Living Your Life: Relationships, Romantic

Here’s another topic that I was completely in the dark about. Along with friendships, romance and intimacy were so far from my definition of what a healthy relationship is that I’m amazed I was able to find anybody at all to share my time and experiences with. But as I was taught to develop friendships via poor role modeling, something I went over in my last post, the same rubric was also true of my romantic relationships. Only instead of looking the part by being popular or in charge, I was taught that sex appeal was the most important attribute and way to be valued in a relationship. This was unhealthy, though at the time I didn’t know any better or any other way of being in relationship.

So I chased this impossible standard that was laid out for me. Looking back at how I saw myself in my relationships, I’m not even sure what it was that I was seeking. I had an unrealistic image of what I thought I should be, and no real guide or understanding of how to get to where I thought I should be. And most of the time I think I was just chasing a feeling. Comfortably numb, as Pink Floyd aptly described it.

And if I wasn’t getting the connection and intimacy that are available in healthy relationships, does that mean my partners were also void of these experiences? Or was it a one sided phenomenon? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but my former wife told me before we split up that she had felt safe with me. I felt unsafe most of the time so maybe it was a one sided experience. What I do know for sure is that I had problems feeling intimate and close in relationships, especially with romantic partners.

And I suppose some of this understanding comes from a question of perspective. What does intimacy mean to different people? One popular dating app I am currently using has this as a question for matching purposes, “does intimacy mean sex”. For me, the answer is definitely no, though, that’s what it has meant in the past. It’s an aspect of intimacy for sure, but the way the question is worded suggests you can only be intimate with those you are having sex with. And that seems too close to confusing sex for love to me. Especially being raised by people who’s number one value was sex appeal. This feels much like the environment for conditional love.

So what did I do to over come these doubts blocking me from feeling intimate in my relationships? It took a lot of feeling uncomfortable in my relationships and trust that I would eventually feel a sense of comfort and ease in them. It wasn’t easy, and it’s something I’m still working on. But it’s also something that I can feel myself getting stronger in, and have seen noticable differences in my moods and relationships.

I started by first, reaching out. This may seem obvious for those who have healthy relationships, but for those who have been in abusive or conditional ones, it can be a daunting task to open up to another human, not knowing what to expect. I’m currently using a couple of dating apps, and one way I’ve been reaching out is through sending messages to people I feel I would match well with.

Just the act of letting someone know you are interested is the first and most important step. The environment I grew up in was a very cold one at times. We learned to hold back our emotions and feelings of affection for one another, almost as a way to punish or keep the other person wanting what they can’t have by making it seem as though our regard was unobtainable. But the older I get, the more I realize that this is most likely due to being too scared to open up and be our emotional and vulnerable selves around one another. The feelings of being unlovable were too painful to expose to one another so we hid our feelings and felt ashamed of who we were seen as.

And these were the types of romantic relationships I sought. Where sex appeal was the most important attribute and a relationship that I didn’t have to be responsible for. Either for myself or for my partner. I wasn’t looking out for my partner because I felt as though I had to be constantly guarded to protect myself. I’d later find out that I was hyper vigilant due to the trauma I experienced in my childhood, but while I was experiencing it, I had no idea what it was that I was experiencing. Only that everybody was a potential threat, especially those closest to me, like my partner.

And that’s not to say that there weren’t times where I felt intimate. But these times were not a priority to me in my relationships. I was mostly seeking pleasure, the way I would drink to numb feelings that were too raw. These are the same ways in which I viewed relationships because it was what was shown to me. To switch this way of viewing relationships, as something I used to give me pleasure, I began to accept the people in my life, myself included, for who they are.

Now I no longer look to fit an image of how I think my life should look in order to live up to some comparison, to how I think others will most likely accept me. I’m making decisions based on who I feel I am. But this takes some digging to get to. There were a lot of different voices from my past trying to strong arm me into believing I wasn’t good enough just being me. And even worse were the voices of my past abusers telling me their projected images of who they thought I was. This mostly came in the form of toxically masculine standards and the ideas of what it means to be a man.

And of course, I took these messages into my relationships. Trying to live up to the pre-approved standards that were laid out for me to adopt as my own. But they didn’t work. And more importantly, they didn’t suit who I was. I thought I needed to be loud, in charge and have strong opinions. To be in control of every situation and never show weakness. I needed to be hard in order to be the “man” I thought I was supposed to be.

But of course, this lead to me being largely unable to feel my emotions. This is ultimately what lead to me being unable to understand and seek out qualities of intimacy and tenderness in my relationships. And this was the major reason my relationships ultimately failed. I was incapable of responding to my own, and my partners emotional needs with tenderness through the emotional walls I had built to keep others out.

Now that I’ve learned from my past mistakes, I’m viewing looking for a partner in a different light. My values shifted. Instead of looking for a woman whom is attractive and has sex appeal, I’m looking for someone who is loving and caring first. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be physically attracted to the woman I eventually fall in love with, only that the quality and ability for us to connect in a loving way is more important than how she looks in a pair of underwear.

One of the habits I’ve been doing to change the ways in which I think of and view relationships is, I’ve created a values list. This is a list of attributes in a partner that I value. Some examples are, loving, caring, kind, beautiful, loyal, creative, adventurous, sexy. Notice that being attractive is still on the list, only this time it isn’t the foundation of what I’m looking for in a partner. Being loving, caring and kind precede beauty. But attraction is still important in a match. Only now I have a healthier perspective of where it is as a priority.

As I’ve said above, I’ve been on a few dating sites and have developed a few habits around when and how often I use them. I’ve recently listened to a podcast called “Deeply Human” where the first episode was on dating. The host of the podcast was interviewing a doctor who studied the process of making decisions. He said that if we are given too many decisions, then we have a difficult time keeping choices in perspective. We tend to take the best qualities of each potential match, and compare them to who we are looking at. The result being, that the more potential matches we look at, the more likely they are to not add up to the conglomerate ideal we’ve mashed together from disparate parts.

With this in mind, I’ve begun to pair down the amount of potential matches I’m looking at in a given session. The doctor on the podcast suggests to only look at between five and eight potential matches. I’ve also limited myself to messaging only three potential matches at a time. This way I’m reaching out while also giving each match the attention they deserve without feeling overwhelmed.

And it makes sense to put some boundaries around this area of my life as well. I know that if bring an unreasonable amount of intensity to dating, then I’ll end up feeling desperate and as though I’ll never find someone to be with. And this is a very scary and vulnerable place to be. So slowing down helps to keep my values and priorities in focus while I’m looking for a partner. Win, win.

It also helps with self confidence as well. The more profiles you read, the more you can’t help but to compare yourself to those your looking to match with. It’s kind of like the social media effect, where you are constantly comparing yourself to the very best of what your friends are posting and maybe feeling as though you’re coming up short.

The same goes for dating apps. Everybody wants to show the most amazing aspects of their personality, lifestyle and careers. If we look at the positive self projections of others for long enough, we may feel like we’re not good enough for them, not adding up. And we all have our things, nobody’s perfect. Slowing down is also good for keeping some much needed perspective in an environment where everybody is trying to sell their best selves.

These are the habits that I’ve come to cultivate while looking for a partner. I’m sure it’ll look a little different for everybody, but it’s good to have some foundation, to know what your looking for and so hopefully, when you do meet the one that’s right for you, you’ll recognize them for who they are. And one last bit of advice, be persistent. The road may not be easy, but I believe there’s someone out there for everybody. Peace : ) good luck and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Dates?” by .::RMT::. is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Living Your Life: Exercising

Oh man. This was something I used to avoid at all costs. I can’t imagine a person more sededant than the person I used to be only a few years ago. The most exercise I got was walking from the car, to go to the liquor store and then back to play video games. I was the picture of unhealthful living. But something changed in me soon after a major shift in my life happened.

Shortly after my divorce, I started to run. I began with two miles in my local Commons every few days. I had quit drinking at the time and was looking to get in physically better shape than I had been. Which wasn’t difficult because anything was better than the shape I was in when I started running. I didn’t really have a goal or a focus when I began my workouts, I just began. No training regiment, no plans to run a race. I just got it in me one day and started.

Looking back on it now, my ex-wife had began running shortly before we divorced. I feel that this may have been a way for me to process some of the emotions I wasn’t able to feel yet around our separating because I was still numb from the un-dealt with trauma from my parents divorce. Knowing what I know now, I would have done things differently. But you don’t know what you don’t know, and I was pretty much clueless.

But running has been a way for me to stay connected to myself, in taking care of my health, to friends, by picking up running buddies along the way and also a way to stay connected with something positive through the different stages of my life. An anchor so to speak. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been a good way to connect, and stay connected. Which has been worth all the while.

As I continued to run, I picked up some milage and started running races. 5ks at first. Nothing to difficult, but it felt good to put a goal to my training. To give myself some much needed structure. I eventually worked my way up through 10ks, 10 milers and finally half marathons. These were fun, and I got to run with friends I made along the way and old ones I reconnected with. But part of me felt I was doing it more for the t-shirt than the achievement. Or maybe I needed a physical counterpart to my achievements. Either way, physical fitness was something that was part of my routine, but not quite self-care yet.

Yoga is another way I’ve learned to connect to myself in a healthy way. I started by taking classes at my local Y. The classes were held in a ballet studio. The walls were lined with mirrors, and I would go during the evenings. The instructor would put LED candles around the studio for ambient lighting and we would practice our flows in the soothing environment.

More recently I’ve begun doing yoga at my home, before the pandemic. I wasn’t able to get to the classes regularly anymore for a variety of reasons, but have found a routine that works for me after some trial and error. But the same ways I was feeling about my running routine, I was feeling about my yoga practice. I didn’t have a goal when I started doing yoga, and I feel the same reasons for starting running applied to my yoga practice as well.

This was because my goal, when I started working out, was to look good naked. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best, but this was my main goal. Not to be healthy or to take care of my physical health. I wasn’t even sure what the physical benefits of exercise were at the time. I knew that it was healthy, but that was about the extent of my knowledge on the subject.

So now that my perspective has shifted on the subject of exercise, and most of the things I’m doing now, what are my goals now? To be honest, I haven’t really given it much thought beyond “it’s good for me”. And this makes me a little sad. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into these hobbies, only to find out that, first I was doing them to look good naked, and second, I couldn’t find a reason why I kept doing them after I had realized that wanting to look physically fit isn’t the healthiest reason to be exercising, because beauty fades. So how do I reconcile the time and energy spent on these hobbies?

Well first, I had to take a look at how I was feeling about myself. I had previously been about 40 to 50 pounds overweight before I started exercising. I was drinking a lot of alcohol and eating unhealthy, so this was no surprise. But what I hadn’t thought about was the standard I thought I needed to live up to, that had been drilled into me by my caregivers and society in general. These images mostly revolved around what it means to be and look like a man.

For a very long time, I thought that a man had to look like Brad Pitt from “Fight Club”. How unreasonable is that standard! But my caregivers were not confident in their own feelings of security of how they looked, so there was no way they could pass on a healthy self image to me. So in turn, I picked up the unhealthy version of what it meant to look like a man by society, advertising and the entertainment industries. I know this is something that women usually struggle with, imposible beauty standards, but men are also inundated with unhealthy messages of how we should look as well. And what’s worse is, we are the ones who are putting out the standards for everyone. So it’s difficult to garner sympathy for men’s image standards when we’re the ones setting them.

So now that I know the standards that I’m up against, how am I dealing with them? I think for me that I need to remember the good times that I’ve spent out on the road, or in the yoga studio. How do I feel when I’m actually doing, instead of what the outcome will be. For example, I don’t know if I’ll ever stop checking myself out in the mirror before I hop in the shower, but it will be better to focus on the times I remember enjoying my runs. Or a relaxing time I had a yoga session instead of how I look here and now.

And this is more difficult than it may appear to be at first glance. Everybody wants to be in shape, but the image of health, i.e. the perfect, chiseled body, seems to be more important than actually being in good health. This is why it is so dangerous to focus solely on how you look naked. A well sculpted body does not always translate into the picture of health. It’s a step in the right direction, but not the sole indicator.

For me, the picture of overall health is determined by a few varying factors. Regular exercise being one of them, but also a healthy diet, clean and organized living space, healthy attitude and relationship to my work, and tending to and enjoying my hobbies. Staying physically fit is just one aspect of my overall health.

When I began working out in my early twenties, I started with lifting weights with a few friends. The goal was to get as ripped as possible so we could pick up women at the local bar. Looking back on our plan now, it seems a bit ridiculous. But we were also in our early twenties. So a lot of the things that we were doing and thinking were on the ridiculous spectrum to some degree : )

Lifting weights did not last very long, and my next iteration of exercise became running. As I said above, I started about ten years ago, after my ex-wife left me. I’ve been running ever since, and this is something that is a bit more sustainable than trying to lift as much weight as possible. It was with running that I learned how to push myself beyond my limits of what I thought I was capable of achieving. This is where I learned stamina. And after running, I picked up yoga.

Yoga has been a go to choice of exercise for me for a while now. The first time I went I was hungover, and went with my sibling to a class at our local gym. It was an unforgiving 40 minutes. Since that day however, I’ve learned to enjoy getting in touch with my body through yoga. Where I learned to push my limits with running, I learned how to sit with the discomfort in yoga. If I was having a particularly difficult day on the mat, I learned how to stay, until the difficulty passed.

Running and yoga taught me patients with myself, and how to stick with what I was experiencing. Regardless of how difficult it seems to be at the time. Because life gets difficult at times. And we don’t always have the patients or resources to sit with ourselves when times get tough. But the good news is, that this is something we can cultivate through practice. And exercise is a great way to begin to cultivate these attributes in ourselves.

In case you’ve never thought about the prospect of getting a workout routine started for yourself, let me give you a run through of how I got started. So you’ll at least have a reference point to get involved if you’re feeling up to it.

I started with running, which was fairly easy. All I needed was a pair of running shoes, some workout shorts and a T-shirt and a stretch of road. As I said above, I started working out in my local commons. For me, two laps around equals one mile. So when I did four laps, I was at two miles, no extra equipment needed.

But I eventually graduated to longer runs and runs with friends. For these runs I didn’t need to buy any special equipment, but having an app that keeps track of my workouts for me has been invaluable. I use MapMyRun to track and keep a record of my runs now. Currently I’m also using it to keep in touch with a friend of mine who is training to run a marathon. It’s a great way to stay connected while also offering a bit of moral support during what can be a tough process.

It’s also nice to look back at your runs and see how you’ve changed over time. How your runs have evolved during the evolution of your running journey. You are able to track times and miles, through time. Remembering old routes and old split times can be a fun way to remember your connection with the sport.

For yoga, I started off doing classes, like I said above, at the local Y. There are likely many studios where you live, and yoga has a good reputation for being all inclusive. Also, practicing with a group of people can be a great way to keep yourself motivated to get out of your house, and on to your mat. For me, as I said above, remembering those times when I was on the mat in the intimately lighted room was what brought me a sense of calm and ease. I have fond memories of that studio and that community. And those are the memories that last.

But if you’re more the type to practice on your own, there are plenty of places to find videos online to help you start your own yoga practice. I like Yoga with Adriene for my practice. She has a ton of free videos, and is definitely experienced at her craft. I’ve been to a lot of studios, and Adriene is one of the most positive and knowledgeable yoginis teaching.

Adriene often does 30 day yoga challenges, or journeys, as she calls them. These are great ways to jump into a workout that will keep you moving through a set amount of time. If you’re feeling motivated, these journeys can be refreshing as long as you’re willing to commit to the time.

If you don’t have the time to squeeze a practice into every day for 30 days straight, she also has videos by length, and by skill level. For example, she has a playlist for yoga basics called, “Foundations of Yoga“. These are videos that go over the basic shapes, or asanas of a yoga practice. So when she says “we’ll be meeting in downward dog”, you’ll know exactly what she means.

Adriene also has playlists organized by length of time and by skill level. When you go to most classes in a studio, the length of time usually extends from 45 to 60 minutes. Sometimes these are just what the body is asking for. But we don’t always have that much time to put into a class. I know for me and my schedule lately, I’ll be lucky if I can find 30 minutes to get in a workout.

Adriene has a few playlists that have practices that are anywhere from 10 minutes, to 50 minutes. These have been great for me lately where I find I only have about 30 minutes to hop on the mat. And if you do some searching, you can also find practices that are specific to different areas of the body.

For me, I’ve been working mostly on a total body experience. But I’ve also wanted to focus on areas of the body for preventative care. Areas such as the back and core. So I can keep my posture and body in good working order as I age. She also has videos for yogis that are also runners like me. So I can get an extra stretch in my hamstrings, to help keep my runs injury free.

Next, it’s important to find a block of time for you to practice. Something you can commit to, so you’ll know you have a certain time each week to get into your workout. For me, I try to keep the time as static as possible. I know that my best time to workout is directly after work, and before I jump into the rest of the day. I try to keep my days off workout free so I have some rest time.

I currently have three days in a row blocked off for my workout. One day running and the following days yoga. It helps me to keep the days static during the week, but if you have a crazy schedule, like my friend training for the marathon, you may find yourself out on the road at ten o’clock at night, rounding off that eighth mile. Whatever your schedule may be, find something that works for you and something you’ll want to stick with. Workouts can get derailed pretty easily if you don’t stay on top of them.

If you’re more social, find someone to go on your workouts with. When I was running in the upper miles, I had a running buddy who I would consistently run a five mile route with on a weekly basis. This was a great way to connect, but also have some company along the way. Although I gotta say, it gets difficult (for me anyway, my running buddy had no problem with it) talking after the second mile in 😀

And don’t forget, these are only my workout routines. There are so many different ways to get involved physically. I have a friend who boulders and swears by it. That has always seemed a little intense for me, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t look like a good time. Tennis is another great way to expend some energy. I tried to pick up swimming while I had my Y membership, but to no avail.

The key is to find something you enjoy and stick with it. That way you can enjoy all the health benefits that go along with your new practice. Speaking of health benefits, both yoga and running improves cardiovascular health. Yoga helps to improve strength and flexibility. While both practices leave you feeling in a better mood over all. There are so many benefits to exercise that it is in your best interest to find something you connect with and do it regularly. And don’t worry, the more you do it, the easier it gets!

So if you haven’t thought about starting an exercise routine, maybe now is the time you find something that suits your lifestyle and disposition. Maybe you’ve always wanted to get into hiking. With fall right around the corner, there is no better time to get out into the mountains. Just remember to find something you enjoy, make time for your new practice and stay committed. It’ll be worth the effort, and you’ll feel better in the long run. Peace : ) and thanks for reading!

Image Credits: “DIY Yoga” by timsamoff is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Living Your Life: You Gotta Do Your chores

As I’ve said in earlier posts, I’m currently living with one of my childhood caregivers. This wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it’s one where I didn’t have a lot of other options to choose from. All in all it’s been a good decision. We’ve gotten a second chance to reconnect and learn what it means to be a family. So with that in mind, the subject of this blog post wasn’t in the initial outlined plan, but it certainly fits with the theme of this series of posts and is one that I’ve come to realize after cohabitating with people I’ve come to rely on in our living space. After all, taking care of your living space is essential to your overall happiness and speaks a great deal to how we feel about ourselves.

Lately I’ve been feeling a bit uneasy when I’ve been in my bathroom. I wasn’t entirely sure why at first, but as the weeks went by I couldn’t help but to notice that the unease I was feeling would not subside. The bathroom has been left unfinished for many years now and that has something to do with the feeling, but there was something more to it than that. Something that was growing more tangible with each visit.

So last week I decided that the bathroom needed new bath mats. I made a plan to go to a local home furnishings store and get a few to replace the ones already in use, after my shift at work. As I was going to the store, during my commute home, I made plans to clean the bathroom after getting the new mats. I wanted the feeling of walking into a freshly cleaned bathroom, crisp and new, after I was done with cleaning it. So when I got home from the store, I lighted a pine tree scented candle, rolled up my sleeves and got to the task of cleaning my bathroom.

It was dirty. I had swept up a sizeable hairball from all the dust that had accumulated for however long, maybe the size of a salad bowl, and the shower curtains were in the same shape as the bathmats. It was in such bad shape that the plastic lining was flaking off and the bottom was discolored from the mold that was lining it. The plunger was cracked and the cabinets needed a good purging as well. It was at that point I realized that the bathroom looked an awful lot like one of the bathrooms in my first apartments and that’s what was making me feel so uneasy.

To give you some context as to what my bathrooms used to look like, there was a constant layer of mold on and around the bathtub, sink and floor. There was trash plastered to the floor and walls, and the floor was missing pieces of tile in strategic places showing the subflooring. Once, for a period of about a month, maybe longer, there was vomit on the wall from one night where I ate a whole pizza, then got into a shot contest where I took a shot of tequila that had a cigarette butt in it. Let’s just say I missed the intended receptacle.

This was a shock for sure. Everyone in the house is an adult, we should be on top of this type of thing. The bathroom wasn’t in as bad shape as my early apartments were, but sadly, things had been left unattended by pretty much everyone. We had been treating our living space the ways we had been treated, with neglect instead of care.

Not only that, but we were shirking the shared sense of responsibility of keeping something alive, the household. We were collectively avoiding cleaning as one way to make our house feel more like a home. There are other things that bring people together to feel more connected as a family as well. Such as shared experiences and meals to name a few, but making your living space a place you want to be in, surrounded by things and a feeling of cleanliness, is a huge part of feeling at home. Comfortable. This is what we were missing from our shared time together. A feeling of shared responsibility and comfort in knowing that we are taking care of one another by taking care of our dwelling.

After I made this realization, I shared it with my childhood caregiver and their spouse, and it all started making much more sense to me. I had been feeling as though I wasn’t really part of the family. There were only certain areas of the house I felt comfortable in. My bedroom and the kitchen being two of them, and the rest felt like it was off limits. Add the fact that we are all too polite to ask one another to do something for one another, like helping clean the bathroom, and you have a pretty cold environment. One definitely hostile towards forming tight bonds.

The act of buying something for the house, even something so small as a couple of bath mats, or a basil scented candle for the kitchen, made me feel more secure as a member of the family. I felt as though I were trying to create a more home-like environment by taking care of those I live with, while also taking care of my own needs. And I have to say, it feels good.

I also spoke with them about putting candles in the bathroom for when I shower at night. It’s a way I help myself to decompress from the stress of the day. But this is also a way for me to express myself and a part of my personality in our shared space. More ways of feeling connected on a more intimate level. We all felt more connected after the talk and the conversation flowed a little more freely. They agreed that they had been a little lax about some of the cleaning responsibilities and I agreed I could have been doing more to help out.

So I decided to make doing chores more of a routine. The same way I meal prep for myself, I am creating a schedule and a general maintenance list for the house. This way we can create our home together, by sharing the work of caring for each other by caring for our shared spaces.

I divided the house into two parts, with the two most important rooms in the house as focal points. The first is the upstairs, with the focus being in the bathroom. The second part being the kitchen and downstairs. I will switch off doing these two parts every week with someone else in the house, and the alternate week will be the time where I’ll do the part previously undone the week before and someone else will do the part I had previously done.

With any luck, the house will begin to feel more like a warm and welcoming place. One where we want to create memories and cook meals in together, instead of the cold and somewhat distant place it has been for so long. We will learn to rely on each other, and feel comfortable just inhabiting our shared space together. We’ll start feeling like a family again. Only a healthy version. One without the untrusting attitudes and unhealthy boundaries we had previously been used to. Let’s get into the “how” in what I did to create a sense of shared responsibility among the household.

I began with a quick mental checklist of what needs cleaning in the house. I started with the two most important areas of the house (for me) and radiated out from there. The two rooms I chose are the bathroom and the kitchen. After I chose these rooms, I created two zones in the house around these rooms that could be cleaned and cared for in one cleaning session that would last maybe one to two hours, depending on the level of clutter or mess.

I then went through the zone, and took down another list of the specific tasks that need doing. For example, the bathroom zone needed to be cleared of general clutter, dusted, the bathtub and toilet needed a scrubbing and the floor needed a sweep and mop. Then the hallway just outside the bathroom needed to be swept and vacuumed, and the stairway needed to be swept and dusted as well.

After making these more specific lists of tasks, I now have a jumping off point where I can start cleaning. So when each week comes around, we have a set routine where we know what needs to be taken care of and how to approach the job.

This past week I spent a good portion of time doing a deep clean of the two most important rooms in the house. I didn’t get to all the tasks on my mental checklist, but the job definitely feels more manageable, knowing that I’ve already done the more labor and time intensive tasks. Now when we begin our cleaning routine, it will be that much easier to keep up with. As long as we keep up with the tasks, there shouldn’t be an overwhelming amount of work to do. This may not make the work a joy to do, but it will make the tasks a little easier to accomplish. But if you’re like me, I get a little excited about the idea of cleaning and organizing something. So who knows, maybe it will spark some joy : )

I’ve also started a list of general maintenance items that need to be done around the house as well. This includes items that need to be replaced or small jobs that need our attention. For example, I put a list of items I need to replace for both the bathroom and general cleaning supplies for the house. This way we can keep our place looking and feeling as clean and organized as possible while keeping on top of the tasks and items we need to pick up.

This also has the added bonus of allowing us to bond as a family by planning trips to the local hardware store. Also making a collective effort to add input on what we feel needs attention. If you are anything like we are, you may find that after you do a deep clean and organize some of your belongings, that you have an embarrassing amount of extra or duplicate items that you may not have touched in months or years. This would be a good time to take stock of what you do have, what you use, how often you use it, and what you could you do without.

For us, we have two sets of pots, one brand new and the other just sitting around waiting to be recycled or donated. The initial plan was to get rid of them, but they are still around, haunting or living space. This wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t taking up valuable cabinet space. I like to view extra items in the kitchen, the same way I view unintended plants in the garden. Sure you may have a tomato plant that sprang up in the eggplant bed, but if it’s not an eggplant, then it’s a weed. The old pots are still mostly functional, but we have a new set and planned on getting rid of the old ones. So in my book, the old ones are a weed.

I also have about 15-20 mason jars collecting dust on our shelves. I got them to store my dry goods in. But if you’ve read my post on shopping from your pantry first, you’ll know that the food I bought mostly just sat around in these jars for months, if not years! They looked good all lined up in their storage containers, but they were definitely being underutilized. As I’ve been shopping from my pantry first, I’ve been freeing up a lot of space since I haven’t been replacing the items, and have ended up with an awful lot of empty mason jars.

I use them to store the meals that I batch cook in, but there are only so many meals I can store in the fridge at one time. The rest need to either be repurposed, or recycled. And this isn’t always an easy task to do. I know I’ve developed some sentimental attachments to inanimate objects over the years. And it seems the longer you have an item around, the fonder you become of it! I feel like this is where it enters your comfort zone. You’re just so used to seeing it around, that you recognize it as one of the family.

And of course this is a little different for some items over others. Such as, you wouldn’t want to throw away a pan your grandmother gave you that she made your favorite brownies in. But in the end, things are just that, things. Besides, it’s not the pan that you love, it’s the memories of your Nana’s brownies. But tossing a peanut butter jar you used to store tea in is a no-brainer. Marie Condo is a great resource for just this type of letting go. If it sparks joy, keep it and use it lovingly. If not, thank it for its service in supporting you in your life and donate it or let it go.

This should work to make your living space a more inviting dwelling for everyone. One where you’ll enjoy the time spent in it, together. And as a friend of mine said, we attuning to each other, by paying attention to each other’s surroundings. This is how you build the foundations of a caring family. This is where we really begin to understand what it means to be together, united.

I hope this post serves you on your path. It isn’t always an easy task, coming together to make something, from what sometimes seems like out of nothing. But when people, friends and family all chip in and lend a helping hand, it’s amazing what we are able to accomplish. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Amelia Cleaning” by donnierayjones is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Living Your Life: Nutrition and Your Health

Healthy eating. This was something I struggled with for a long time. I’ve written about my experience in other posts on this blog. The road to healthy eating habits has not been an easy one. It all started when I was very young. I was raised on hamburger, rice and ketchup, with the occasional trip to McDonalds. We also ate at our local pizza shop quite a bit. Fried and fatty foods were mainstays in my diet as a child as well as sugary sodas and drinks. There were few whole foods and leafy greens found on my younger self’s menu.

It’s not as though I was seeking out healthy versions of the foods I was eating either. If I had any money, I would most likely be at the corner store buying candy bars and soda. But I was also too young to be making informed decisions about what my diet should look like. I definitely needed some guidance in that department. And in my caretakers defence, they did the best with what they had. There was always some type of meat at dinner, with a starch and a vegetable. But asides from providing us with the basics at meal time, this was the extent of my nutritional knowledge.

As for meals other than dinner, I was pretty much on my own. There was soda to drink, but I never remember being shown how to make or prepare breakfast or lunch for myself. Or even if there were things to make these meals with. I was clueless when it came to pretty much all things domestic, and the one time I tried to take food from the freezer to make something I was grounded for using something intended for another meal. I didn’t know there was a plan, let alone that I was supposed to adhere to it. These were confusing messages to be surrounded by as a child for sure.

So under these conditions, it’s no surprise that I was never shown how to cook meals for myself. Fast forward to my late teen years and I’m on my own, living in an all but empty apartment, with a fridge whose sole purpose I believed was to hold 40s. There were few if any meals cooked in the first few apartments I lived in, but there was loads of drinking and, surprise surprise, more fatty takeout. The two behaviours that were modeled for me in my youth. I also worked at a Mexican/Asian fusion, takeout place where the head chef was using Northern Indian cooking techniques to prepare the food. This was where I was blessed enough to begin to learn how to cook for myself. Though I didn’t realize it at the time. But more on that later.

Time moved on, I got married and was taking the long way around to getting a degree I would later have no idea what to do with. And I was still almost completely in the dark on how to take care of my nutritional needs. I was still drinking loads of beer, and eating takeout maybe four times a week! We never had any money because we were spending it all on eating out, while our refrigerator was mostly used to keep beer and leftovers cold.

I feel like if you don’t have your food situation down by the time you’re in your early thirties, someone should pull you aside and send you to a special program on the things you should have learned by now! This however, is sadly not the case. I was in my early thirties, married, had been working in the food industry for most of my adult life, and I still had no idea how to cook for myself, or take care of my nutritional needs.

If I stop to think about it too much, it scares me a little. Who knows where I would be had I kept on the same path I was heading down. But luckily for me, things did change. Unfortunately, my marriage ended, and I was jettisoned into a life where I needed to focus on what was most important. And for a while, those were the skills I needed to survive. I began cooking and meal planning for myself, the first time I had ever attempted such a task.

I was still eating meat at the time, and this is when I had started buying and roasting whole chickens and using the meat throughout the week for various meals. This is one of the few things I miss about eating meat on occasion. It’s also surprising how many meals you can get out of a four pound chicken! This is also about the same time I started to really focus on my budget, and how much I was spending on groceries. I learned a lot of life lessons shortly after my divorce. But they were already on their way, and had been coming for some time. I had just been avoiding them for a very long time.

But with these roasts, was the beginning of my meal planning. I remember watching an episode of “Extreme Couponing” and being fascinated by the idea that you could be paid to do something that you needed to do to survive. The organizing and planning part of my brain lighted up, and this is where my organizational skills met my culinary abilities. I have yet to attempt an extreme coupon go, but it’s still on my bucket list : )

I had a dog at the time too, so I was coming up with a plan to not only take care of myself, but also the woman I was with as well as our dog. It was motivating knowing that I was taking care of something more than myself. But when my relationship eventually failed, I was left by myself again, to focus on the relationship I had been neglecting the most, the one with myself.

But now, at least I had some of the basics down. I was cooking for myself now, and doing my own grocery shopping. These were big steps in leaning to take care of my nutritional needs. I was starting from zero too, so any progress was welcome. This was around the time I chose to go vegan. Thinking back on the decision now, I’m glad I chose the meatless route, but I did make the decision almost on an impulse.

Had I to do it over again, I would have done more research on the choice. As I’ve said, I’m happy I made the decision, but I would have taken care to look up how to hit nutritional goals. I went to the Boston Vegetarian Festival and heard Dr. Colin T. Campbell give a talk about how eating meat is most likely linked to many types of cancers, and I went full vegan then. I also read that eating a plant based diet will regulate your body weight due to the nature of eating healthy whole foods with the optimal ratio of fiber to carbs to proteins to fats. Both these seemed like goals I was willing to get behind, and made making the switch that much more focused.

As I said, at first I went full vegan. But as I started living my new lifestyle, I found that it took a great strength of will to adhere to this diet. I slowly started eating dairy again but in moderation. I still mostly cook vegan for myself but will eat vegetarian when I’m at a restaurant or out. Mostly because it’s difficult to find vegan foods when I’m out. And this is how I’ve been eating ever since.

I find that my appetite isn’t as big as it used to be before, when I was eating more unhealthfully. I mostly buy and prepare whole food meals, my weight is in a healthy range, and I eat more frequently. And with all these changes I’ve made to my diet, I feel better about myself. I have more energy and my weight has been as consistent as it has ever been. And coming from where I was, with absolutely no idea how to care for my nutritional needs, this is a complete 180. And it feels good : ) So let’s take a look at how I got there.

I started by changing the ways I was shopping for food. When I used to go food shopping, I would buy what I thought I would make during the week. I didn’t really have a plan, just a list of things I knew I liked, and a few recipes I made when I would cook. Recipes like black bean soup or a chicken curry that I made mostly because I didn’t know what else to eat or make. This left me with cabinets full of food I never used. So, I started using the ingredients I had on hand.

If you’ve read my post on “shopping from your pantry first“, you’ll know I started looking up recipes that utilized the ingredients I already have on hand first. I would just head over to my favorite recipe site, and type in the main ingredient I wanted to use in the search bar. I would do this for a few items in my pantry, and come up with a shopping list based around these recipes I had planned to make for the week. Not only did I save money from using up what was on hand, but I was also planning my shopping trips according to what I needed for the week and staying in budget most of the time. Win win.

My plan for the week usually consists of, looking through my pantry to find items that have been sitting around for a little too long and round up two or three recipes that utilize these ingredients. I also pick a self-care Sunday dinner for the week. This is something that is usually a break from the norm. And something that gives me a chance to explore new flavors and recipes to maybe put into rotation. Speaking of, I also have a list of standby recipes that I make fairly often. So if I’m looking for inspiration I can take a quick look at my list and add them to the meal prep plan.

I also try to utilize as much produce as possible from the garden. If kale is coming in then I make some curried greens as a side that week. This way I’m eating as fresh as possible as well. When all my recipes and groceries are gathered for the weeks meals, I pick a night and cook for the week ahead. I’ve been working in food for a while so meal prepping is something that is second nature. But it is completely doable if you are just starting out on learning how to cook for yourself.

I like to make the setting more comfortable by lighting a scented candle and turning down the lights. This brings a relaxing air to the process, which can be stressful if you aren’t used to spinning so many plates at once. Even if you are, it can still be stressful! The key is to take it slow. I try to cook one recipe at a time, so I’m not piling up too much on myself at once. It may take the entire night, but I’d rather take my time in a relaxed setting with dimmed lights, a scented candle burning and a cup of herbal tea than try to cram three recipes into the space of 45 minutes with all four burners going and something in the oven! Life can be overwhelming enough, no need to put ourselves through that kind of stress ; )

As far as macronutrients go, I don’t count my calories. I know a majority of my protein comes from grains, beans, pasta, nuts, seeds and tofu. My carbs come mostly from, well just about everything I eat since everything that is grown has carbs to some degree. And my fats usually come from oils, nuts, seeds and avos. Here I intuitively eat what I feel is right. I’ll usually have overnight oats for breakfast with maybe a muffin or cheese snail at work (if you haven’t had a cheese snail, do yourself a favor and go get one. The are delicious), beans, avo and rice for lunch and a curry or some type of buddha bowl, which is just a mix of vegetables and grains usually topped with a sauce, for dinner.

All of these meals are super easy to meal prep at the beginning of the week. I usually have the recipes open in tabs on my browser, so when I’m ready to start cooking, I have my recipes at hand and waiting. All I need to do is pack up my breakfast the night before for the morning to come, dish out dinner that night and I’m done. Easy peasy.

But it’s not always easy to find places to eat that are healthy while you’re out. Eating out can be a challenge. I try to get foods that are as close to whole as possible. This means protein bars made mostly from nuts and a little sugar. Maybe a burrito when I’m out with tofu, veges, rice and beans. Once you know what to look for, it gets a little easier to find things to eat.

And that my friends, is how I made the transition from unhealthy eating habits, to healthful ones. And it takes some will power. But once you make the change, the foods you’ll be cooking are so much tastier than their processed, fatty counter parts that you’ll wonder why you ever used to eat them in the first place!

If you’re trying to make the change to a healthier lifestyle by changing your eating habits, know that it is doable. You just need to put the work in. It is not easy at first. There are a lot of adjustments to make and depending on how unhealthy your habits were before, a steep learning curve. But be patient with yourself. The longer you keep after it, the easier and better your food will taste. This is where I leave you amigos. If you’re looking for some inspiration, head over to Minimalist Baker’s site to help get you started. I’m eating this Green Curry and Chickpea recipe right now with some greens. And as always, peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Nutrition • Vegetables • Peas” by Living Fitness UK is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Clean Your Plate!: How Healthy Boundaries With Food Can Help Us Heal From Old Wounds

Every Tuesday night, I make a special, self-care dinner for myself. I usually search for a recipe that looks interesting, or something that has caught my eye during the week. I go shopping for my meal that night, and take my time cooking the meal to really savor my time preparing something I will enjoy. I even had a co-worker make me a special bowl for the weekly ritual. I usually make a large batch of whatever I’m making so I have leftovers to eat during the week. And last Tuesday was no different.

However, there was something different about last week’s meal. I made a tortilla soup topped with corn chips, cilantro, avocado, cheddar and sour cream. It was tasty, but that wasn’t what was different. What had changed was, by the time I got to the end of my bowl, I felt as though I was forcing myself to finish the rest of my meal. I had at some point stopped enjoying my meal and began forcing myself to enjoy my meal.

This was a confusing place to be. I made these meals especially so I could enjoy and connect with the experience of cooking something I like while also nourishing myself in the process. Why was I now forcing myself to enjoy something, after I had already enjoyed the process and consumption of it?

And the more I thought of it, the less sense this seemed to make. The bowl I had my friend make for me was the second bowl she had made. The first one was too small for my liking. I wanted something I could fit a lot of food in. Further more I usually made, and served myself, way too much food, and had up to three or four drinks and a dessert to follow with some sort of tea to round out the meal. I was not concerned about my portion control, only how much I could consume.

This switch, from a ritual I had created to forge a new and soothing relationship with myself, to turning into something that was not as enjoyable as I had initially planned it to be, had me feeling uneasy. Then I realized there was much more beneath the surface to what I was experiencing.

It began with my portion sizes. I was serving myself way too much food. So much so that I felt as though I was muscling through the meal towards the end rather than enjoying the experience in a relaxed setting. I was using my experience with food, the joy I received from making the meal, to sitting down and relishing in the flavor combinations of a meal well prepared, like a drug. And from this perspective, more is better. But I was also covering over some other feelings that had been left unattended for a long time. The feelings of how I related to food.

When I was growing up, my experience in relating to food was not an enjoyable one. I do have some fond memories of holiday meals being prepared. The smells of rosemary and roasting meats wafting through the house as family gathered to celebrate. But a majority of my time spent with meals was not so steeped in revelry. I would often hear from my caregivers, “clean your plate” in reference to finishing the food that was given to me.

I also spent very little time at mealtime with my caregivers. And the times I did spend with them was filled with petty arguments and insults. A thousand tiny cuts. They would prepare meals for me, but I believe that family mealtime ended for me around the time I was 12-14 years old. My caregivers were gone until 2am most nights, leaving me to fend for myself when it came to nourishment. It felt more like survival most nights. This is an exaggeration, but the loneliness mixed with not knowing how to cook for myself or how to pick healthy meals that would leave me feeling my best was anxiety provoking and confusing. I spent most of this time alone, not sure of what to do to take care of myself. It was a lonely and scary place to be for a preteen.

And the times we were together, my caregivers referred to me as a “human garbage disposal”. This was also confusing, and seemed in direct contradiction to my prime directive of, “cleaning my plate.” I was confused. Paired with no direction on how to please my caregivers, it seemed that everything I was doing was somehow wrong or unexceptable to their judgements.

And to further drive home the “human garbage disposal” nickname, my caregivers were more than intolerant of overweight persons. This was also confusing, as my caregivers and myself, were also all overweight. There was literally no sense to be made from any of these interactions. Again, a very confusing place to be.

One of my caregivers went so far as to offer me money to lose weight. I believe the arrangement was 40$ to get down to my ideal weight. I agreed, but what 13 year-old wouldn’t want 40$? But with no direction on how to lose the weight, and being poorly fed with no direction on how to achieve my goals by the same people wanting me to lose weight, I didn’t stand a chance and felt like a failure.

Fast forward to my mid twenties, I was overweight, had zero boundaries with the food and alcohol I was consuming, but I stayed faithful to my caregivers instructions, and chose Brad Pitt’s character from the movie, “Fight Club” as my role-model of how I thought I should look… What hurts so much now thinking about all of this is, that I had no idea how unreasonable these standards are and were. I thought these were perfectly normal and reasonable aspirations because they were expected of me by my caregivers.

I should also mention that one of my caregivers top values is looking attractive. Which, unfortunately for me growing up, was reinforced, time and time again. So I wasn’t even aware of how unreasonable these standards actually are, and backed by a society that is equally image obsessed, it took a great strength of will to even see past the idea that looking thin and attractive, was not the most important aspect of life.

All of these unhealthy messages I received growing up left me feeling confused, angry with myself for not being able to live up to these unreasonable standards, highly judgemental of others who couldn’t live up to my and my caregivers standards, and just plain unsatisfied. By the time I hit my early thirties, I was overweight and angry about it and my diet was the most unhealthy it had been ever. Something needed to change.

I first started with exercise. I started running two miles every few days in the local commons. I was going through a divorce at the time and there were other major shifts happening in my life. One of the ways I was able to take some steps in a healthier direction and control of my life was by getting out on the road and running a few miles. This was the start of me making more health conscious decisions that directly affected my life for the better.

After I got into a routine of regularly exercising, I shifted my focus on what I was eating. This was particularly difficult, considering the environment I was in. I was living with a woman who was in her early twenties, who was living life much the same ways I was in my early twenties. This should have been an indicator that I was moving backwards with my life choices, but I was under a considerable amount of stress and dealing with a life’s time worth of unchecked emotional baggage. I understand why I made the decisions I did, but would not make them again. Needless to say, our eating habits were not the healthiest.

That being said, I was however able to begin to make healthier food choices and change my habits while I was living in less than ideal circumstances. I began grocery shopping as I would for a family. Planning and preparing meals for us for the week. I was roasting whole chickens and preparing other whole foods, straying away from fatty and sugary prepared and processed foods. I was taking control of our nutritional needs and moving us in a healthier direction.

This was also around the time I decided to reduce my alcohol intake as well. This change stems from my taking a conscious effort to part ways with the habits and patterns my caregivers had modeled for me in my youth. And ones I stayed loyal to, until I decided to make changes for the better.

And as soon as I stopped drinking as much alcohol as I had been consuming, that’s when my health really started to take shape. I was less sluggish, I was losing weight due to the sudden decrease in caloric intake from not only the unhealthy foods I was eating, but also the empty calories in the beer and coffee I was drinking. And speaking of coffee, I also lessened my caffeine intake. I was drinking around 4-5 double or quad shot moccas a day! This was excessive by any standard.

So in the course of two years, I had turned my eating habits from something unhealthy to the point where I may have had health complications had I kept with my poor eating habits, to exercising regularly, watching my alcohol and caffeine consumption and eating healthier, whole foods. All in all I had made some pretty remarkable changes in my personal life. So fast forward a few years and I’m still defaulting to some of my old habits. Why was this so?

From what I am able to tell, much of it stems from my avoiding the old feelings of deficiency I received from my caregivers growing up. I was still looking for the external validation of living up to my caregivers unreasonable standards that I adopted as my own. All the healthy eating and diet changes were a way of trying to live up to my caregivers impossible standard. The difference is, now I have the tools I never had before. Now I know how to please my caregivers.

But this is still an unhealthy way of living. Trying to live up to impossible standards is exhausting and dangerous. I remember one night, after working a full shift without eating breakfast or lunch, I ran three miles and did thirty minutes of yoga. I was so exhausted from the day, that when I got out of the shower and bent over to towel off, I passed out on the bathroom floor. The person I live with came into to the bathroom to see if I was okay. I clearly was not.

So I’m still holding on to these conflicting and unhealthy messages from my past, which all stemmed from, “clean your plate”. Even after all this work, I’m still holding on to some of these lessons. Why?

From what I’m able to tell, I feel a sense of accomplishment from “cleaning my plate”. This is the external validation I am looking for, that I never received from my caregivers. There’s a part of me that is still looking for validation for what I never received. So how do I change this unhealthy way of relating to myself and these unreasonable standards I’ve adopted? How do I learn to be okay, just as I am, while still striving to be the best version of myself in a healthy way? I think it starts, for me anyways, with my meditation practice.

During my meditation, I recite a set of affirmations that helps me to be the version of myself I want to be. One of the lines is, “it’s okay to be me, just as I am”. I need this constant reinforcement, to help to break the old patterns of not feeling as though I’m adding up. And not adding up meant feeling like I didn’t belong to my caregivers, which made me feel unsafe. Add some early childhood trauma to the mix and you have a recipe for a difficult set of patterns and expectations to break free from.

This reassurance also helps to let me know I’m not perfect, and that’s okay. When I was younger, I really thought my belonging hinged on the good opinion of my caregivers. Now that I know that my caregivers are just people, it’s a little easier to forgive myself for not living up to their standards, as I no longer view their words as absolute law.

Also, being kind and patient with myself. When I was forcing myself to finish my meal a few days ago, I was already feeling uneasy and a little sad. I needed self-care then more than ever. Because there was and is a lot of confusion and mixed messages around food and sustaining myself. And my younger emotional self is still holding out for that chance to make my caregivers proud of me for doing what they asked of me. This will take some time for my emotional self to feel better about. And the only way I can come to terms with that is through being kind to myself and the feelings as they arise.

Exercise and healthy eating are still going to be integral routines to my lifestyle choices, but for different reasons than they were before. It’s still okay to want to look and feel good, only the perspective has shifted from looking and feeling good as being my top value, to being a means to living a healthy and active life. Because when I was living a sedentary lifestyle, overweight and drinking too much, I wasn’t happy.

I was drinking caffeine and alcohol to numb my emotions while watching T.V. and playing video games to avoid living my life. I was also overweight and unhealthy. As I said above, I was most likely headed for some health complications due to my lifestyle. That wouldn’t have been good for anybody! So knowing that I’m living my life, to be the best and healthiest version of myself is now my number one value when it comes to health choices and making value based decisions, and this makes me feel healthier. My values are no longer set at how good I look naked, and that feels good : )

And finally, knowing that we are not perfect. This one was a difficult one for me to come to terms with. My caregivers focus on perfection was omnipresent. I felt as though, if I didn’t get that A, or wasn’t the perfect image of what my caregivers wanted of me, regardless of how impossible the image was (see Brad Pitt’s character in Fight Club for example), I was unsafe and unloved.

I went so far as to study Val Kilmer’s, Jim Morrison, because they liked The Doors, and Jim seemed to be living life like my caregivers. I had no idea how unhealthy this dynamic is and was. But I remember how lonely it was growing up, with no one around and not feeling loved or belonging. Realizing that I don’t have to be somebody else, that “it’s okay to be me, just as I am”, has done so much good in remembering I don’t have to add up to someone else’s standard. That it’s okay to be me, flaws and all.

And it takes practice. Sometimes I still find myself wanting to conform to someone else’s ideal to be loved, to feel belonging. It’s in those moments that I remember the things that I do value. The friends I have who know and love me for me. The activities I find joy in like yoga and hiking. And the plans I have for my future, that help to ground me in who I am outside of somebody else’s standard.

So if you’re struggling with a set of unreasonable standards you were presented with before you were able to form your own healthier versions, you are not alone. And also, it’s not too late to change these standards. Be persistent, take the time to learn who you are. Your likes and dislikes. What are the moments that bring you joy? Is it a song that you particularly are drawn to? Do you enjoy a certain meal or maybe a treat you make for yourself on special occasions. These are the pieces that when added up, make you who you are. Be faithful to those and you will find your way : ) And as always, thanks for reading : ) peace.

Image Credits: “Stack of Clean Plates” by ljfullofgrace is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0