How to Know What Support Looks Like if You’ve Never Really Had It In the Past

Support and feeling supported was something that didn’t come to me naturally. This was mostly due to me feeling like a burden to my caregivers, whenever I expressed a need or a want. The term, selfish was tossed around all too liberally when we spoke about one another and how we expressed our needs. It seemed that no matter what we were asking, it was always too much.

I’d like to go into what the act of support feels and looks like, for me, in this post. If you grew up in an environment similar to mine, you’ll likely feel that anytime you express a need, you are putting somebody else out for just having this need. This is unhealthy. But if we’re never taught what healthy support looks like, then we simply don’t know what we don’t know. Though it is possible to feel supported in healthy ways. All it takes is some hard work and the right people : )

What Does Support Even Mean?

While I was growing up, there was a large emphasis placed on the rugged individual. Someone who could hold their own, usually a man, no matter what the situation was and that we don’t need support from others. We were expected to do everything on our own and do it perfectly. This is/was unreasonable. I didn’t know this at the time, but I was also idolizing action heroes such as Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from, “The Predator”, not realizing how unrealistic these ideals were.

I used phrases such as, “man up” in my youth, implying that if you were a real man, you’d be able to handle it, whatever “It” was. And this vein of thinking was carried throughout my family, as well as in popular culture at the time.

My parents got divorced when I was eight years old and I think I got the same speech from every male family member at the time. It was them saying to me, “you’re the man of the house now Adam.” I had no idea what this meant, and I’m guessing that they didn’t either judging from how they were acting as “men”. I was a boy, trying to understand what was happening to my family at the time. The prospect of being in charge was terrifying to me. And on top of that fear, my family was now my responsibility!? I had no idea what to do with this information at such a young age. So I disconnected from my family. Retreated into video games and stayed out late at night, avoiding coming home to the mess that was being left unattended.

When Your Environment is Corrosive to Support

In the environment that my caregivers created, we told the other how they were feeling. We never asked any questions about the other’s emotional states, or did any sort of mirroring. We never asked one another, “how did that make you feel?” When we did talk about emotions, it was usually in a way where one person was telling the other, what they were feeling. For example, comments such as, “you were just so selfish, pissy or narcissistic” were injected into our interactions without asking how the other person was feeling. We just told them how they felt, but if we dug a little deeper, behind the reactions, we most likely would have seen the hurt and neglect we were inflicting on one another.

And if we did speak about emotions, they were usually the more difficult ones such as anger. We did not have a vocabulary for what we were experiencing emotionally, because it wasn’t safe to explore our emotional worlds around each other in order to develop a language. This was due to us being viciously demeaning and mean to anybody who was foolish enough to let their guard down and share an emotion.

And it’s important to foster a safe place around our emotional selves if our goal is to create a supportive environment. This was something that we just didn’t know how to do, had never been taught how. Luckily, there are some resources for learning how to foster a supportive and nurturing environment. One where we can feel safe exploring our emotional experiences without trying to control them in ourselves, or maybe in my case and more importantly, in others, which I’ll be getting into towards the end of this post. But this type of environment is a difficult and crazy making place to be, if it’s all you’ve known about navigating emotions and receiving support.

Losing the Support I Once Knew

It was around the time of my parents divorce that I began to preform poorly in school and get into trouble more frequently. Since what I had known of support was no longer available to me, I just fell off the grid, so to speak. Everybody was so wrapped up in their own experiences of what was happening, that we were no longer available as a source of support or caring for each other. There was a lot of bad blood left during the process and everybody knew every detail.

We continued drifting apart, not even really knowing how to support one another even if we had decide to wake from our own emotional experiences for long enough to see that our family had fallen apart. We were quick to point out how someone had done harm to another, but not to help each other through the difficult emotions that came up from those hurts. And that’s assuming that we would know how to be there for each other if we could see what we were doing to one another.

So we all avoided contact, seeing each other only when we had to. This was our way of keeping ourselves safe from the wounds of the past being brushed up against by an old memory or from a current interaction. And it was in this environment that we forgot how to be support, for ourselves and another.

Licking the Wounds

We were so busy protecting ourselves and our wounds from one another, that we forgot how to be a support for somebody else in a healthy way. This was clearly for fear that we would find ourselves betrayed in the same ways we had in the past. Traumatic ways that left us wounded and untrusting. But we were also isolated, focusing only on the hurt as a reminder of what it means to get close to another. A defense mechanism that was much too built up to let anybody past.

And it was in this way of focusing on past hurts that we avoided growing beyond our smaller, wounded selves. Even now, 34 years later, we still have issues connecting due to how we’ve treated one another in our shared histories. Forgive and forget is a practice that is definitely not alive and well in my family.

But it’s also these mindsets that keep us locked in our old patterns of not being able to move past the emotions that feel too heavy, too scary to confront. For me, it’s a sense of feeling abandoned by those who were supposed to care for me. Leaving me alone at such a young age and then telling me I was in charge was a terrifying prospect to an eight year-old! So what am I doing to move past the old wounds and live the healthiest version of my life? It starts with taking ownership of my life, just as I find it.

Finding Support by Owning My Present

For me, I had to sort through a lot of poor choices I’ve made in the past. Regardless of how I was left, without guidance or to show me healthier ways of navigating my world, they were, and are, still my poor choices.

And I’m not beating myself up over the choices that didn’t have my best interests at heart. I’m owning them in a way that acknowledges I made a poor choice, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances. This gives me the comfort of knowing that now, that I am in a different place, one where I know how to ask for help, find resources and rely on people, I can make the healthier decisions that will move me forward in my life. And this is what I mean by support.

Types of Support

Debt

Support looks like, to me, finding people like Dave Ramsey when I was 100k+ in debt from the poor choices I made in the past. Following his advice on how to get out of debt, while I watch myself achieve my goals, slowly but surely, paying down what I owe.

And teaching myself how to make and stick to a budget. This was no easy task. Even when I was throwing as much money as I could towards my debt, I was still racking up $700 grocery bills, mostly in the form of taking trip to Whole Foods. That’s close to $500 a month I could have been putting towards my future! It was here that I learned the discipline to stick to the boundaries and limits I desperately needed to set for myself, in order to live a sustainable lifestyle.

Friends & Family

In terms of my relationships, support looks like asking the people who have hurt me in the past, to get together once a week and make dinner. To talk about who we are as people, revisit the past in a safe and comfortable setting, while forging new relationships with each other. Also, knowing how and when to take a rest when needed, from those close in.

Also, keeping in mind that I need to ask direct, clear questions, especially around how the other person feels. This also extends to me speaking up about how I feel during our interactions and knowing when it’s time to give the relationship and the conversation a break if things get too intense.

Internal & Emotional

While I was revisiting some of the ghosts from my past while writing this post, I was feeling overwhelmed with all the memories that were coming up. So instead of pushing past the feelings, ignoring and neglecting them in the ways they were ignored and neglected in me, from my past caregivers, I stopped, I asked what I needed for and from myself and the answer came, to take a walk by the ocean. So I stopped, listened to and attuned to my own emotional needs to take a break, and walked down to the ocean.

Reaching Out

These may seem like basic steps, but for those of us who have been severely emotionally neglected and abused, this is like learning a whole new language. And it’s difficult. In my situation, my caregivers had no idea how to attune to their emotional worlds, or listen to their own needs. They avoided themselves and their emotional needs at all costs, using denial and alcohol to subdue their internal worlds.

So it was necessary for me to reach out to somebody who had experience with healthy ways of helping me with and accepting my internal emotional world. I’ve been working with a therapist for a few years now, and the help I’ve received from her has been invaluable. Mostly just a safe place to explore how I’m feeling, while also giving names to my emotional experiences. Also having her validate that they (my emotions) are real and valid. Again, basic but so important if you’ve never had this type of mirroring and support.

Friends

And finally, friends are so important for our sense of belonging and need to feel heard, loved and supported. As I’ve said in previous posts, most of my friendships were based on the good times, avoiding the difficult work of supporting each other during the difficult ones. So when those times came, it didn’t take long for those bonds to break under the weight of hurt feelings.

I don’t speak to many of the people that used to populate my past, but the friends that did stick around for me are very dear to my heart. I literally don’t know where I’d be without them, one in particular being there for me at just the right time and place. It’s also important to feel a part of something more than just our own internal worlds. Best not to let the squirrels run to wild in the trees of our minds : )

And It Gets Easier

These are my experiences with what support looks like. If you feel as though you are in a place where you lack the support you need, go and find it. I wish someone had told me this a long time ago. I spent too many years wondering without direction, not knowing what to do with myself in my life. And it’s worth remembering too that, no one can go this life alone. It’s hard enough even with the support! So if you’ve experienced a general lack of feeling and being supported, know that it’s not to late to do something about it.

Find a therapist, make regular visits with friends or maybe try reaching out to some of the friends you have on Facebook you haven’t talked to in a while. Find a group to be a part of with shared interests. Building relationships can be tough work, but it is so worth the while. Start sharing yourself and good things are bound to come of it. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Hug” by Hans-Jörg Aleff is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

“It’s No Easy”, Sitting With The Difficult Emotions

Learning to Stay

This is something I have very little experience with. I’ve just started feeling my emotions again after running from them for so long, I had forgotten what they felt like. I used a lot of different modalities to run, among them being, pornography, alcohol, eating and just plain being mean to others. If a difficult emotion came up such as fear, anxiety or sadness, it was probably a safe bet that I was using something to avoid it. And as my old co-worker and friend Melba would say, “it’s no easy”. And she’s right.

Running from my emotions was not healthy. I saved up these difficult emotions until I released them in unhealthy ways as well. Anger for example was something I would hold onto and release in the form of cutting insults and condescending remarks. If you’re reading this and I’ve done or said something hurtful to you, let me apologize. I’m so sorry. I had no idea what I was doing.

This is something I’ve been skirting the edges of for a while because I’m not sure it is really who I wanted to be. Not in a way where I’m trying to defer how I treated others by saying my intentions were good, but I don’t think I ever wanted to be, or be known as, mean. Or maybe more pertinent, bad-ass and callous.

I think what was so confusing for me was, that the more often I was mean to others, the more I felt bad about myself. I thought by acting superior to others, I would somehow be above the feelings of self-doubt and insecurity. But I was riddled with anxieties and the fear of not belonging. Which seems strange looking back because I was pushing everybody away with who I was acting as, what did I expect would happen? And all this because I was to afraid to stay in the difficult feelings.

Difficult Feelings: What Are They?

I imagine the difficult emotions are the same for everybody. The fear, the distrust and anxiety. The anger and the hate. The shame and guilt. We all feel them, but what makes them unique to our situation?

When I think about it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that we don’t have a single way to handle these emotions that everybody is feeling. We’ve been dealing with them for so long that it seems someone should have found a way to handle “that” emotion, whatever it is. But the reason this is the case, I believe is, that everybody has a different origin story for their difficult emotional stories, their narratives.

What’s Your Story?

I believe that everybody has an original source and situation for where their pain comes from. We aren’t born mean or looking to harm others. It’s something that’s learned, passed around from hurt person to hurt person. Just as the old adage says, “hurt people, hurt people”. I believe the source of our hurt comes from our initial, or most repeated infraction on our fragile selves.

This could come in the form of a constant stream of criticism from a care-giver. Or from years of emotional and physical neglect or abuse. Maybe one or more traumatic events happened through out our lives. Wherever the source comes from, the result is the same. We’re left with difficult emotions to process and feel our way through.

And if we’re not taught to handle or process these emotions using strong and healthy resources, the outcome usually isn’t good. I had picked up my care-givers’ tools for dealing with difficult feelings, the short list I listed above. But I wasn’t actually dealing with anything. These were the ways I was running from what would eventually catch up to me and lay me low without warning. I was only covering over what I didn’t want to come to terms with by pleasure seeking.

So when I was in a situation where I felt as though I were being judged, usually socially or with those closest to me, I drank. This helped to numb my experience of what was happening around me, giving me a false sense of confidence that I used to judge others in hurtful ways. I wasn’t constantly living in a state of fear or anxiety, or of consistent judgements of others, but I was spending an awful lot of time there. And that is not a health head space to be in.

Acting superior to others was another way of disconnecting from others and the possibility of being hurt by them. It was also something that was handed down to me by my caregivers. We had a sense of entitlement that was beyond reproach. God only knows why because we were just as flawed as everybody else, only we felt as though we were “better” in some way than what was happening around us.

I cringe a little now thinking about it, but understand the enormous amount of insecurity we were all feeling. Because when your self-worth hinges on one facet such as, how good you look naked, then being loved and excepted is an all or nothing condition. And that is a terrifying place to be, especially if you’re being judged by your family in this way. So with so much working against us, how do we begin to change the ways we are acting in order to stay and feel through what we’ve been running from?

So You Know Your Story, Now What?

Now that you’ve looked at some of the ways you were treated, which may have brought you to try and avoid the difficult emotions that were the result of said treatment, the question then is, where do we go from here? Running hasn’t worked for me, so the natural solution I came up with was, to stop the evasive tactics. I.e. the bad habits I picked up, then I could start the work of changing the ways I handled myself by acting superior or being liberal with my anger in condescending ways.

Social Pressure and Fear

For me, being in social settings was something that triggered a great deal of insecurity in me. I was so roundly rejected by my care-givers that the thought of being in a room with them while they pulled me apart like rabid animals feasting on a carcass, flooded me with emotions of anxiety and insecurities of not belonging and questioning if I was even loved. If they even could love was something I’m coming to terms with now.

And when feelings of fear mixed with the thoughts that I was somehow offensive to my care-givers just by being in their presence were some of my first social cues, I would there after find myself questioning if I was even wanted wherever I went. I was followed by a pervasive sense of self doubt in every social setting I found myself in, never quite feeling as though I belonged.

This was usually where I would pick up a drink and throw loudly spoken opinions around. Numbing the fear while keeping those at a distance by belittling them and trying to make myself seem superior. This did not work however and I found myself feeling more and more anxious the more I used these tactics to try and feel better about myself. So how did I stop the cycles or fear and anxiety in connecting with others?

Change What You Do To Become Who You Are

For me, I had to take stock of where I was in my life and how I got to feeling as anxious as I was feeling around others. I should mention that I still have feelings of anxiety in relationships sometimes, but not the overwhelming amount I used to. Leading to me having to drink my way through them.

The first thing I did was separate myself from the social scene I was a part of. I took a little time off from the people that I had been spending most of my time with and evaluated my relationships with and to them. How had I been acting around them and they me? Did I feel worse after hanging out? When we were together, what was the content of the ways we were connecting? Were they mean? Was I mean? Were we cutting others apart to feel superior?

Or were we building each other up? Being a support for the other when dealing with difficult situations? Did we share our hopes and plans for the future with one another? Did we say and do thoughtful things for each other? Sadly the answer to most of these questions were definitely not. Something needed to change.

Your Habits Matter

Once I took stock of my relationships, I slowly released myself back into the wild, one friend at a time. I got in touch with my old friends and started rebuilding my relationships with them. Only this time I used a new set of tools to connect with them.

Listening was probably the most important of these tools, inwardly and to others. In my past relationships, as I said above, I was loudly throwing my opinions up on whomever was around me. This did not leave me with the ability to listen to what others were experiencing. But I was also surrounding myself with similarly minded people. Loudly validating whatever venom the other was spitting. This was something I learned from my care-givers as a child watching them do the same.

So I stopped forcing my opinion on others and in the process changed some of my views to be more inclusive and kind. This was an added bonus to slowing down enough to listen to what the other was experiencing, but also listening to what was coming up in me. This is the most direct way to learn what the other person is like. I was asking more questions, about their likes, dislikes, what their experiences are and stories they had to tell. This may seem like a basic friendship building block, but to me these were all new and exciting lessons.

I made it a point to share well thought out opinions and advice when asked. Instead of telling the person what was “right” according to me, which was usually a blanket statement about how someone is, or group of people are or how they’re out to get us in some way, I was listening to and responding from my honest experiences. If someone had a question about finance, instead of me going on a rant about how the richest 1% are trying to control the world, I would ask what the specifics of their situation are, listen inwardly to use my experience with debt and the info I had from the research I’ve done for myself and give them an honest evaluation of what I think would be a viable plan.

And I slowly did this with more and more people, until I found myself surrounded with friends that I truly felt a connection with. And it’s important to say that not everybody I reached out to was in a place to be able to connect again. We are just in different places and that’s something that I needed to accept if I’m rebuilding my burned bridges from past relationships. Not everybody is in a place to want to connect again. And that’s okay. There will be more people willing to step up and be a part of our newly renovated lives.

Just from writing this blog, people have reached out to me that I never thought I would talk to again. And we’re better for it as well : ) Which leads me to another bonus of shifting our habits. Expect the unexpected!

And Be Patient

I’ve only covered a small section of the feelings that may be difficult to stay with. I’ll be talking more about these in other posts. But just know that this is a practice and something that takes a bit of time to feel comfortable with. It took me a great deal of practice to get to where I am and I’m still learning how to stay when it gets tough. There’s a phrase in the meditation community that I learned from Tara Brach that goes, “sit, stay, heal”.

I think is a nice way to think of the practice of, not only meditation if you are practicing, but also learning to handle emotions. Especially if you weren’t given much guidance in this area. So be patient, you’ll eventually get to where you’ll feel most at home in even the most difficult emotion. Peace, : ) thanks for reading.

Image credits: “creativecommons | incense burner” by *AndrewYoungPhoto* (writing_with_glass) is marked with CC BY 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

Black Friday :( Green Friday :) Some Sustainable Gift Ideas for the Holidays

Growing up in my family, shopping may as well have been a basic need, along with food, water, coffee and vodka tonics. This is no exaggeration. As a child, I feel as though I spent more time in department stores that in my house or playing outside. The women in my family were literally always shopping. I remember car rides during the day where we would bounce back and forth between department stores and strip malls in search of the best deal.

There isn’t a lot to do when you’re a kid in a clothing store. Except hoping that you don’t have to try on any clothing while you’re there. But all in all the experiences of shopping when I was younger weren’t stellar. And that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy shopping now.

There is something about getting something new, something that you enjoy or know is going to fit that need you have for something just like it in you daily rituals. But when you’re buying things you don’t need or have never used, then maybe we need to reassess our shopping habits.

And with the gift giving holidays right around the corner, what better time to take a look at our patterns than in the next few weeks. Some questions we could be asking are; who are we buying for? How many people are on our list? Do we have a go to brand, type of gift or place we check out first? Are these gifting patterns sustainable? In this post, I’ll be sharing some of my gift giving experiences and what’s worked for me in the past, as well as what I’m looking into this season. Hopefully, we can find some sustainable and joy inspiring gifts while keeping the focus on what’s important. Not the new trend or “it” item, but the happiness of the person we’re getting the gift for.

Buy for the Personality, Not the Person

This may seem like a no brainer, but it’s worth mentioning when we start to choose what we’re buying for whom. What type of person are you buying for? Are they extroverted or are they a homebody? What are their hobbies? Their guilty pleasures? How close are you to the person? These are all elements worth exploring while selecting the gift that would best match their personality.

And then there’s the type of gift we usually give. Are you the type of person who likes to get gift cards? Our do you love buying clothes for your giftees? Do you like buying kitchen gadgets for people? Maybe the newest tech is your thing. There’s nothing wrong with any of these options, but there are only so many of any one thing that someone can reasonably own and use.

The Foodie

I can say from experience that I have a kitchen full of tools and if I were to lose 70% of them, I’d still be in pretty good shape. If someone you’re buying for loves to cook, why not instead of gifting another gadget that may go unused, find something that they enjoy daily. Like a special blend of coffee beans that’s organic and shade grown. Or if they’re tea drinkers, I was recently gifted this organic jasmine green, ginger peach tea from Kilogram Tea. There are also subscriptions you can purchase that sends a variety of teas to the person’s door.

This option could be used for any type of consumable the foodie in your life loves. It’s essentially something they would buy for themselves anyway, and it cuts back on the amount of objects the person will own. Saving those items from later being tossed in a landfill. Win win.

The Nondescript Gift

Gift cards are another perfectly good option. But what is the gift card for? Instead of buying something that will eventually take up space, why not think about something that will last in the form of a memory? Instead of a gift card to their favorite store or hobbie shop, what about a certificate to a restaurant, or a live show.

If you’re a fan of NPR, there’s a show called The Moth, where people get up on stage and tell their story. The show is fantastic to listen to on air or as a podcast. But they usually tell their stories in front of live audiences. Which means you can buy tickets for events that are happening near you. They’re held nationwide, so all you need to do is keep an eye out for an event that is coming your way.

Restaurants are another way to share an experience with your friend. Giving them a gift card to a restaurant that just opened, or maybe somewhere they wouldn’t normally go, is a great way to give a new experience over an object. This is something that will at least have a story when they’ve gone and may be the future site of where you and your friends will gather for a meal and some stories. Maybe before going to a live Moth show : )

The Fashionista

Buying clothing is a popular route to take when gift giving. But most people’s wardrobes are already filled to the brim with many articles that go unworn. And there are people like me who go clothes shopping mostly at thrift stores. Hoping to give some pieces of clothing a second shot at life. So what do we do for the fashion forward person in our lives?

When I buy new clothing, I mostly try to buy from a company that has pieces made from 100% organic cotton. This way, I don’t have to worry about my clothing ending up in a landfill, because even if it does, it will most likely compost before too long. And also I don’t have to worry about the garment releasing microfibers into the oceans and water ways as it’s washed, as I wrote about in my piece, “Is it better to buy organic cotton or recycled polyester“?

One place I’ve been buying clothing from is a company called Pact. They sell mostly the basics. Socks and underwear, while also selling bedding and bath. They use 100% organic cotton in their materials, and their clothing is comfortable, and reasonably priced. However, if you’re looking for something other than the basics, this article from Earth.org has a list of 16 sustainable clothing companies for shopping in 2021.

Gifting fashion can be a great way to get something special for a loved one. But remember that clothing is unique to each individual person’s style and personality. So make sure to have a chance to return whatever gift if it doesn’t quite match up to the person’s expectations.

The Techie

Buying sustainable technology is more difficult than I would have expected. I suppose this isn’t a huge surprise as they are coming out with new phones and technologies all the time. It can be difficult to find something that works with the person’s personal preference, phone carrier or other requirements they may have. Technology is becoming as personal as style.

But the sad truth is, there just isn’t a lot of options for buying sustainable technology based gifts. This article from UK blogger, The Sustainable Jungle, goes into detail about how the tech industry is behind the times in the sustainability department. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t find some companies out there doing good work for the environment.

This article from the honest consumer, had a few recommendations for tech accessories, such as compostable phone cases and chargers made with recycled plastics. Again, pickings are slim but it’s a start.

I also came across a phone company making fair trade and sustainable phones. Fairphone. But unfortunately they are only offering their phones and other items to the European market. But a company like this is just what the sustainable market in the US needs. Hopefully, with a little time and some foresight, there will be a company state side that will offer something comparable. I’ll be keeping an eye out and let you know if anything changes on this front.

Wrapping Up

Here are only a few ideas to get you started on your gift buying journey this season. Also, Buy Me Once is another great source for inspiration in sustainable gift giving. So good luck with finding the right matches of gifts with people this season, and remember, don’t go overboard.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the spirit of gift giving. But if we’re just buying things because it’s a good deal or we already have something that’s thoughtful but something else caught your eye, it starts to mean less.

Be intentional with your gifts. Give yourself the time you need to make a decision based on your relationship to the giftee. We don’t need a whole bunch of stuff to remember how much we’re loved, just a few well thought out objects that hold meaning to us. Thanks for reading : ) peace

Image Credits: “Christmas Present Table after the gift giving” by Musicaloris is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Finding Belonging: Navigating Feeling Lonely For the Holidays

There has been a lot of talk lately about isolation and how it’s been affecting us as a global society. Being quarantined for such a long time has no doubt, taken its toll on peoples’ mental health. But what about those who were already isolating? Only not due to a virus outbreak. What if there are people whom are already quarantining, only to protect themselves from opening up emotionally to others? And not from a potentially deadly virus.

This was how I had been living for decades, not realizing what I had been doing. In this post, I’d like to take a look at what brought me to this place and what I’m doing about it now to help alleviate some of the pain of emotional isolation. Hopefully, helping both those who are too scared to open up emotionally, but also those dealing with pandemic isolation as well. So let’s jump right in with where it all began for me.

How the Past Shapes the Present

When I was young, things were pretty good. I had a best friend, support from family and interests I was developing. I was well on my way to a healthy version of person-hood. But things took a turn for the worse when I was about 8 years-old. My family fell apart and I lost my best friend, all at about the same time.

This is a difficult situation for anybody to handle, but when you’re 8 and emotionally abandoned, it’s nearly impossible to sort out and understand all the emotions tied into what’s happening to and around you. Also not to mention, to not take responsibility for what’s happening. Especially if the messages you were being sent were, as I was, “there’s something wrong with you, I know what it is, but I’m not going to tell you and I’m disappointed in you for it.”

These messages came from my family mostly. There was always a smug sense of knowing, of superiority that my caregivers carried about them. And when you’re a child just coming to understand how you affect the world you’re inhabiting, as I was, this is more than just a little confusing. I was second guessing my belonging, how I was seen by others and whether what I was doing made those I relied on and trusted, reject me. I was lonely, isolated and had absolutely no one to talk to, to help me to understand what I was experiencing. Fast forward to the pandemic and I had already experienced what others were coming to know well as a heartbreakingly lonely experience. Only for most, theirs was due to COVID-19.

And the older I got, the further apart my family drifted. To almost complete isolation. We never spoke to one another and when we did we didn’t have anything nice to say about anything or anyone. We were becoming less and less recognizable as a family, aka a group of people who love and support one another. It just wasn’t in us.

Okay, It’s Hit the Fan, Now What?

To watch something you felt loved and supported from fall apart, is no easy task. As I’ve said in earlier posts on this blog, I have very fond memories of my family as a youth. So getting used to the cold, emotionless, emptiness that was slowly growing in the place of where my love and support used to live was maddening. But it was also fact. No amount of wishing things were differently was going to make things change for the better. Especially around the holidays.

So I did what anybody in my situation would do. I had a breakdown. I left my wife for a woman I thought I loved, only to find myself rejected yet again. A pattern I later realized that I emulated from my family history. But it’s the best thing that could have happened for me at the time.

I realized I was living the embodiment of my family’s toxic ways of being, all the while running from what was healthiest for me. Which was to build lasting relationships based in mutual respect and love. Not on the image based and emotionally avoidant ways my family has been living.

I chose my ex-wife because she held strong opinions and knew what she wanted. These aren’t inherently bad qualities, only it left me without a voice in the relationship. But this was just what I was looking for. Someone to tell me how to live my life. And that’s exactly what I got from our relationship.

The woman I left my ex-wife for was more of the same. I was regressing in my emotional growth by choosing women who were obstinate, mildly self-absorbed, bullish, self-righteous and mean spirited. But if we’re being honest, I was exactly the same way. And I was also looking to avoid actually being a part of my relationships because it’s how I was hurt in the past.

So after my breakdown, I moved in with one of my childhood caregivers. This was a wakeup call In that most of the life events that I experienced, my caregiver had as well. Only I never knew because we never spoke. They were avoiding building a relationship with me in the same ways I was avoiding building relationships with them and at all.

So again, I was left alone and with little direction on how to move forward with and in my life. But luckily this time around, I had a few resources and some goals to work towards. These, in conjunction with one another, gave me the insight to help me move forward, and finally grow from the regressed, stagnant place I had been living from for so long.

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

There’s a feeling I get when I go into a drug store or a thrift shop. It’s a feeling of knowing that I can probably get what I need from the place I’m in, but it maybe won’t match the ideal aesthetic of what I want. But there’s a potential that’s embedded in that feeling. What if I can make something of what I have. What can I do with where I’m at.

And that’s a good feeling. This was the feeling I got when I moved in with my caregiver after barely speaking for 26 years. We were finally in a position where we would be stuck in a place together, for better or for worse, and have to navigate our situation together. But it took a while. We had to get use to being around one another again. Get to know each other as the people we had become, with all of the life experiences we’ve accumulated. It was uncomfortable at times but we stuck it out and grew stronger because of it.

I started doing laundry every other week with one family member, which slowly allowed me to get to know them again. This is where I started to trust again. Then I suggested family dinner nights on Friday. Every Friday, one of us chooses a recipe and we all come together to cook. Dividing the tasks and enjoying the fruits of our labor, the conversations, the mistakes. It’s become a favorite night for all of us. Then I suggested just hanging out with one family member on Monday mornings when I wasn’t working.

Slowly, we were, are, learning how to be a family again. But no one of us could have done it alone. We all had to be willing to become a part of something bigger than just three people living in a household. We needed to be open to the idea of living in a home, foibles and all.

And this took a lot of work, for all of us, but on my part as well. I had to be open to being hurt again. So I could feel the vulnerability and the tenderness that comes with feeling connected. Because I will be hurt again. I’ll be let down by something somebody does or hurt when they leave me for the final time. But it’s worth remembering to open anyways. There’s a line from a Kings of Leon song, “The Immortals” that goes, “don’t forget to love, ‘fore you gone”. Something I feel as though a majority of us are too scared to do. And what I was running from for so long.

Tick List: Stay Connected

I have a list on my phone, next to my “Todo” list. This one is called, “Stay Connected”. It’s a list I wrote of my friends, the people I want to stay in touch with. What they’re up to and current plans I have with them. For someone like me, who has been isolated for the better part of three decades, this is an important aspect of my life for me to stay on top of. There’s a line from a song that goes, “being lonely is a habit, like drinking or taking drugs, I quit them both, but man was it rough” Jenny Lewis, Acid Tough.

And being lonely is both habit and rough. One of the reasons we may be isolating and why I was is, to protect ourselves. But it’s doing more harm to stay isolated than to take the risk and feel connected. This article from Tulane University explains how isolation can lead to anxiety, depression and heart disease. But do we really need scientific research to show us that we feel better after a talk with a close friend? Or the feeling of warmth while we’re cuddling with our S.O.? Sometimes we need only listen to the wisdom of our hearts to know what’s best for us, even if that wisdom is intertwined with fear.

Taking the Risk

I have a photo from “Man on Wire” on my desktop, where Philippe, the subject of the documentary, is on a high-wire between the tops of the two world trade center buildings in NYC. The photo is both terrifying and beautiful at the same time. This is what it feels like, for me, to risk feeling connected again after so much neglect and estrangement. It’s not safe, but necessary, to cross the void in order to feel loved and connection again.

So how do we begin to cross the void? Don’t look down! JK, but seriously, it takes a lot of feeling uncomfortable and swallowing a fair amount of pride in the process. For me, I had to recognize that I was actively withholding love from others. And what’s most surprising is, I didn’t even realize I was doing it. It became so engrained in my personality, in my defense against being hurt, I didn’t even realize it was happening. It was a lesson I learned from my family, who has been practicing it since I can remember. So to even wake up from this trance I was in, is a feat on to itself. But it’s doable. It just takes practice.

What practice looked like for me was, I had to find ways to make my environment comfortable for me to inhabit first. I started with my room. Filling it with plants, a diffuser and some candles. Things that imbue comfort for me. I then took some of that comfort and carried it into the next room I wanted to acclimate to. I started burning candles while I was learning to take care of my nutritional needs by way of cooking for myself while in the kitchen. I was then able to offer this peace I had found in myself to others. But the other aspect I needed was to learn how to be kind to myself first.

This took practice as well. I didn’t realize the ways I was beating myself up in most cases. Trying to reach that impossible standard to feel loved and accepted kept me from seeing a lot of the ways I was disconnecting from myself and how I was pushing myself too hard. But these were learned behaviors from my family. I was neglecting myself in the same ways my family neglected themselves.

For example, my family, for Thanksgiving, wasn’t going to buy a turkey for themselves because it was too expensive and too much food. I don’t eat meat, and they couldn’t eat a whole turkey with just the two of them. But they would buy it for another in a heartbeat if they were coming over for dinner.

These are the ways I had modeled for me in neglecting myself by way of neglecting what brings me joy, because I feel I need to settle for something lesser. This is due to not feeling as though I’m worth the effort, but if I’m always neglecting myself and sacrificing my happiness for no other reason than because I don’t want to spend the money or effort on myself, what kind of message am I sending to myself and others? That I’m not really worth or worthy of love. From myself or from others.

And my family members are good people. They’ve just been told time and again this unhealthy message of, sacrifice your happiness and joy in the name of being frugal, or for someone else’s sake. We never learned how to care for and love ourselves. But this is what I’ve been doing with my planned family dinners and time spent with family members again. Learning how to care for myself, as well as those closest to me. As a result, we’ve all come to trust and love each other a little more deeply because of it. It hasn’t been easy, but it is most definitely worth the while.

There’s a greater sense of ease around one another now. A place where uncertainty and distrust lay before. Something that wasn’t possible only a few years ago. It’s not perfect, but it’s fulfilling. And that’s good enough.

Begin With What You Have

So how do we make the U-turn from lonely and isolated to connected and loved? I’ve found that starting with where you are, and who you are with, is the best place to begin. But first, it’s important to assess your situation and whom is around you to make sure you’re taking care of yourself in as safe a way as possible. For example, if I was still living with the last woman I was staying with, I most likely wouldn’t have been able to grow in the ways I have. I just wasn’t in a safe and supportive environment and subsequently felt guarded and on edge. This was not an environment conducive to building trust.

Finding supportive friends is also fundamental to building trust and love as well. I’m so grateful for the countless hikes and conversations that have nurtured me when I most needed love and support from my friends and family that are closest to me. Time spent together was a soothing balm to the neglect and abandonment I experienced in my youth. And they are relationships I value more and more the more time I spend with them.

So if you’re in a similar situation to what I have experiences and are feeling lonely, find a relationship that feels like it has potential, even if it feels a little risky, and start there. Find a foothold in a shared common interest. For me and my family it was food and gardening. What do the people in your life value? Where does it intersect with where your interests lay? Explore these areas a little together. And remember, it doesn’t have to happen overnight.

Treat your relationships as you would something that is growing. Give them the time and space they need. The nutrients of your shared interests and what you discover along the way. Again, it won’t happen overnight, especially if there are hurt feelings to tend to. But be patient. Also, if you’re new to building healthy relationships, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I owe a great debt of gratitude to my therapist who has been a personal ally for me when I most needed them.

And also, don’t forget to have fun along the way! For me, I can get so wrapped up in thinking I need to constantly improve, be as healthy as possible, that I forget that I and those closest to me aren’t projects. We’re just people who want to connect, to be seen and heard.

The holidays can be lonely for some but they don’t have to be. If you are finding that you are in a similar situation, feeling a bit adrift and lonely, reach out to someone. Even if you haven’t spoken in years. You’d be surprised how many people I’ve contacted after years of not talking and fell right back into a rhythm of conversation again. Start where you are, with who you know. It’ll help, just be open to connecting and you’ll be part of the flow once again. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: alone… by VinothChandar is licensed under CC BY 2.0

%d bloggers like this: