.

So if someone doesn’t like the gift you got them, or they went all out and you kept it on the simpler side, try not to take it so personal. This can be difficult for sure, but the old adage still rings true, even after all these ages. It truly is the thought that counts. So try not to worry about it by remembering that the other person’s reaction isn’t a reflection of your intention. Just keep in mind that we’re all celebrating each other, not the gifts we bought for one another.

Ask For Help

Don’t forget that you’re not alone! Depending on what your responsibilities look like, you could ask those close in to lend a hand. For example if you’ve found yourself buried at work, don’t be afraid to ask a colleague or your boss for some assistance. I work in the food industry, so when I get behind, there are immediate consequences. But regardless of which industry we work in, being overwhelmed with work looks the same in every situation.

For example, a family member of mine works in the tech industry. They find themselves overwhelmed, usually in the beginning of the month, when they are inundated with paperwork. They were also, until recently, managing the work loads of other employees. When they understood how much they were doing, they had some conversations with their supervisor and the end result was, they hired another person to take some of their responsibilities.

When we’re behind at the place I work, we see who we can bring in to give us a hand with the prep list. Sometimes it’s a person from outfront, or maybe another person in the kitchen that works a different shift than I do. This way, our prep-list gets taken care of, while maximizing the resources and people we already have, only from somewhat unlikely places.

In both instances, when the work proved to be too much for those allocated the tasks, we both asked for help with finishing the tasks. There was less stress on the shoulders of the people who were tasked with the work, which means the work was done with more care. Win, win for everybody involved. It’s also worth mentioning that nobody does their best work when they are under large amounts of stress. It’s almost always beneficial to ask for help.

You Don’t Have to do Everything

In the same vein of asking for help in the workplace, it’s also good to know that you can ask for help in other areas of your life as well. For a very long time, I thought as though I had to do everything on my own and I had to do it perfect. Or in my book it wasn’t worth doing. This lead to a lot of disconnection and hurt feelings.

I was being insensitive to those who were earnestly looking to help me while they watched me struggle with what I was taking on. This directly lead to me alienating myself from those who were looking out for my best interests. I inflicted a lot of damage to many of my relationships this way. This is something that I’m not proud of, but also a valuable lesson learned. I don’t have to do it all, and I don’t have to do it alone.

Luckily, I was able to do some damage control and salvage most of my friendships. But recognizing when to reign in my foolish pride, take a step back and honestly evaluate my situation, and recognize when I need help, has been a huge step forward in being and staying connected with others again. Not to mention being in a happier frame of mind more frequently.

And it takes work. As I’ve said above, an honest evaluation of where you are and what you need is the first step to taking care of yourself and those around you. But it’s a difficult one, especially if you’re like me and let pride take the wheel.

One way this could be practiced is, if you’ve planned a holiday party for some friends and family, ask your S.O. or best friend if you can coordinate the logistics of the gettogether, together. Pick a night to get a few beers, some dinner and plan out the details of what you’re about to undertake. Maybe get a few more people involved in the planning. After all, more perspectives can bring a greater scope and depth of ideas to your planning. Making the event all the more satisfying in the end.

You could also have fun in the process, and build closer and tighter bonds with your friends and partners as you go. After all, this is what we’re looking for when we plan these types of events in the first place. To bring those we love, closer together, and create a sense of shared comradery, of joy, happiness and love. And this is the most basic type of self-care. Caring for yourself, then sharing that care with others while others do the same as well. Like being held in a field of caring.

It may sound a little cheesy, a little too Hallmarky, but who doesn’t have a fond memory of when your friend did that crazy thing at that party that one time. These are the moments that we hold close, that help us remember the good times when we’re stressed and in over our heads.

And Remember to Have Fun

And don’t forget, these times are about celebrating the good. We’re literally gathering together during the holidays to remember that life is fun. Sure there’s work to be done, and it isn’t always one big party. But there are moments of tenderness and joy. Happiness and love. Ease and serenity. These are all states that are worth celebrating and better when celebrated and shared together.

So remember, when you’re feeling stressed this season, make a plan. Take an honest evaluation of where you are at and what you need. Keep in mind that the material manifestations of you’re good intentions are enough. And don’t forget that not only are you able to ask for help when you feel overwhelmed, but it’s advisable, and will probably lead to building happier, stronger and lasting bonds. And don’t forget to take the time for yourself that you need. It’s okay to do something nice for yourself, even while you’re taking care of others. Good luck this holiday season. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Holiday plans” by jose.jhg is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Feeling Lost: What to Do When You’re Feeling a Little Homeless

This is something I’ve recently come to terms with and something that has deep roots in my personal history. I don’t need to go over the details of how I came to this realization, but my life experiences and my personal history paved the way for my realization, and I know I’m not alone. Here I’ll be sharing my experiences in hopes that it will help to light the way back for anyone who feels the same.

This began for me at an early age. I wrote about it some in my post on “Why am I Pushing Myself so Hard“, about the trauma I experienced and the sense of loss and feeling Lost. I was eight when things began to fall apart for me. My family had turned their backs on me collectively, leaving me to fend for myself at very early an age.

This is where feeling lost, without a home began to take shape for me. I didn’t feel welcomed or loved by anyone close to me from that day on. Without a place where you feel welcome, a sense of belonging, then you can feel as though you really don’t have a place to call home. I didn’t have the words for it at such an early age, but this was how I felt. Homeless and without a sense of belonging.

Okay, so bad things happen, I’ve come to terms with that. Once you’ve made the decision to accept the difficult things that have happened to you, then you can start to find ways to not only make up for the ways you’ve reacted to those situation or experiences, but also to heal from and move forward in your life.

The Buddha said it best when talking about anger and resentment, “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. This is so true from my experience. I was holding onto a lot of anger and resentment, as well as blame and pain also. But all it did for me was helped me to cultivate a great sense of self-righteousness and unhealthy habits. These were not the best tools to go through life with.

One of my mantras in my early twenties was, “bridges are for burning”. As you’ve probably guessed, things did not go well for me with this mentality. I found myself alone, with few friends and no real connections to anyone. There were reasons for it beyond my understanding, but as the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. And I definitely did not know. The journey was almost always trying, and difficult to say the least. But there are other ways of being and different tools we can use, to navigate life with.

Feeling More at Home

The tools I’m referring to are much like resources, in that they help to bring a sense of comfort and ease, direction to a chaotic life. I’ll share with you some of the tools I’ve cultivated, to help bring me a sense of direction and a feeling of being at home.

Yoga

I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for maybe five years. Yoga has helped to bring me back into my body, after dissociating from it for such a long time due to the abuse and neglect. I could comfortably be in my body while feeling difficult sensations that brought dis-ease. And there were a lot of difficult, uneasy moments for sure. But the longer you stay, the better you become at being comfortable in the sensation.

I was dissociated for a long time, so it took a lot of staying in order to feel as though I were comfortable just taking up space. If you have difficulty staying in and cultivating ease in the moment, yoga may be the key to helping you be more present.

Meditation

This one was helpful in many ways. First, it helped me to listen inwardly. There was a whole world happening inside of me that I was completely oblivious to. Tara Brach makes reference to a saying in the meditation community that’s rung a bell with me. The saying goes, “sit, stay, heal”. I like this saying because, as with yoga, the longer you stay with the difficult thoughts and emotions that arise, the easier it becomes to navigate them.

And as a friend of mine Jon said, when talking about a mutual friend who feels like they’re in a cycle of ups and downs, “what they don’t understand is, that feelings become easier to manage the more you allow yourself to feel them”. For me, I don’t think it would have been possible to separate the voice that was beating me up, from the voice of reason and better judgement. This was also difficult, and took time, but it’s doable.

Cooking

Cooking has been a source of grounding for me. The smells while the onion and garlic are frying, the steam that rises from the pots of boiling liquid. It all comes together to make a house feel more like a home. I batch cook, but also have one night a week where I cook a self-care dinner. Here is where I take my time and enjoy the process of watching it all come together. Sure it’s nice to order out every once and awhile, but the process of everything coming together holds a real sense of feeling connected to the act of nourishing yourself.

Friends and Family

Friends and family are important too. If it’s only you doing these things, it can feel lonely, and the point of these tools is to feel a greater sense of belonging and connection. Sure, first to yourself, but then to others as well. I’ve recently begun cooking with my family one night a week. This is a chance for us to connect, get to know each other a little better each time, and brings a sense of collaboration, of working on something together. Also, food tastes better when you have people to share it with.

