Creating a Safe & Calm Place

I was reading a book a while ago. It was about reparenting and in one of the chapters, it suggested creating a safe space. A place where you can go in your mind to feel safe, at ease. I’ve done work like this before, but what I realized was, that I didn’t have one. Everywhere I went, I felt as though I had to preform, never make a mistake. Always be at my best, preforming or feeling as though I was a guest. There was never a feeling of fostering ease to any of the places I could feel relaxed in. So I decided to change that.

Creating a Safe, Calm & Cozy Space for Yourself

After reading the chapter in the book, I scanned my life for what seemed like the safest place to be. And to my surprise, it was my bedroom. I wondered why this was the case, as I’m not particularly fond of the room. But for me, it checks all the right boxes.

It’s cozy. I have a few well placed textiles and trinkets, lending it a sense of my personality. It’s well lighted, as in it has all the right ambient lighting I enjoy. A few candles, some Christmas string lights and a diffuser that also has a low light function. The aforementioned diffuser that has any number of my favorite scents diffusing. It’s clean, comfortable and not too crowded. AKA, jut right for relaxing.

The Elements of Cozy

So this is where I started. I went about creating the place that would bring me the feelings of comfort and safety. But first, I needed to define what this meant for me. When I first started out on my journey to cozy, my safe and calm place was a section of the A.T. on Mt Killington, VT. There was a shelter I stayed in that had stunning views draped in mists and vibrantly green ferns and moss. Here was definitely a high point in my hiking in and around New England.

Section of the A.T. on Mt. Killington VT

But all I have of this place is a photo I seldom look at. Though I’ve made some plans to have this photo printed and framed to keep in my new safe and cozy space, it isn’t something that I can easily call on or see myself in and a part of. Something I feel is an important part of feeling safe. And that’s where my planning began. How do I want my safe and cozy place to look. What are the elements of safe and cozy.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Aesthetics

I appreciate good design and always have. Often I’ll find myself on Pinterest, picking out the the element of the house I someday want to build. I also spent a semester in architecture school pursuing design, when I thought that was a viable career path for myself. Design is something that has always been important to me. Especially with my surroundings.

So in my safe and cozy space, I want it to look a certain way. Inviting. A place that would make me feel more at ease just by virtue of being in and around it. To this end I’ve collected a few things that give it a sense of comfort for me. One example is of an afghan my grandmother knitted more than 30 years ago. It’s multi colored and comfy and made from “granny Squares”. Also my space is surrounded with small trinkets that brings me joy.

A skull painted with colorful chilies I picked up in Mexico. A mug with my first initial on it with a sphere of petrified wood resting on top. Pieces of driftwood I’ve collected and a jar of sea glass that was gifted to me. And some Tibetan prayer flags hang from my wall, making my space more me, more cozy.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Plants

I also have a verity of green little friends that adorn my room. I started collecting jade plants about eight years ago and was inspired by a friend who had a jade plant that he was in awe of. You can propagate these plants fairly simply from cuttings and I was seeing a lot of jade plants in the places I would visit day to day. One at the library, one at an insurance agency I would walk by. So I started collecting clippings from them.

I also went in search of air purifying plants that I could bring into my environment that would give it a boost of fresh, purified air. Snake plants soon joined the party, aloes and ferns as well.

The plants in general have helped to keep my room a bit more humid. But due to the latest additions, my ferns, I’ve been running a humidifier on a low level to keep the environment more suited to my plants. This helps to keep the atmosphere a little more comfortable for humans as well. Especially in the winter months. It also helps to make the room feel more alive. Something lush and inviting. The way a greenhouse feels in the early spring; fresh and green.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Lighting

As I’ve said above, lighting is something that is of particular importance to me. I’m not entirely sure what it is about a perfectly lighted room. It could be the soft way the light welcomes you to whatever task you are encapsulated in. Like sipping a cup of herbal tea by candle light. Or how a set of old Christmas string lights lend a sense of interest to something ordinary. Like the bright green chair and bamboo shelf that holds my ferns, all draped in a set of string lights.

Candles are something that have been important to me since I was in my early teens. They lend a softness to the room and have a timeless feel to them. I burn beeswax candles now due to their ability to clean the air of negatively charged ions. But the soft flickering light definitely invites an atmosphere of cozy and safe.

Also in the book on creating a safe space, they suggested watching a video of a fireplace online. I was skeptical at first, but decided to give it a go and was surprised at how relaxing it was. The sound of the crackling wood, mixed with the ambient flickering of the flames was calming. Cozy.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Scent

This is another important aspect of my surroundings feeling safe and comfortable. I used to burn incense. A lot of incense. I started when I was in high school. Thinking back, living next to Salem MA, The Witch City, was a big influence in my incense burning ways. I also had a girlfriend in high school who loved burning Nag Champa and I used to wear a lot of patchouli oil as well. Dirty hippy, check.

I don’t burn incense so much anymore, but I do use an oil diffuser to create a relaxing atmosphere when I’m ready to wind down. I have a few favorite scents that I keep on hand. Geranium, citronella, lavender, jasmine… There are more to be sure, but these are on pretty heavy rotation. Being surrounded by a comforting scent is a kin to being emersed in a hot bath. And for me, sometimes leaves me just as refreshed.

There’s also something elemental about steeping your environment in a smell that brings you peace. For me, it’s like the feeling of smelling a campfire on your clothes. It’s a reminder that pops up when you’re not expecting it that lulls you into a sense of feeling at ease. A soothing surprise. Something I’m sure we could all use a bit more of.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Victuals

For me, there are few things that bring up the atmosphere of cozy as a cup of herbal tea and a well cooked meal. Maybe a glass of lemonade : ) There’s something about the tea itself, where it comes from and how it’s processed that makes the experience not only soothing, by sipping the freshly brewed cup, but also interesting. An experience.

I often brew a cup of tea before bed and relax for a while before sleep. For example, a few days ago I brewed a cup of watermelon, lime, basil and cracked pepper tea. It tasted like a quiet summer evening and is quickly becoming one of my favorite teas.

Also I’ve come to enjoy a special self-care meal at the end of my week. It’s a way for me to show myself that, I’m taking care of my nutritional needs and I’m doing it by carefully selecting meals that I know I’ll enjoy. And the entire process is relaxing. From prepping and preparing the meal to when I partake. Usually surrounded by candles, my diffuser and the other elements, the word wellness is manifest for me.

Elements of Safe & Cozy: Cleanliness

And there’s one element that brings the entire package together for me. Clean surroundings. When I say clean, I mean free of dirt, but also clutter. Organized, but not so much so that it feels sterile. The plants and their earthiness helps to give the environment a sense of clean but naturally so. Balance.

Being organized for me is something that makes me feel at ease, but it’s not something that came easily. My family cleaned a lot when I was younger. We still do and are good at it. But in my twenties I had gotten to the point of not caring for myself or my environment. One of my first apartments was so bad that it had trash drifts!

But even when I was living in this environment, I still took pleasure on the days I would clean every aspect of that apartment. I’m sure my roommates appreciated it too. But living in an orderly space lends to it a sense knowing what to expect. Things have a home which makes me feel more at home. It also makes me feel less apt to get up and clean. Which I enjoy, but I also value my down time as well.

Finding Your Elements

I believe this is what the Danes are referring to when they practice Hygge. And it is something that is important and often times overlooked. Or in my case, the 20 something version of myself would have had some machismo outlook on the idea of “pampering myself” thinking I was being “self-indulgent”. I was also raised on action movies where the mark of being a man was based on how brutally you could sacrifice yourself for the greater good. No bueno.

We need these places. Places where we can feel safe, comfortable and without reserve. Living as though you’re constantly on edge and stressed, asides from having health consequences, also pulls the joy out of life. If you don’t have a safe and calm place to go to, then we’re really free floating in place where fear and anxiety can come to visit at will. And finding your place, one that brings you peace and safety is important to keep these feelings at bay.

So make your space. Find your own elements and tailor it to your liking. Maybe you find peace and ease while you’re on your yoga mat. Or maybe there’s a spot in a park or forest that you’re drawn to. Whatever your elements are and wherever your space is, make sure you take the time to steep yourself in them. Because they will bring you peace.

And there is also something gratifying about building these spaces yourself. As I’m typing, I’m sitting in my room with all of the above mentioned elements, including some others as well. Such as music (which could be a post all its own) and I’m definitely feeling relaxed, cozy and safe. And I bring this place with me wherever I go.

Take Your Place With You

For example, while I was at work today I was imagining relaxing at the end of the day and enjoying doing my tasks in my peaceful setting. Just the idea of being in my cozy space brought me a sense of calm in the moments of dis-ease that came during the day. And this is the benefit of creating this space, because you are also creating a little peace of mind as well.

So if you’ve struggled in the past with relaxing or feeling safe, start your own safe, calm and cozy space. Start small if you have to, but keep going back to it. Because eventually, when you take the effort to care for yourself, you will learn to trust in yourself. And when you trust yourself, then you can learn to feel safe and love yourself : ) Take good care, peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Misty Mountain” by Shek Graham is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Food & Family: How Cooking Together Can Build Tighter Familial Bonds

It’s no secret, food and cooking brings people together. Culturally it creates bonds and even some good natured disagreements. I’ve been cooking for most of my professional career. But it wasn’t until recently that I really started cooking for myself. If you’ve read my post on self-care Sundays, you’ll know that food was an area that I neglected for a very long time. But what I hadn’t realized was, that this was also true for my entire family.

Neglecting Our Nutritional Needs

This seems crazy to me now. Knowing that most all my caregivers were involved in the food service industry to some degree. One was working in it and one had gone to cooking school!

But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. If you have an insecurity around food, it stands to reason that you would find a way to be immersed in it. After all, eating is a basic need. If we experience abuse or neglect around food, things can get strange.

As I’ve said above, I know this to be true from my experience. Cooking as a career choice was a way to be surrounded myself by a source of nutrition. So I didn’t have to worry about feeding myself. But this was no way to live, more a way to survive.

Cooking for Survival

I was just surviving at the time. I was barely able to take care of myself and all I had down at that point in life were the very basics. Just enough to get by. And I found that a lot of people are drawn to the food industry in some variation of this same reason.

When you work in the industry, the bonds you make can be pretty tight. There was definitely a sense of family when I showed up to work. Or family as I had known it. With the hustle and pressure that came with the dinner time rush, to the beers we drank together while cleaning up, it definitely felt like gathering for a holiday. Or some special event like a graduation.

And while I have fond memories of working in the food industry, the ways I was living were not sustainable. And I imagine it was this way for my caregivers as well. I was certainly emulating their behaviors in the ways I was living. And it isn’t a great stretch of the imagination to think that they were experiencing what I was at some level. Another way to put it, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Taking the Party With Us

Even more to the point, when I did gather with my caretakers, there was such a sense of urgency paired with copious amounts of drinking, that it mirrored the atmosphere that was present in most kitchen jobs I worked. We were creating the same type of perpetual party. Our family culture merged with that of the restaurant industry’s. And if it wasn’t sustainable in a restaurant, it definitely was less so at home.

I remember many mornings where my caretakers would be cleaning up after a night of rancorous drinking. Where there were as many cans as there were loud opinions being tossed around. This was a strange place to grow up in as a child and one I wouldn’t wish for anyone to experience. I’m not trying to imply that my caregivers are bad people. They didn’t know any differently. And more to the point it’s how they grew up. But it was a scary place to be as a vulnerable child to be sure.

Cooking as Caring

More recently, I’ve been cooking for myself as a way to care for my nutritional needs. Something I was never taught, cooking or nutrition. Now I am coming to enjoy the process of bring my meals together. I usually batch cook recipes now. I’ll pick two to three recipes to cook, pick a day to go grocery shopping and on the same day, cook my meals for the next two weeks all in one night.

I’ll light a scented candle and put some of the more ambient lighting on in my kitchen. I clean out my fridge and gather my ingredients, ready my recipes on my computer, put some soft music on to play in the background and go through my recipes, cooking one at a time. Making sure that I take as much time as I need so as not to feel rushed or pressured in anyway.

If it’s in the winter, I choose recipes that utilize the oven to generate more heat in the kitchen. In order to create a more cozy and comfortable setting. I also like drinking a few cups of herbal tea while cooking in the colder months. And in the summer, more salads and dishes with raw veggies. As well as some lemonade or iced herbal teas as a refreshing change for the warmer seasons.

Turning Cooking into a Resource

The ease that I’ve brought to this aspect of how I take care of myself has become a great resource for me. I feel safe, calm and at ease in the kitchen. Instead of insecure, a bit of fear and the uncertainty I used to feel. What I realize now is, I was carving a space out for myself to feel safe. In control.

I was so used to having almost every aspect of my life being so out of control that I literally didn’t feel safe anywhere. Once I established a foothold for safety in the kitchen, I padded my kitchen and cooking time with loads of resources. I did this in order to bring that sense of calm, ease and comfort I was working so hard to cultivate. So after I made my kitchen and meal prep routine a resource, I thought to myself, “how can I share this with others?”

Family Dinner Fridays

I’ve been having dinner with my parents more often lately. It’s been good, but I had the feeling that something was missing from the experience. We typically would gather around the T.V. after serving ourselves from the kitchen. We’d talk a little, but the T.V. had always been the focal point. While we idly chat about random events. Nothing too personal or in-depth. Just glancing the surface of what was happening around us. And speaking in broad generalizations.

We never shared cooking duties. One person usually picked the recipes and the other would cook while we waited for the meal to be ready. It was very mechanical and without much feeling. We were eating to survive and not enjoying the process of coming together to share a meal. Then one day while I was making dinner, or cleaning up, I had the idea to make dinner feel more like a family event. As opposed to just shoveling food in our mouths while watching the television.

So it was a natural transition that I thought to take the way that I’ve turned my meal prep into a self-care routine, and bringing those same principles to our family dinners. I thought this way, we can practice taking care of ourselves and one another together. While also bringing an element of peacefulness to something that, for me, used to be a hectic and sometimes scary event to be a part of.

Making Tighter Bonds Together

Also, we’ve never cooked a meal together before. This was also something that kind of blew my mind. So as well as practicing self-care, we’re growing tighter bonds with one another through the food we’re creating. I suggested that we take turns picking the recipes. Each week someone can choose, and we’d all come together in a thoughtful way to create something we’ll all enjoy. The idea landed and we planned to come together the next Friday night to cook a meal I chose.

The recipe was chana masala. A simple dish I enjoy that I had just found a new recipe for. I was definitely nervous the night leading up to dinner and was really taking a risk by opening myself up and sharing something that has become such a resource for me. I felt vulnerable, uncertain, scared and a little on edge.

Feeling Uncertain About Opening Up

The reason I felt so unsure was that my strongest childhood memories around meal time were filled with anger and shattering dinner wear. I knew that things were different now. Our tempers had all mellowed since those early meals together for one. But there was still a place inside of me that felt as though it could happen again. That I wasn’t safe.

As the time came nearer to begin cooking, we all gathered in the kitchen and readied ourselves for the event. I made myself a cup of tea and went around gathering the ingredients we would need for the dish. My father gathered some utensils and started in on prepping the veggies and my mother began gathering and measuring out the spices and herbs we needed. We all took to our tasks quickly and rigidly with pensive attention.

The atmosphere was tense. As though we’d all been here before, but hadn’t been there for so long that we forgot what to do. It should have been instinctual. But instead we communicated in awkward, half spoken sentences. Reading and rereading the same directions over and over again. Missing steps, forgetting ingredients, I was using a mortar and pestle to grind chiles, garlic, cilantro and ginger into a paste that took what felt like forever. And the closest I came was a wet chunky mess. The lighting was bright and harsh and the music I tried to play kept turning itself off. It was the opposite of the resource my meal prep had come to mean for to me.

A Turn for the Better

But when I finished washing our dishes and went to the stove to see how the chana was coming along and how the ingredients we had prepped separately had come together, things looked good. It smelled aromatic, was thick and stew like. It was better than I had imagined it would be. And as the meal prep went on, our conversation felt more natural as well.

We found out about how each other’s day’s had gone. My mother just got new glasses. So we were discussing the differences she noticed from her old ones as compared with her new ones. My father told me stories about his past. Something I know very little about. Ans as I was cleaning the cutting board, I asked where my father got it. He couldn’t remember and my mother didn’t know either. But I enjoyed cleaning that board, as I always do, knowing that it’s always been there. Waiting to help with our meals.

As we finished cooking our meal, I put the naan I had picked up for the night in the toaster while my father had gotten some bowls from the cupboard. I felt more at ease now. I wasn’t totally comfortable, but it was the start of feeling safe again. As though maybe it was okay to start to trust those I choose to keep company with. This was something I hadn’t felt in a very long time.

Learning healthy Ways of Being in Relationship

The friends I had kept in my youth were mean, spiteful and said hurtful things often and without reserve. It truly felt like a sport we were playing. Who could demean the other to the point where someone would break. And of course we all pretended not to be hurt. But we couldn’t feel anything to begin with because we were already so numb. The damage had already been done, the games we were playing were just practice from lessons we learned long ago.

This is what makes building new bonds so scary after abuse. Knowing How I used to be in relationship with others and that I chose to be in those relationships was nothing but self destructive. And I’m trying to rebuild some of my relationships with people I originally learned those lessons from?! It felt a lot like juggling knives. So knowing that I can trust myself enough to create healthy bonds or at least know what an unhealthy relationship and boundaries look like, was something I wasn’t wholly sure I was able to do.

Learning to Keep Healthy Boundaries

But then I realized that I had already done this to some degree. I remember getting together with an old friend somewhere close to both of us. This was a step towards seeing if we were able to stay in touch. Keep connected. When we sat down and started talking about old times, some of those same spiteful remarks were popping up in our conversation. It was as though they were poking around my edges. To see how close they could get to my core. To see if they could still walk right in, past security and do whatever they felt without meeting resistance.

Luckily I had established some healthy boundaries for myself. I was no longer my same old self. The one who would leave himself wide open. To be abused in the ways I had been used to. All to feel a sense of belonging. I recognized what was happening and have kept to my boundaries and ended the meeting early. And I feel much better for it though it wasn’t easy. I still miss the bonds I bad, but now recognize just how unhealthy they were.

New Relationships, Healthy Boundaries

And with the new bonds I’m creating, there is definitely a sense of mutual respect. We care for one another in that we respect one another’s space and boundaries. In ways I wasn’t shown how to do before. And that was one of the aspects of making dinner with my father and mother that was so reassuring. We were all nervous about how we were affecting one another, showed me that they were thinking of my emotional wellbeing. And that makes me feel a little more secure in building new bonds with them.

This all seems pretty basic. But if all you know growing up are people without boundaries, and saying and doing the most hurtful things to one another, it’s nice to know that people can change the ways they used to be. Including myself. That there is hope for our future and our future relationships.

Cooking for Good Change

Now that we’ve cooked together once, we plan on making it an on going, weekly event. We ended the night by sharing how we felt and our hopes for the future. Dinner felt more natural than it ever had and I think we all left that night feeling a little more hopeful about our futures together.

And it’s something that has made me stronger in my other relationships as well. I went into the next day feeling a little more self-confident in communicating to and interacting with other people. Knowing that I had people I could rely on makes a difference. That I had carved out another little space of safety in a world that sometimes feels as uncertain as it did in my youth. A place to go back to when I needed some support and feelings of love.

Be the Change

And all it took was for someone to come up with the idea and bring it into fruition. I am now looking forward to helping them this summer in the vegetable garden. Knowing that the meals we’ll be making will be even sweeter using the fresh produce we’ll harvest from the yard. I’m also looking forward to helping them with projects around the house.

Helping them build a back porch or patio. A place to gather and enjoy the garden and the grill in the summer. A place to eat meals and gather outside. Carving out another place where we can all feel a little safer coming together. With a little luck and some work, maybe we can make the house feel more like our home.

Be the One to Connect

If you have some family you’re trying to reach out to, but aren’t sure how, maybe cooking a meal together would be a good place to start. And if cooking isn’t your thing, find something you are all interested in and start there. Whatever it is, be the one to make the first step. I’ve found that people are almost always going to say yes when you ask them if they want to have a good time.

Usually it just takes someone to make the first step, make the plan and be the vulnerable one. Be that person. You’ll be happy you did. But if it’s something that is still tender, or emotionally raw, go slow. It doesn’t help to rush yourself to try and feel comfortable because you feel you “should”. Have a plan where you can take care of yourself if the need arises.

I am lucky in that the people I chose to rebuild my relationships with were not only willing to try, but also capable of doing the important work of self-introspection. They are aware of how they feel and how they effect those around them. This is no easy task for people who are used to isolating as a form of self protection. And not everybody is able to take to it so willingly.

Keep Yourself & Your Boundaries Priority

Don’t be afraid to end your plans if you feel as though your boundaries are being violated. Above I mentioned that I had got together with an old friend who had not changed from our shared unhealthy past ways of connecting. I had ended our meeting early that day, telling them I felt uncomfortable with the way things were going. And now I keep very limited contact with them for this reason.

I was honest with myself and with them about how I felt. My boundaries were being abused and took care of myself by removing myself from the situation. Also limiting future contact with them until I am certain I can trust them enough not to violate my boundaries. This is how I’m actively taking care of myself while building trust in myself.

And it’s no easy. But if you don’t define your boundaries, others are more than willing to define them for you. From work, to romantic relationships, family and friends. If you don’t have a clear idea of how you want to be treated in your relationships, you leave yourself open to having your trust abused. And it isn’t always the other person’s fault either.

Learning to Speak Your Piece

Friends and family aren’t mind readers. What may be a sign of intimacy to one person may be an insult to another. This is why speaking to your feelings is so important. When establishing boundaries, especially if you’ve had unhealthy ones before, you need to speak what is and is not okay to do in clear terms. This can be awkward. Though however awkward it may feel in the moment, it’s worth it. To know that you’re establishing your expectations clearly on how you will and will not be treated.

It’s also empowering. Knowing you’re taking care of yourself in this way. And also a good indicator of whether or not the other person is trustworthy of being emotional support to you. By actively, not passively, setting boundaries, you are building the trust and bonds that will last if they adhere to them. If this is something you’ve had difficulty with historically, then it’s best to slowly rebuild healthy relationships slowly.

Establishing boundaries, especially with those whom you may have already fallen into unhealthy ways of relating to one another with, can be tricky. And like anything else, it isn’t easy! This is an area where you will need to bring and cultivate patients, with yourself and others. And go slow. There’s no point in rushing into something if you or the other person aren’t ready for the changes. So go slow, keep an open mind and know that you are a good person deep down and worthy of trust. Peace 🙂 be well and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Lindell family cooking” by One Tonne Life is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Updated: 8/27/22

Self-Care Sundays! Coming to Terms with your Fear and Neglect of Self by Creating Healthy, New, and Self-Sustaining Habits, Part 2.

In last week’s article, Self-Care Sundays!, I went over some ways that we can get caught in the trap of neglecting ourselves. By using either the lessons taught to us in our youths by our caregivers or by the unhealthy habits we’ve cultivated in our day to day routines from not-so-stellar role models.

This week I’d like to talk about some of the self-care rituals I’ve created and how I’ve developed them. But also why they are important in their own specific ways. Hopefully, my routines will give you some ideas and the motivation to start and cultivate your own self-care rituals. So, lets hit the ground running with exercise.

Movement Matters

I started running in my early thirties. But it wasn’t until fairly recently that it’s become a part of my self-care routine. This is partly due to me only recently starting my self-care routine. But also because running has become a place where I’ve learned how to reach and set goals. The pleasure of finding the ease in the work of the longer runs, as well as the friendships I developed with my running buddies along the way.

In my youth, teenage years and twenties, I was lazy. I was adverse to work, all kinds and clocked so many hours playing video games that I don’t like to think what I could have accomplished had I utilized that time towards more productive ends. But I was also living with the effects of years of neglect and abuse. I had no direction, and no one I felt I could turn to for guidance or to help develop a healthy hobby. To give me advice and direction on where to go or what to do with my life. So I was doing the best I could with what I had and what I had was a lot of free time and video games. In short, I needed to get out from in front of a screen and get some fresh air.

Fun Running

So I started running. I began after my divorce and I feel was a way of dealing with some of the guilt I was harboring for leaving my ex-wife (she had started running shortly before we broke up). Later it would become a way for me to find peace while being in the midst of stress. An apt metaphor for life, but it also represented connection with others, as I had picked up a handful of running buddies along the way.

But it became part of my self-care routine because I really began enjoying just being on the road. Not only the fond memories and my feet pounding on the pavement, but also reconnecting with the parts of me that want to take care of myself and my physical health. I finally felt like I had an outlet to making a healthy physical change to my routine. Making my physical health a priority was a step towards making peace with the parts of my neglected self that were paralyzed by the fear of being neglected. The part that was in front of a screen, beer in hand, avoiding the work we all have to get after in life.

Stretch it Out

Yoga was another way for me to reconnect with myself, only for different reasons than with running. I had experienced a lot of traumatic events in my childhood. So much so that I was in a constant state of dissociation from the time I was eight, until very recently. Fear and anxiety were emotional states that were always humming softly in the background. Save for the times that they made their way front and center to my emotional body. Then I was plunged back into reliving the traumatic emotions I experienced in my youth.

Whenever I stepped foot inside my body, the immediate and intense urge to use a method to self sooth would come crashing in. Drinking coffee and alcohol being two of my go tos, but video games and anti-anxiety meds and other forms of distraction were also outlets I used to sooth. I rarely touched anyone and feared being touched by others due to my lack of trust. Most of my trauma happened at the hands of my caregivers. My body was a place filled with paralyzing fear and horror.

When I started practicing yoga regularly, I had only ever done it once before and it was not a good experience. I went with my sister, I was hungover, in a gym where everybody working out was staring at us and in front of a picture window where harsh rays of sunlight where beating down on us. It was an unforgiving hour.

I’m not sure why I started again after the last experience. But when I began my practice in earnest, it was different in almost every way. I went to the Y, where they had just built a new facility and class was held in the ballet studio. The room was large, spacious and private. There was soft light from LED candles placed around the mirror adorned walls of the studio. Soothing, ambient music was playing quietly in the background while the instructor walked among the students correcting postures with a polite and gentle touch. This was the place I learned that under certain circumstances, I could learn to come home to my body again. To trust myself and others.

Since, I’ve started my own practice at home. It’s been an indispensable way to connect more fully with my senses. I usually burn a candle while I practice, to help to engage more of my awareness and be wholly present in my body. And it’s still tough work. But reconnecting and being present in my body while knowing I’m safe as I am has opened up new ways of staying present with my emotions and learning to trust that safety. My body no longer feels unsafe.

Eating and Cooking Healthy Meals

Food was another way to reconnect with myself. My unhealthy relationship with food started almost from day one. I was always overweight growing up. I ate for flavor instead of nutritional value and was never given proper direction on how to cook for myself, or what healthy foods to eat were.

In my teens and twenties, I ate fast food and takeout almost every night and was always drinking beer. At least a six pack a night and my early thirties weren’t much better. I have a sweet tooth too, so I had zero self control when it came to eating sweets. I would eat chocolate almost as much as I drank beer. My family never taught me how to prepare meals, so when I was on my own at 19 I had no idea what I was doing with regards to my nutritional needs. I was completely in the dark when it came to my food choices.

I decided to become vegan about five years ago which I still mostly am. Only on occasion will I have dairy when I’m not cooking for myself. On Sundays, I choose a special meal to cook, something different, or something I wouldn’t normally cook for myself as a treat. I go shopping for the ingredients the night before and usually grab a seasonal beer to pair with dinner. I also make a dessert for myself to round out the experience.

My boundaries with food were so poor that I had no appreciation of the food I had been eating. And if I continued to follow that path I would most definitely have developed some health issues. I eat more healthfully now, since becoming vegan, and my self-care dinners have really come to embody the new relationship I’m forging with the ways I’m choosing to nourish my body.

I’m learning to enjoy the food I eat. The process of making something special for myself and the research of finding something that is appealing to me. I’m learning to nourish my body as well as the experience surrounding the food I eat. Replacing the confusion and fear of not knowing how to care for one of my most basic needs with confidence and joy.

Atmosphere Matters, So Does Tea

Candles and tea are other ways in which I’ve set the tone for my evening meal and post-meal experience. I’ve always enjoyed the ambient lighting provided by candle light, and since my most traumatic experiences happened at night, the cozy setting helps to ease some of the stress the evening sometimes brings.

Tea, herbal, is another way to set a relaxing tone to the evening while unwinding after dinner. I had been so used to being wound up from drinking so much caffeine during the day that I needed to drink five to six beers at night just to relax. Herbal tea is a healthy and tasty way for me to wind down at the end of the day. The one beer I have at dinner and the tea I have at night are ways I’m setting healthy boundaries around the ways I handle my stress levels. They are more for taste and enjoyment now, instead of relying on something to calm me down.

Rest and Good Tunes

And finally, music and sleep. I usually listen to something soothing while eating, without words and I make sure to get at least eight hours of sleep. So I get to bed at a sound hour. Music was the first way I learned to relate to my emotions and listening to music without words helps me to attune to how I’m feeling in the present while setting a relaxing environment, not unlike the yoga studio I would first practice in. While as I’ve said before, much of my trauma happened during the night so getting enough sleep is essential for my emotional well being.

Make a Day of It

These are the rituals of my self-care Sundays. They have evolved from when I first started practicing them. I plan on changing a few things up after I pay down some debt, but essentially they are ways to attune to my emotional well being. But also reparenting myself around the areas of my life that have been neglected. First by my caregivers, but then by me as I carried on their legacy of abuse and neglect of myself.

I needed to learn how to trust myself again after all I had been through and put myself through. It isn’t easy, but the more I persist and kept showing myself that I’m here, I care, the more trust I, slowly but surely am building and ease and confidence takes the place of fear and the emptiness that the neglect left.

And in a way, I’m cultivating hope for the future. Something Tara Brach calls resourcing. I’m now looking forward to my self-care days and rituals. The calm and comfort that I’m cultivating on Sundays I’m now able to call on those feelings and resources throughout the week. Whether I’m in the middle of a busy day at work, or struggling with a tough run, I can call on the good memories of days past or on future plans.

I hope I’ve painted a picture of how I’ve attuned to my needs and maybe inspired some readers to start their own rituals. I’d also like to add that it takes persistence and a little tenacity. As I’ve said above it wasn’t without some struggle, which is counter intuitive to finding ease but feeling at ease isn’t easy. If you are like I was, living with a constant sense of vigilance, relaxing isn’t second nature. So be persistent! It takes time but with a little consistent self-care you’ll be able to attune to your needs and maybe loosen the grip of your fear, whatever form it may be taking. All you need to do is listen inward and show some kindness. Peace : ]

Image Credits: “2015-03-18c What do I do for self-care — index card #self-care #happiness #comfort” by sachac is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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