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

Reparenting Resistance to Training: Why a Good Workout Builds More Than Just Strength

My workout of choice is running and yoga. I love the feeling of being out on the road, ending my fourth mile at the top of a hill and also knowing that the ocean’s breeze is just ahead of me, waiting on the other side. I also love the calm on my mat right after we finish our vinyasa and I’m lying prone in savasana, letting the energy from my workout settle over me. But it wasn’t always that way.

Building Healthy Workout Habits

For a long time I avoided working out at almost any cost. Even though I played baseball and soccer in my youth, while also taking taekwondo lessons, I historically have struggled with any form of physical activity since I started middle school. There were some exceptions. Like when I decided to lift weights for stints of two months, every five or so years. But nothing that lasted for very long. So it was to my complete surprise when about four years ago I took to running as a workout and practicing yoga on a regular basis.

I’m not sure what got into me, but I took to both yoga and running so quickly that I was running half marathons in a little under a year’s time and I was doing yoga twice a week. I was making great strides in my overall fitness level and it felt good.

I attribute much of my motivation levels to my quitting smoking, drinking and playing video games. But also as much credit goes to my living situation being the most stable it has been since my early childhood. Probably around the time I stopped playing all the sports I used to engage with in my youth. I had been so worried about my survival first and belonging second, that any energy I had went to those two efforts. These worries consumed my thoughts and dictated my actions.

Finding Stability, Finding Healthy Workout Routines

As I would come to find out, I had been hyper vigilant due mostly to my past abuse, that lead directly to my developing PTSD. I didn’t realize it then, but I was expending great amounts of energy keeping my feelings guarded and isolating from others. I was so guarded that I was dissociating from both my feelings and body almost constantly.

Once my living situation stabilized and I was able to take stock of what personal resources and achievements I had to build from, I realized I didn’t have many. I had spent so much of my time running from every aspect of my life that I had maybe two friends that were well adjusted and stable. I had loads of debt and was pretty physically unhealthy as well. So I suppose it was only natural to take to something like running to get in touch with my body and take control of my health. Yoga helped to slow me down enough to feel what was happening in my body, as well as getting acquainted with the parts of my body I had been neglecting for so long.

Turning Exercise Into A Resource

Running specifically, was a source of pride and accomplishment for me. I could track the progress in mileage and in time, with visible results. As I said above I was running 13.1 miles from 2 miles inside of a year, so I began to look much healthier pretty quickly. Also the neighborhoods and scenery I was running in and around were beautiful. It helped that I had some running buddies along the way as well. Thanks Jenny : )

One such beautiful run filled with both scenery and running buddy was when I ran a rely-marathon with a friend from Vermont. The course carved through downtown Burlington and the views of Lake Champlain, while running up and down the city’s hilly roads which were lined with rows of vibrant green conifers. This all set behind the clear, glassy lake that reflected the sapphire sky and its low lying supple clouds. It was beautiful.

The run was beautiful, but also running along side so many other people was more supportive than I would have thought. There’s always an excitement on race day. Like this run REALLY matters. No matter how many times you’ve run the course or the race, it feels special knowing there are so many like minded people gathering to achieve the same goal.

Finding Support, Finding Direction, Finding Connection

The feelings of support and community are also true of yoga classes. The dimly lighted room, the open space filled with yoga mats politely distanced to give room to the people surrounding you. And soothing music softly playing as people prepare for the class by coming to stillness and quiet on their mats. The quiet flow of synchronized movement while each person follows the instructors direction to the best of their ability with focused intentions and minds. And finally the release of the session’s work as it melts away from your body leaving you feeling relaxed and filled with life, as you finish your day’s practice in savasana.

My workout routines have been a large influence on my healing path as well. From the time of my abuse till I was in my early thirties, I had no real goals or aspirations to rise to in my life. I was listlessly floating around from situation to relationship to circumstance, completely uncertain about what was going to happen to me or my future. I didn’t feel as though I really had a future to speak of. After I woke up into my emotions and realized I hadn’t any shape or form to my life, running and yoga were two ways I was able to give some structure to my life.

Running and Support

Running was a way for me to understand that I could achieve something, however small. The distances I ran and the connections I made with the people I ran with were markers for me. Markers that allowed me to cultivate a sense of accomplishment. Even if it was only making the jump from mile six to mile seven, I was proud of that mile. As though that mile showed me I could overcome something. Achieve what I never thought I was able to accomplish before. And I didn’t feel it in the moment, rather it was looking back where I felt the accomplishment of my actions.

Or the five mile buddy runs I used to run with my friend Jenny, around the neighborhoods of my past. The unconditional friendship and feelings of accomplishment of consistently running five miles that accompanied me through the streets that I had so associated with past failures. They gave me the strength to feel better about the choices I was making. Instead of the choices I had made, while building tighter emotional bonds with friends.

Yoga

And with yoga it helped me to feel comfortable around people again. Something I was having trouble with while being present in my body. I had been so used to drinking and using medication to soothe myself while around others, that I forgot how to be around someone while in an unaltered state. Yoga, with its comforting setting and gentle flow, while also being a challenging workout, showed me how to be in my body, while I was experiencing discomfort. And to experience these emotions, not only in my body but while being surrounded by like minded people, felt good. Supportive.

Reconnecting To My Body

As I’ve mentioned above I had maybe two friends who stuck with me and were supportive. Most of the people I had surrounded myself with before I woke up emotionally were critical, angry and viciously mean. Both my friends and especially my family were very cold and very cutting. It was no wonder that I was so detached from my body and emotions. Every time I stepped foot inside myself I felt as though I was under attack!

Running and yoga were ways for me to know I could achieve physical health goals if I committed to them, but that they were also ways of being in my body and surrounded by people while feeling safe and being present. Furthermore, I felt that I could choose to make the healthy choices by surround myself with people who I felt safe being around. That helped to show me that I had the agency I felt I lacked for so long, to make healthy choices for myself. I could choose how my future was going to unfold. I could stop wandering so listlessly and find some focus, some center to regain control of my life.

Becoming a Healthier Version Of Myself

I suppose this is why sports are so important for young people. Something to give them the stable yet supportive community that they may be lacking elsewhere in their lives. I know it was for me and I was in my thirties when I started. A younger me would have scoffed at the idea of finding support and feeling good about building healthy habits. But looking back, on what my dedication and the support from loved ones has given me, I could only imagine what it would have done for a younger version of myself.

Fortunately, we don’t have to be experiencing some great trauma to develop a new healthy workout routine such as running or yoga. The benefits are equally as gratifying either way. Also, the more we make showing up for ourselves a habit, by way of committing to our workouts and physical health, the greater the trust we nurture in our own lives will be. Tara Brach a Buddhist psychologist who I’ve mentioned before on this blog, gave a talk related to the support I’ve been talking about. The way Tara puts it is, “that it’s not the survival of the fittest, it’s the survival of the nurtured.” And for me the more often I reflect on this piece of wisdom, the truer it becomes.

So if you haven’t started a workout such as running or yoga, or maybe swimming or tennis has always appealed to you, I urge you to pursue these interests. Be inquisitive and explore your personality some. Maybe hiking has been in the back of your mind, waiting for the time to be right to pick it up and see where it takes you. Make the time for yourself and show up. But be kind to yourself on the way and be consistent. The more you practice, the better it becomes.

One of the reasons I like yoga so much is that there is no competition, no judgement. You show up just as you are. And that will always be enough. Whatever interests or predilections you have, foster them. Who knows where they’ll take you, but wherever it is, it will be satisfying. And you’ll be building support, but also confidence and trust in yourself along the way. Happy trails and Namaste :]

Image Credits: Hot Yoga at The Mat in Liberty Lake, WA. by LibertyLakeAnne is licensed under CC0 1.0

Edited 5/27/22

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