But the bonds are what is most important when we get together for our family night. For me, I never had the bonding that I should have received when I was younger. So building something new, even though it’s a little late, has helped to fill some of that void that had been left inside of me from an early age. It also has a similar feeling as to when we gather for holidays and special occasions. It’s nice to have something special to look forward to.

We share bits of wisdom we’ve collected along the way, stories from our past, and in the process, we build that sense of belonging. That sense of being a family. And this is where feeling at home really begins to take shape. The stores and the shared sense of experience is where feeling those bonds lie. These are the moments we take with us into our lives and help to bring us a feeling of homecoming.

Writing

Writing for me has been a way to explore the ideas, thoughts and feelings I’ve had about my past, present and future. This blog has helped me to go through some of the parts of my life that I had been too scared to look at before.

Journaling as well has been an incredible resource. It has been a place where I can plan what my future looks like by writing down plans I have and things I want to accomplish. It’s a place to visit the past in a safe way by writing down my thoughts and feels about what I’ve experienced. And also a way to stay in the present. By writing down my budget, todo list, and other day to day things that need my attention while I’m living my life. I’ve written about it before in this blog, but if you haven’t yet, check out bullet journalling. This is a unique way to bring the various threads of your life together in one place.

Finding Time to Relax

This is an important one. For me, I have so many things, responsibilities and people to catch up with, that finding time for myself is in short supply. I usually find some time in the evenings. Before I go to bed, to relax a little I burn some candles, listen to some music, read a book and sip a cup of herbal tea to help unwind from the day. Feeling at ease, or like you have some time where you can feel relaxed is so important to our general health and mental well-being. Yet it’s something that we overlook or it’s the first thing to get tossed out when we have loads of responsibility to manage.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here is a perfect time to order something out, watch something mindless and just be with yourself or another and just be. We put so much weight on ourselves to accomplish so much, that we never really stop to ask ourselves, “why”? Taking the time you need to feel your best also shows you that you respect yourself and your time but also brings a sense of self-worth to it as well. And a little bit of care goes a long way.

Make a plan to relax a little everyday. Maybe there’s a park you enjoy that you can go to when you take a lunch break. Or do as I do and take an hour or so before you go to bed and set up a calming routine to help decompress from the day. Tailor it to your own needs and likes and make it a place you enjoy coming home to.

It’s Your Life, Go Live It

And I feel like this gets overlooked so often that it’s kind of amazing to me. We get so wrapped up in wanting to do as much as we’re able to, for others and what we think we need in life, that we forget to take the time to slow down and find out not only what we need, but what we want and how to best feel comfortable in our own bodies and minds.

What are some of your long term goals? Things that you want for yourself that will bring you a sense of joy and happiness. Is traveling a passion of yours? Write down a plan to visit some place you’ve wanted to go to. Even if you never make it, the act of planning can really bring a sense of curiosity and excitement, of finding new places to explore. As Adrienne says, from Yoga With Adrienne, “find what feels good”, and do that. Because life becomes a chore when it is filled with a bunch of checkboxes of things we need to accomplish. There’s more to life than what’s on your todo list.

And when you begin to tend to these areas of your life that may have been neglected for a long time, here is where the sense of direction comes together. You now have a sense of what your working towards, not just working yourself to the death. So find the things that bring you peace. They will help to make you feel more at home with yourself and with others. What are your resources, your go tos for taking care of yourself? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “lost (perdu)” by PATRICE OUELLET is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Why am I Pushing Myself So Hard?!” Who’s Standard are We Measuring Up To?

This is something I know all to well. I’m going to share something in this post that I haven’t yet shared with you all, but I think I’m finally ready to take the plunge. I’ve been living up to others standards for my entire life. And it all started on one fateful night in Vermont, 33 years ago.

When I was eight, I watched a close family member die slowly from skin cancer, due to the chemicals she was using for her screen printing business. It was difficult to watch. I remember the seizures she would have and my caregiver holding a metal spoon in her mouth to stop her from swallowing her tongue. Her jagged teeth were evidence of these actions, that left such a vivid imprint on my younger self’s memory.

While she was dying, my family made regular trips to Vermont to be with her and her family while she was passing. It was during these trips where something that would shape the rest of my life happened, and it was based around somebody placing an unreasonable standard on the shoulders of an eight year-old.

During these visits to my family members home in Vermont, we would spend many nights in that beautiful verdant greener. It was during these nights, that another care taker would visit me in the early morning hours.

I would be sound asleep, when suddenly I felt water being poured on me from the outside of my sheets. I opened my eyes to find my caregiver pouring water on my groin. They then pulled me from bed with fervent anger and a flurry of confusion and wet sheets, and scolded me for “wetting the bed”, towering over me in the dark and using whispered, harsh, cold and cutting tones about what I’m not sure of, because to this day I still don’t remember what they said to me. But I know that it had something to do with how to be a man.

I’m not sure the amount of times my caregiver visited me in the night, but it was always confusing, terrifying and left me feeling so alone and so confused about what it meant to be part of a family. Something I’m still coming to terms with to this day.

One night, he pulled me to tell me how good a job I had done because we felt like a family while making dinner. Another as I said above, he poured water on my groin and told me I had wet the bed. I didn’t have feelings for what I was experiencing at the time, but it was intense, terrifying and beyond confusion. I can remember looking in the mirror while I was in the bathroom, cleaning the “urine” off of the sheet I had “wet” and not knowing what was happening, what has happened and what to do about it.

And later, when I told my main caregiver what had happened, they turned their back on me. Leaving the eight year-old me alone on the landing, with no where to go but back to the hands of those who would continue to abuse me. This with the other trauma I was experiencing at the time, lead to a lot of confusion around what it means to have a reasonable standard.

I’ve been living with that standard for my entire life. I’ve only recently begun to take a deeper look at where that feeling is rooted, and in what I’m believing about myself and my belonging. It’s left me with a lot of uneasy questions about how I had been living my life and whose life was I actually living?

As it turns out, I spent most of my life living up to what I thought was expected of me. And what I thought was expected of me was to live life like Jim Morrison. This was the lifestyle my caregivers had adopted and one I had picked up the torch from and ran with. That’s one of the reasons why the lyrics of Lana Del Rey’s song, “Gods and Monsters” struck such a chord with me. “Living like Jim Morrison” was my and my family’s mantra, and the entire reason I started blogging in the first place.

This blog has become a place for me to reparent myself. To learn to live a life that is healthy, and set to my own standards. So what does it look like when you’re living under somebody else’s standards? Let me share with you my experience of what I was going through and how it shaped the ways I saw myself, others and my relationships.

Signs You’re Trying to Fit Someone Else’s Mold

For me, fear and anxiety were the most prevalent feelings. I was always in a state of fear or anxiousness, and it was mostly due to not knowing how to be or behave around others, in order to feel loved and accepted. I drank to numb the fear and kept to myself to avoid the possibility of being rejected by them.

So for me, the feelings of fear were clear indications that I wasn’t comfortable with who I was, because of how I had been raised to believe I wasn’t enough. I had been sent so many spoken and unspoken messages about how people should be, and receiving so much criticism at the same time, that all I knew was that I wasn’t adding up to others expectations. And with no direction, I floated along, absorbing these criticisms and never feeling like I could be accepted for who I am.

That’s where I needed to decide to reject the standards others were putting on me. This wasn’t easy. And I needed help from others along the way as well. I started by finding out what I liked. What are the things and activities, and who are the people I enjoy being around. I needed to find out what my resources were so I could better understand who I was so I could find out who I wanted to be. These are the new standards I had set for myself by finding out who I am as a person.

This is where my values began to take shape. And when I found out what my values were, who I was began to take shape. Some of my core values being, kindness, gratitude, being gentle, hard work and being helpful to others. These are a few of the aspects of what makes me who I am and in turn gives me a standard to rise to.

Resources As Accepting Help

I had to learn how to accept help, not only from others, but also from things like medication, or even a morning cup of tea. This was a tough lesson to learn because I wasn’t willing to accept help from anyone or anything. I was arrogant in that I felt as though I could do it all myself, and do it perfectly. This, however, lead to an amazing amount of stress and anxiety. Without the help of others and things, we’d be incapable of accomplishing anything in our day to day. Our goals would be left unmet and our lives would be left unattended.

Here I’ll be listing a few resources that have helped me along the way, to take care of my body and work towards achieving my goals. So if you’ve been looking for ways to attune to your self and body, after you’ve stretched yourself too thin, here are a few ideas that have worked for me.

Teas

This is a big one for me. As I’ve said previously on this blog, I used to drink up to 5-7 lattes a day and as many beers at night. I was avoiding coming home to my feelings and my body. And after all the abuse I’ve endured it’s no wonder.

So lately I’ve been in the habit of drinking green tea in the morning, and something that is stress relieving at night. This way I still get a little help in the mornings when I need the extra boost, and the tension eased when the day is through. Without going overboard, too far in one direction or the other. I usually drink jasmine green in the morning and Yogi Tea, stress support in the evenings when I’ve had a long day.

Friends and Family

This seems like a no brainer, but if you’re not used to asking for help, it can be difficult to see friends and family as people to listen to you when you need an ear, or just a hug if you’re feeling lonely. This can be especially tricky if you’re on the outs with some family. A situation I know all too well. This is why it’s especially important to stay in touch with those you are closest with and is so important for your mental health and well being.

They can be there to support you when you are feeling at your worst, and you them. They are good for advise and guidance when you’re feeling a little like you don’t know which direction to go or what to do next. And also they’re there for the good times and bad. So you have a shared history of what you’ve been through together which helps to build tighter bonds.

Yoga

This one is an important one for me, as it helped me to realign with my body and it’s needs. Exercising and feeling good about my body has done me a great service for helping me feel safer in my body. A place I was too scared to go to before. Once I started to feel the progress I was making in my practice, I was also feeling more confident in the movements and even in the discomfort of some of the poses. It also helps to know that the sensations don’t last forever. And yoga has helped to bring me to terms with some of the dis-ease around my body.

Therapy

Helping to talk out what you’re going through with someone who is there to listen without the judgements that we may get from others who are close to us is important. Licensed therapists and LSWs are a great resource in helping us to sort through what’s troubling us and can give us good insights as to how to help with our situation.

I’ve been seeing one for a while, and they’ve been there for me through some tough times. Also it’s important to find one who is a good fit for you. Each one has a different style and you may not find the one who is right for you on the first go around. I think I found the person I’m with now after visits with two others. There’s also a growing community of online therapists now as well, if this fits into your schedule better.

Accepting Your Own Pain

This was difficult for me, as there was a life’s time worth of pain and loss to accept and tend to. I’d been avoiding it for so long by speeding past it with caffeine and medications, and by numbing it with more medication and alcohol. What was so difficult about it all was that I didn’t even really know I was doing it. I was self medicating on instinct, like a habitual impulse to push away the pain. It’s strange to think about now, but it makes sense that I didn’t want to feel what was difficult. But as the saying goes, sometimes it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees.

Forgiving

This one was important, and one I’ve come to terms with recently. I first had to forgive myself, for pushing myself to hard, but also forgive those who abused or neglected me, whose footsteps I followed in the lack of care of my own needs. Meditation helped me to come to terms with this one. I needed the time and space around the feelings that were too intense to feel at the time to be able to understand them, where they were coming from and who their origin was with. Myself or someone else. Only then was I able to understand and forgive what was coming up. And this was difficult to do and to recognize at first.

But the more I meditated, the easier it was to recognize when a feeling would come up that was either something I sped past or froze in my youth. The more they came up, the easier it was to first, feel them, but second, to stay with them as they were happening. I could then forgive them for coming up, but also ask for forgiveness from myself for avoiding them in the first place. It wasn’t easy, but the longer you stay with them, the easier they are to be with them.

Conclusion

Whatever your standard maybe, don’t give up. You have more strength and wisdom in you than you believe. I like to think of relying on help from others as the Buddha’s wisdom of relying on sangha, or the group of people closest to you. And that if you ever doubt your true nature, remember that you have Buddha nature. An awakened heart and mind. So let all your feelings, even the difficult ones, just be. Accept them as they are and stay with them.

Image Credits: “y2.d40 | worry lines” by B Rosen is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

%d bloggers like this: