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

Last week, I went over some ways we get caught in the trap of neglecting ourselves. Either by the lessons taught to us in our youths by our caregivers, or the habits we’ve cultivated in our day to day routines. This week I’d like to talk about some of my self-care rituals, how I’ve developed them, and why they are important in their own specific ways. Hopefully, my routines will give you some ideas and motivation to start and cultivate your own self-care rituals. So, lets hit the ground running.

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. Partly because I’ve only recently started my self-care routine. But also because it’s a place where I learned how to reach and set goals. The pleasure of finding ease in the work of the longer runs but also the friendships I developed with my running buddies along the way.

In my youth, teenage years and twenties, I was sedadent. 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 noone I felt I could turn to. 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.

So I started running. I began after my divorce, I feel as a way to deal 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 had come to enjoy being on the road. Not only the fond memories but also the reconnecting with the part of me that wants to take care of myself by way of my physical health. I finally felt like I had an outlet to express myself. Making my physical health a priority was a step towards making peace with the parts of my neglected self that was paralyzed by fear. In front of a screen, beer in hand avoiding the work we all have to get after in life.

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, 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 ernest, 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.

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 food.

I decided to become vegan about five years ago which I still mostly am. Only on occasion I’ll 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.

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 a lot of the trauma I experienced 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.

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.

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 slowly but surely is taking hold and ease and confidence takes the place of fear and the emptiness that neglect leaves.

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 some 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 Working Out Builds More Than Just Strength

I’m an avid runner and yogi. I love the feel of being out on the road, ending my fourth mile at the top of a hill. Also knowing that the ocean and its breeze is just ahead of me, waiting on the other side. I love the calm on my mat right after we finish our vinyasa. And when I’m lying prone in savasana, letting the energy from the workout settle over me. But it wasn’t always that way.

For a long time I avoided exercise at almost any cost. Even though I played baseball and soccer in my youth and also took taekwondo lessons, I’ve struggled with any form of physical activity since I started middle school. With the exceptions of when I decided to lift weights for stints of two months every five or so years. So it was to my complete surprise when about four years ago I took to running as a hobby and practicing yoga fairly regularly.

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. Making great strides in my overall health and fitness levels.

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 the first place. I had been so worried about my survival first, and belonging second, that any energy I had went to those two efforts. These thoughts consumed my thoughts and actions.

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 unhealthy as well. So I suppose it was only natural to use something like running (because it was already second nature to me) to get in touch with my body and take control of my health. Yoga helped to slow me down enough to feel what was here as well as getting acquainted with the parts of my body I had been neglecting for so long.

Running specifically was a source of pride and accomplishment for me. I could track the progress in mileage in time and with tangible results. As I said above I was running 13.1 miles from 2 miles inside of a year. 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.

I remember running my first rely-marathon with a friend of mine from Vermont. The course carved through downtown Burlington and the views of Lake Champlain while running up and down the city’s hilly roads were lined with rows of vibrant green conifers. This was set behind the clear, glassy lake which was reflecting the sapphire sky and its low lying supple clouds. It was beautiful. And along with so many people running along side of me which 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.

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.

These two hobbies have been a large influence of 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, running and yoga were the two ways I was able to give some structure to my life.

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. 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.

And with yoga it was a way for 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 being a challenging workout, showed me how to be in my body. And to experience these emotions not only in my body, but while being surrounded by supportive, like minded people.

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 feelings. Every time I stepped foot inside myself I felt as though I was under attack!

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

I suppose this is why sports are so important for some young people. Something to give them the stable, supportive, community that they may be lacking elsewhere in their lives. A younger me would have scoffed at the idea. But looking back on what the self-driven, dedication and support from loved ones has given me, I could only imagine what it would do for someone who was hanging on by a thread. Who felt like they were just trying to survive.

Fortunately for us we don’t have to be experiencing some great trauma to develop a new healthy hobbie like running or yoga. The benefits are equally as gratifying either way. The more we make showing up for ourselves a habit, by way of commiting 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 this subject. It’s about how “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 hobby like running or yoga, or maybe swimming has always appealed to you, I urge you to pursue your 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. One of the reasons yoga is so healthy is that there is no competition, no judgement. You show up just as you are. And that’s always be enough. Whatever interest 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 confidence and trust in yourself along the way. Happy trails and Namaste :]

%d bloggers like this: