Cultivating Joy, Cultivating Friendships

When I was a teenager, I had no idea how to sustain friendships. This is not hyperbole. I literally did not have healthy friendships modeled for me, and the friendships I did have were with people who were experiencing the same amount of strain or trauma in their personal life as I was. We were all just trying to figure it out without any guidance to show us the way. So, we hurt each other. A lot.

But even with the hurts we were blindly injuring one another with, we still managed to find some lasting and comforting forms of companionship. As I’m writing this, I’m waiting for a friend at a local coffee shop. Someone I’ve known since high school. We’ve managed to stay friends through the years. Through college, career changes, babies and marriages, we’re still a resource for one another.

But this hasn’t been the case with many of the people I once called friends. I’d like to explore some of what brings us together and how to keep these bonds healthy. How do we nurture the initial spark of friendship that brings us together, to last through the years? Let’s start with the spark, and see where it takes us.

What Makes a Friendship?

I’ve said this before on this blog, that Jay-Z’s line, “real recognize real and you lookin’ familiar” has a spark of truth in it for me when it comes to describing a friendship. What I like about it is, that I think we recognize what’s familiar in one another’s experiences and circumstances. We see that we’re in the middle of something that looks familiar to us, and are drawn to one another. I suppose as a way to support each other while we try to figure it out. Two heads are better than one, as they say : ) ( :

We’re mirroring each other in a way. And I believe this brings us comfort. Because seeing someone else succeed helps give us the confidence to succeed. And if we fail, we have each other as support. Someone who can show us the positive in us while we’re busy beating ourselves up for not succeeding. And if you’re like me, you are beating yourself up quite a bit.

So having another around to help show us that we’re human, and bound to make mistakes, is helpful in keeping us more grounded and balanced. For me, it has been invaluable to have that kind of friendship. The one that tells me I’m “killin’ it”, while I’m paying back my student loans after cutting back to only working one job. This friend was also in debt until recently. We are both here for each other, cheering one another on while we work to achieve our goals. And that’s a great feeling. Feeling support from someone who knows how difficult it can be.

Maintaining a Lasting Connection

This was the difficult part for me. It was fairly simple finding people who were/are in similar situations to my own. But keeping the friendship alive was a mystery to me. What I’ve come to realize is, that we were all just surviving, and not able to think past our immediate circumstances. This lead to somewhat superficial connections.

I was so concerned with when the next panic attack was going to come, that I didn’t have the bandwidth to make plans for the future. Nor did I have the foresight to do the basics. Such as putting close friends’ birthdays in my calendar. I was just drifting from day to day without any plan or goal in mind, playing video games and drinking to numb my experience of what was happening to me. No bueno.

So, how did I change this? How did I go from just surviving to being an active role in my relationships? This took a lot of work. And it’s something I’m still working on. Let me show you what I’ve come up with for fostering friendships.

Make a List

I’m a list maker. I get a sense of joy and satisfaction just from organizing tasks, thoughts and events into a functional and attractive looking list. This is why I bullet journal. It gives me the right amount of art to organization ratio I need. So naturally, in order to stay in touch with those close to me, I’ve made a list.

This list is on my phone, and I’ve put various friends and relatives into four different groups of people. In the first group, are the people I check in with once a week. Then the following three groups are people that I check in with every three weeks, rotating through each group every week to make sure I don’t miss anyone. This way, I’m staying current with what’s happening in the people’s lives whom I care about.

Be Diligent

It also pays to be persistent as well. For example I was texting one person on my list for weeks with no response. This was kind of disheartening because this person is going through a lot of life events right now and I want to be a source of support for them. Then, during one phone call from his brother, I learned that he never responds to texts, (my preferred method of communication) only phone calls. So I called him the next day and low and behold he got right back to me with a text saying he was at work and is it important. That felt good. Like unlocking a puzzle.

Diligence has paid off with friendships for me in different ways too. I had definitely left many of my friendships to decay by simply neglecting them for a very long time. And I was a different person to most of the people who knew me before I changed. So rebuilding those connections wasn’t something that was a one and done deal. It took being persistent, but not pushy, and kind to those I was reaching out to. Hopefully letting them know that I’m not the ass I used to be.

But, this method worked. I’m now in regular communication with many of the people I was friends with from my past and I like to think that both our lives are richer for it. For example, a friend of mine that I used to cook with told me to Google search, “gross Jell-o molds” and it did not disappoint. My favorite was the ones with SpaghettiOs in them : P

Remember Your Shared Interests & Look for Experiences to Share

As far as the curriculum of friendships goes, planning events and then executing them might as well have been a trig class while I was still taking fundamentals of math. I’m an introvert, so doing things with others doesn’t come so naturally to me. I believe that in most of my romantic relationships, my partner was the one who was making plans for us. So during the seasons of my life where I’m on my own, I’ve had to find things and experiences to do, on my own.

What I’ve been trying to do is, when I think of something new or interesting that I’d like to get involved with, I scan my friendships to see who else might want to get involved. Then I shoot them a text to see if they’d like to join in. Again, this may seem obvious for many folks. But for us introverts, it’s a bit of a struggle to make that connection.

For example, I’ve been into thinking about my Polish heritage lately and am making my next self-care meal as an homage to Polish cuisine. There are a lot of mushrooms in Polish cooking so I found some recipes that looked satisfying. But the more I thought about mushrooms, the more fun I thought it would be to go foraging for some. I went once when I was a child, chanterelle picking in Vermont, and absolutely loved the experience. So I searched for foraging groups local to me then texted some people in my friend group who I would normally take hikes with. I thought combining the two, foraging and hiking was a perfect match.

If Your Friend Can’t Come to You Go to Them

If you’re like me, you’re pretty busy. Until recently I was working two jobs to pay off my student loans, and on the days I wasn’t working, which were few, I’d be cleaning and cooking for the week. This left me very little time for myself. But, I found the time to visit some of my friends who were equally as busy. Tending to our friendships was a priority for me. And I did this by getting creative with how we spent time together.

For example, one friend of mine worked at a local restaurant until recently. So on my nights off, I’d hop on the train and go visit with him while he was working. I’d grab a beer and a bite to eat while he sat behind the bar a told me about his goings on. His family and what’s been happening with him personally. It felt good catching up with him in this way. Seeing him in another light, another role. I feel like I know him better as a person now.

I have another friend who recently took a job at another local restaurant. We’ve been friends since grade school though we don’t get together very often. A couple friends of mine suggested that we go to his restaurant and visit while he bakes. A fun night out, catching up with old friends seems like a pleasant way to spend an evening : )

It’s also a good idea to be mindful of how much of yourself you’re giving in all of your friendships and be cognizant of your boundaries with them. If you find you are always doing for your friends, then maybe suggest a few changes to your rules of engagement. It’s no longer fun if it feels like a burden.

Take Risks

Also, it’s important to step outside your comfort zone. Building friendships isn’t always a walk in the park. There are going to be tough times as well as the good ones. And, sometimes meeting new people means expanding beyond what your comfortable with.

For example, a friend of mine called me out of the blue because she had tickets to a small venue to see a bluegrass band. It was on a day I had off, so I decided to go. I didn’t realize at the time that there would be close to eight of us going. If I had known I might not have gone. But I went, and had a great time. Also finding an amazing new venue for seeing music that I will be going back in the future for sure.

You are in Charge of Your Belonging

Connecting with others is risky sometimes. The pain of rejection, or being vulnerable around another is not something that is easily tolerated by many. Especially if you’ve experienced abuse or trauma. But it is necessary if we want to feel connection, or a sense of belonging. But don’t forget, you’re in charge.

It’s okay to go slow while reconnecting. That way, you’re taking care of yourself while taking the time in building your friendships. And also to take the time to know that they are healthy and genuine friendships. True friends are truly a blessing. Finding and cultivating these friendships is something that will bring us so much joy the more we tend to them. But we need to take the time to nurture them.

If you’ve found your relationships are less than fulfilling, maybe it’s time to inspect how you feel in your connections with and to others. Is the fear of pain greater than the value of your connection? If so, the relationship my be under strain. Maybe the strain of not feeling like you are totally accepted as who you are in the relationship for fear of being rejected. And being yourself is a large component of feeling genuine connection in our friendships.

So cultivate your friendships. And tend to them with a nurturing effort, and you’ll find joy in them. But also know who you are first. And true friends will help you to be the best version of yourself. Not expect you to change. Friendships aren’t always easy, but few things worth their while are. Be consistent and make your relationships a priority and they will yield feelings of comradery and joy. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “friendship” by bekassine… is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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. 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 a 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 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, and no matter what the situation was, we don’t need support from others. All of us were expected to do everything on our own and do it perfectly. This is unreasonable. Though 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”. All the while not realizing how unrealistic these ideals are.

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. This vein of thinking was carried throughout my family as well as in popular culture at the time.

An example of this type of thinking is, my parents were 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 to.

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. Nor did any sort of mirroring emotions. We never asked one another, “how did that make you feel?” When we did talk about emotions, it was usually in a way in which one person was telling the other what the other was 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 at the time. 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. So we never developed a language to speak about them with. 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.

Because it’s important to foster a safe place around our emotional selves if our goal is to create a supportive, loving environment. This was something that we just didn’t know how to do. Something we had never been taught how to do. 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. And that’s 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 the harm we were doing to one another.

So we all avoided contact with each other. Seeing each other only when we had to. This was our way of keeping ourselves safe from the wounds of the past from being brushed up against. By an old memory or from a current interaction. And it was in this environment that we forgot how to not 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 terrifying 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 shown 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, 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

Finance

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. Revisiting 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 in 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, 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 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 emotional needs. They avoided themselves and their emotional worlds 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 own 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 & thanks for reading : )

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

Updated: 1/20/23

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

Staying

Difficult emotions is something I have very little experience with. I’ve just started feeling all my emotions again, not just the difficult emotions. 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. When difficult emotions came up, such as fear, anxiety or sadness, it’s a safe bet that I was using something to avoid it. As my old co-worker and friend Melba would say, “it’s no easy”. And she’s right.

Running from my difficult 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.

You are What You Practice

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 own 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 parent. 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.

Running From Your Emotions

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 to 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.

Superior or Insecure

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. 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 I also 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 accepted 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?

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 resulted, the question then is, where do we go from here? Running hasn’t worked for me, so the natural solution I came to 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 & Fear

For me, being in social settings was something that triggered a great deal of insecurity in me. I felt so rejected by my care-givers, that the thought of being in a room with them while they pulled me apart like animals, flooded me with emotions of anxiety and insecurities of not belonging. Also questioning if I was even loved. If they even could love is 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 by virtue of being in their presence, were some of my first social cues, I would there after find myself questioning if I was 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 others 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 it no longer overwhelms me as it used to. Leading to me drinking my way through them.

The first thing I did was separate myself from the social scene I used to be a part of. I took some time apart from the people that I had been spending most of my time with, to evaluate my relationships with and to them. How had I been acting around them and they me? Did I feel worse after being around them? When we were together, how were we connecting? Were they mean? Was I mean? Were we cutting others, or each other, apart to feel superior?

Or were we building each other up? Being a support for the other when dealing with difficult emotion and 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 the later questions were definitely not. Something needed to change.

What are Your Tools for Connecting?

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 old friends and started rebuilding our relationships. Only this time I used a new set of tools to connect.

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 left me unable 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. Usually while drunk.

Listening & Responding

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, I was 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. I listen inwardly to use my experience with debt and the info I had from the research I’ve done for myself and gave them an honest evaluation of what I think would be a sound and 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’re in different places and that’s something that I needed to accept while 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!

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 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 difficult. 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 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, not to mention 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 explore some ways to recharge during this busy season.

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.

Usually I’m 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 I’m getting things to where they need to go, it takes its toll on me for sure.

And with Christmas just around the corner, for me, time can just as easily slip away in December as it does 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 execute my ideas for gifts to get whom and meals to cook, as well as people to see. Here’s how I’m handling the increased amount of responsibility this holiday season. And these methods can be extended during other times of high stress as well.

Make a Plan

And follow through! When you’re scheduling your time during November and December, take a look at how thin you’re spreading yourself. Have you picked up extra responsibilities at work? Did you say you would host a gathering or attend multiple gatherings? How much time did you leave for yourself to relax or get things done? 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 planned 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.

Though 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 if I 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. 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.”

Schedule Some Self-Care

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, this is something that is 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, whatever the cost. Also, I feel compelled to 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 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. But the bottom line is, the dollar value I put on my gifts does not match the value I place on my relationship to the person. This is what’s most important to remember. It also 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, it’s the thought that counts. So try not to worry about it. And remember 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

And don’t forget, you’re not alone! Depending on how many responsibilities you have you can 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. So I know about work pressure all to well. 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 out front. Or maybe another person in the kitchen that works a different time than I do. This way, our prep-list gets taken care of, while maximizing the resources and people we already have.

In both instances, when the work proved to be too much for us, we both asked for help with finishing our tasks. There was less stress on our shoulders, which means the work was done with more care. Win, win. 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 do it perfectly. Or else, in my book anyway, it wasn’t worth doing. This lead to a lot of disconnection, miscommunication and hurt feelings.

I was being insensitive to those who were earnestly looking to help me while they watched me struggle. 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.

Honest Self Evaluation

Luckily, I was able to do some damage control and salvage most of my friendships. But recognizing when to reign in my foolish pride. Taking 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 friends and family. Not to mention being in a happier frame of mind more often.

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.

Planning with Friends

One way we can practice this is, if you’ve planned a holiday party for some friends and family, ask your S.O. or best friend if you can collaborate on the logistics of the get together, 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. But don’t go overboard. Sometimes too many perspectives can lead to confusion.

You’ll most likely have fun in the process, and build closer, tighter bonds with your friends and partner. 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. To 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.

Don’t Forget to Have Fun!

And don’t forget, these times are about celebrating the good. We’re literally gathering during the holidays to remember that life is fun. Sure it’s also work and it isn’t always one big party. But there are moments of tenderness and joy mixed in. Happiness and love. Ease and serenity. These are all states that are worth celebrating and even 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 good intentions behind your gift giving are enough. And don’t forget that not only are you able to ask for help when you feel overwhelmed, but it’s also a huge help. 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 & thanks for reading : )

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

Updated: 11/21/22

Black Friday :( Green Friday :) Some Sustainable Gift Ideas for Holiday Shopping

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 than 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.

Shopping as a Legacy

There isn’t a lot to do when you’re a kid in a clothing store. Except hope 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’ll enjoy. Or know is going to fit that need you have, in you daily rituals. But when you’re buying things you don’t need or to feel better, 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, or type of gift or place? Are our 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 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 this 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. Let’s take a look at some of the categories of gift giving.

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 each month.

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 hobby shop, what about a certificate to a restaurant, or a live show. Giving experiences instead of items.

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 once they’ve gone. And maybe 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 linens. 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 technology all the time. It can be difficult to find something that works with a 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. 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. Ideas 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. 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

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 and something else ha caught your eye, giving can lose its meaning or thoughtfulness.

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.

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

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

Updated: 11/16/22

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