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

Resources: What Even Are They?

Last week’s blog post was on how I had managed to acquire all sorts of unhealthy resources to navigate and deal with a life’s time worth of unfelt emotions. This week, I’d like to talk about some of the healthier versions of some of my old resources and new ones I’ve developed that bring me a sense of ease and calm. Get ready to feel good!

Let’s begin where we usually start our day, with coffee. As I mentioned last week, I drank a lot of coffee. This was mostly to push past the feelings of not wanting to do something, especially while I was tired. Plus, it felt good. The buzz I got from drinking lattes back to back allowed me to get a lot done in the time I had. It also, unfortunately, stopped me from thinking about the things I was doing and saying which allowed me to shirk the responsibility for being held accountable for my own words and actions. This was what I meant by letting the emotions pile up. I just never thought about them or just plain sped passed them.

So I stopped drinking caffeine for a while but along with feeling like I was avoiding it out of fear, I did enjoy the kickstart to my morning that caffeine delivers. So I started drinking it again, only this time around in the form of tea and set some boundaries around it. I usually only drink two to three cups a day now which is a vast improvement over my old habit, and there’s tons of variety with all the different types of teas!

If you’re into smoky things, I suggest Yerba Mate. It’s a plant native to South America that has smoky note to it. And it does have less caffeine than a cup of coffee, but not by much. So if you’re looking to cut back, this may not be the best option to replace coffee with, one for one. Other favorites of mine include, jasmine green, oolong and jade green. All having about half the caffeine of a normal cup of coffee.

They’re also great for making cold brew for the warmer weather. I usually put about four bags of tea to a gallon container and let the tea steep overnight. I remove the bags in the morning and have tea that’s ready to be iced and taken on my morning commute. So if you’re into iced beverages, this is a great option for making a large jug to drink throughout the week. If you’re in the Boston area, Mem Tea is a great place to pick up some loose leaf tea at a reasonable price.

As I mentioned last week, it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I realized that the ways I was living were not only unhealthy, but potentially very dangerous. I knew things needed to change, only I had no idea where to start. I began by looking around at who I had been looking to for guidance. Most of the people I had shared my time with I no longer spoke to, and the movies and characters I aspired to be like were self destructive. Tyler Durden from “Fight Club”, the Joker and Jim Morrison to name a few.

After I realized that I was trying to emulate the late Mr. Morrison, I knew something needed to change. So I stopped drinking alcohol. Entirely at first, but then I started to feel the same ways I did about avoiding caffeine. So I introduced it into my self-care dinner nights. I would have a beer with my meal, one that I enjoyed, and be present with the experience. I wasn’t trying to numb my emotions anymore. I felt a little relaxed but mostly enjoyed the taste and how it complimented my meal.

I used to brew beer when I was drinking more often, and it’s something I’ve been thinking of getting back into now that I have a healthier relationship with alcohol. And what feels even better is, I know I can have a drink with a friend while I’m out and not have to worry about what I’m avoiding in myself or emotionally. I can just enjoy the company of my friends, in the moment.

Along with incorporating a drink into my self-care meal, I also drink herbal teas before I go to bed now which has become a very important resource for me. Something like chamomile or another bedtime blend like this one from Allegro. And as the same with caffeinated teas, there are so many different types of herbal teas to choose from, I’m surprised that I ever chose to drink the few mixed drinks and beers I did.

I will usually light a few candles and sit back with my tea and relax or calmly plan what my upcoming day is going to look like. Put on some R&B tunes and I’m totally relaxed. It’s much easier now to manage the emotions and responsibilities I have without the fog of alcohol or medication clouding my focus. And I sleep better as well. Sure I’m still tired when I wake sometimes, but I feel more rested during the day.

When I’m not drinking tea, I’m drinking something like this golden milk recipe from Minimalist Baker. This recipe is great for getting cozy on a cold night next to a fire. Or a great compliment to a playlist you’re listening too to unwind from the day. Hot chocolate is another great option. Once you start looking, there are so many different choices to choose from. I usually take some time before I go to bed, about a half hour to forty-five minutes to just be still. This is prime tea drinking time for me.

Journalling is another resource for me, and a big one. This is a space where I plan out what the different areas of my life need, or what I’m experiencing at the time. I keep a planner section. This is where I put practical information, my weekly schedule, todo list, shopping lists, budget. Anything I need to run my household. But I also have other places in my journal to explore my emotions, likes and dreams.

I have lists for what I want my future to look like. As well as a place for the resources that help me to feel my best. Little reminders of what matters. So when I need them, I can just flip through the pages and find something positive. This is also where I keep a traditional journal. About all the things and feelings that are coming up throughout the days. A place to get a birds eye view and understanding of what it is that I’m going through.

Along with my written journal, I have a rough guide of what my week looks like written down on my phone, so I know I have some time carved out to take care of the things that need attention, including myself. I don’t stick to it religiously, but like I said above, it’s nice to know that I have some time carved out for what needs attention. I also use my phone as an extension of my written journal. A place to jot down things to put on my todo list, or emotional explorations for my journal. There’s a link to Ryder Carrol’s Bullet Journal method that I use in my Community page. Do a quick google search for bullet journaling and you’ll find a huge community of creative journalers sharing their ideas.

Cooking is something that has become a very important resource for me. I’ve mentioned in a few of my posts about how I never learned to nourish my body properly due to growing up in a toxic environment which extended to all things food. Also how cooking for myself now has been a soothing routine and has really done so much for my mental health around how I relate to food.

Whether it’s for my weekly meal prep, or my self-care dinner, the act of gathering the recipes and ingredients and slowly following each step of each recipe, while a scented candle burns and whatever I’m listening to at the time plays softly in a warmly lit kitchen, is something that brings me a real sense of ease and care. Knowing I can provide for, and nourish my body in healthful ways, considering that I was never taught how to in the past, has been a soothing ritual.

It’s more than a little scary to think about the ways I was treating myself and what I was putting into my body. There were days where I just didn’t eat. I was solely running on caffeine and alcohol. The food I make for myself now is truly an act of love, and I’m almost always surprised at how well it turns out! I was taught how to cook in a restaurant I used to work at in my early twenties by a woman from Bhutan, who was using Northern Indian cooking techniques to make Mexican and Asian inspired foods. And even though I didn’t appreciate the lessons then, I now understand how lucky I was to learn so much from such a talented chef.

Being able to cook for yourself has so many benefits. Exploring new cuisines and ingredients, trying out new dishes or finding a new favorite meal. Knowing how to cook for myself has carried me through many a difficult day. I’ll usually block off some time during the week to cook for the upcoming week. As I said above, I light a candle and put some music on. Whatever is reflecting of the mood I want to embody. Then I lay out my ingredients and go through the recipes I’ve selected one by one.

The heat from the range or oven, the smells from the freshly chopped veggies or smoked tofu (which if you have a smoker, def get yourself some tofu marinated in Braggs aminos to smoke). The aroma from the sauteing garlic, ginger and onions or the spices melding together in a rich and flavorful curry. These are the moments that turn the simple act of cooking a meal into a method of self-care. And we all need to eat to live! What better motivation to learn how and experiment!

Exercise is another important resource. My exercize comes in the forms of running and yoga. I used to lift weights in my early twenties. And even after I dislocated my shoulder while doing shoulder presses, I still continued to lift weights. This was mostly because I thought it would make me more of a man. One of my caregivers had lifted weights on and off during my childhood, so I was following in their footsteps in a way. And I didn’t mind it so much, but I was truly unhealthy while I was lifting. I was smoking about a pack of cigarettes a day, and was hungover more often than not while I was going to the gym. The whole picture ran counter to the healthy habits I was trying to cultivate. And like I said above, I was more concerned with how it made me look to others than how I felt.

The shift to working out to feel better happened for me in my early thirties. It started with running. I had just gotten out of a relationship after waking up emotionally from the traumas I had endured in my childhood. It felt like a fresh start. And one day I got it in me to start running. I’m not sure why, but I ran once or twice a week. Two miles around the city commons, where I used to live.

After a few years of running two mile routes, my workouts evolved. I gained a few running buddies along the way, increased my speed from eleven minute miles to eight-thirty, and even ran a half marathon at one point. I still run, though my mileage has decreased some. But the feeling of pushing myself just past what I feel my limits are is a good feeling. I no longer need to prove anything by pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of. Just enough to grow stronger. The ways muscle tears to grow bigger, the same happens when we push past our perceived limitations. We open ourselves up just a smidge more and make space to grow.

Yoga is in many ways similar to running. I know that when I hop on the mat, I’m learning how to show up in my body when it gets difficult, and staying with the dis-ease I find there. There’s also a sense of mastery of self, flowing through the vinyasas, knowing that people have been doing this for milenia. Taming the thinking mind and strengthening mind and body at the same time, forging a tighter bond in ourselves, with ourselves.

And the more we show up for our practice, the stronger we get. I practice both yoga and running once every four days, staggering the two, one day apart. And it’s been a relief shedding the limiting belief that yoga is something only for women to do. I was raised in an environment that was toxically masculine. There were strict gender roles that were enforced by threatening to withhold belonging from the familial unit.

When I realized that everyone that was threatening to withhold belonging was doing it because they felt uncertain of their belonging, it was easy to strike out on my own and find my own path. For me, my caregivers wanted me to fit into a specific idea of how a man should behave. And men did not do yoga in my family. But it’s hard to be upset with them, knowing the amount of fear that they are living with constantly. And for anyone who doesn’t think yoga is a workout, try sitting in chair pose for two minutes!

Also, another aspect of yoga that has been helpful is that it helped me to pay attention to my breathe. I hadn’t even thought of it until not too long ago, but I realized that I used to be a mouth breather. This happened after I looked at a few pictures of myself and found that my mouth was open in almost all of them.

Mouth breathing has a host of undesirable effects. One of them being that you only breathe into your upper lungs, which activates the sympathetic nervous system. This produces adrenaline due to not being able to enter a deep level of sleep. When you breathe through your nasal passage, you are breathing into your lower lungs. This activates your parasympathetic nervous system and helps to regulate your emotional state. If you’d like to read more about mouth vs. nasal breathing, check out this article.

Speaking of breathing, meditation is another resource that has given me the ability to stay present with myself and my emotions. I started meditating about the same time I started to run. It has evolved from my first time practicing, but has been a persistent and fulfilling practice. When I first started to meditate, I did so laying down. I think I had been running on fumes for so long that I needed to rest and relax without anything to aid me.

I later joined a sangha for a brief period. I now meditate on my own, using an app that has a form of digital sangha. This feature is nice because it allows you to thank those you’ve meditated with during your session. And the more you practice at different times, the more you will recognize faces from different times of the day. I’ve gotten in the habit of thanking a handful of people I see on a regular basis. And every once and awhile I’ll send them a message asking them how they are doing. It’s become a great way to connect with others over shared experiences.

Music is another of my go to resources. I have a few playlists that I have for when I have a particularly tough day. There’s something special about listening to a playlist of carefully curated songs, maybe while sipping a cup of herbal tea in a candle lit room as I’m doing now, that just feels relaxing.

I listen to a wide variety of artists and genres. When I was in my late teens and early twenties I listened to a lot of hardcore along with bands like Phish and the Dead. It was a strange mix to be sure. Since I’ve transitioned to the softer, singer-songwriter genre, but the love of music and its ability to transform a mood is still something I hold close.

I love the blues, and still remember the feelings of light and color I get when I was introduced to The Grateful Dead and hippie culture. There was a ripeness to it. A sense of welcoming and comfort but also excitement at the same time. And when I listen to some of those old songs from my past, I land just on the edge of that feeling.

I have one playlist specifically for when I need a boost of emotional support. It’s comprised of songs that all have a bit of advice or wisdom embedded in them. Things that I may have wished I heard when I was younger, or maybe some wisdom I need in the present. Whatever the songs mean to you, listening to a playlist of your favorite songs is like saying a kind affirmation to yourself over and over again. In a sweetly wrapped voice telling you that it’s alright, you’re gonna be just fine. This, along with countless other applications, music really has the ability to transform our ways of being.

If you’re interested to learn more about some of my resources, head on over to my community page. There I have many of the resources I’ve listed above. I’d also love to hear what you have as resources! Leave a message in the comments below if you feel so inclined. Thanks for reading, and I hope some of these suggestions have given you a new perspective on something that may be common place. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits:“Relax” by Roslan Tangah (aka Rasso) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Resourcing: What Does That Even Mean?

Resourcing. This is a word I knew very little about until a few years ago. It was about the time I started to listen to dharma talks from Tara Brach, a Buddhist psychologist, who would often reference these things called “resources”. I just went along with it, not giving it a lot of thought. But the term kept coming up in a lot of her talks, and I was pretty much in the dark. She would say things like, if it gets to be too much, this is a good time to resource. It’s a little embarrassing to think about it now, but if you don’t know, you don’t know, and I definitely did not know.

As I listened to more and more of her talks and the elusive term kept popping up, I began to grasp a hold of what she was referring to. In case you are where I stood, resourcing means, finding something in the moment that will bring you a sense of calm or ease during a difficult wave of emotion or stressful situations. Think of resourcing as a way to self sooth. When times are difficult or stressful, and you just need to get outside and feel the cool breeze, this is resourcing and is also something I was definitely not taught.

Of course, in my family, we drank our resources. Or felt them at the expense of someone else’s well being. This was definitely no bueno and isn’t really a resource at all. One has the potential to lead to substance abuse issues and the other leaves both people feeling as though there has been a giant hole torn through them, empty. And it was all we knew. It would be easy to blame my caregivers for these unhealthy lessons, but what it comes down to is, they didn’t know any better themselves.

If all you’ve ever known of love and acceptance growing up was conditional, when it comes time to teach the next generation how to feel love and belonging, what do you think the lessons are going to be? You have to do some serious work in order to reverse the old lessons of unhealthy and self destructive attitudes towards being in relationship with one another. I don’t blame my caregivers for what I’ve endured. But one thing is for sure, I’m not going to pass it on to the next generation.

Luckily, there are people out there helping others to break these old unhealthy cycles! And one of the most helpful methods for me breaking the cycle is resourcing. Again, I had no idea what a resource was, so I was starting from scratch. That’s not entirely true. I knew I liked some things, which I still turn to, but a lot of what I had known as ways to self-sooth were unhealthy habits handed down to me from my caretakers. So first, I had to sort out the ones which were truly helpful, from those I was doing as habit taught to me by my caregivers.

Some of what I was doing to make myself feel better, eating fatty foods, drinking too much coffee and alcohol to name a few, I was doing because I wanted to feel a sense of connection with those I felt isolated from. Sure, the food tasted good at the time, but I was also sluggish and overweight because of it. And I was substituting unhealthy eating habits for the lack of relationship with one of my caregivers. Who also has an unhealthy relationship to food. The same with coffee and alcohol. I was really trying to feel some sort of connection to the people I loved by doing what they showed me they valued and loved. But it was only a substitute.

Sure you can bond over cooking a meal together. But when the food is what you are left with, instead of the relationship with whom you are trying to create a tighter bond with in the first place, something is a miss. The same with drinking coffee and alcohol. It’s nice to catch up over a latte or a beer, but when your drinking caffeine to speed past the uncomfortable feelings that sometimes come with connecting, or drinking alcohol to numb the dis-ease of unresolved emotions, then we’re not really connecting. And these patterns can persist for a very long time. I know this from personal experience, my own and others close-in in my life.

So if staying loyal to the resource and not the relationship becomes the focus, then we’re really left with a bunch of empty objects or rituals that aren’t fulfilling. For me it was dim sum. I love dim sum. Going into China town when I was a child on Sunday mornings to eat loads of dumplings was something I looked forward to. Through the years, I’ve always held a special place in my heart for dim sum, but the relationship has definitely changed.

I still enjoy dumplings, but it was mostly the memories of going into the city. Being surrounded by throngs of people, the bustle of a busy dumpling house, the carts weaving their ways through the crowds and the smells and sauces… These were the memories that forged my love of dim sum. Going on my own still brings up these feelings, but without someone to share these experiences with, it feels lonelier.

And it took some time to figure out that it was the connection, and not the dumplings or the time and place. The same goes for our relationship to ourselves. If we use things that numb or speed past our experience of our emotions, then we are not really attuning to ourselves in a meaningful way. Instead of having two or three cups of coffee, we drink seven lattes all day long (as I once did) to speed past what we are currently in the moment with.

So how do we begin to repair these relationships, with ourselves, others and the items we are using to alter how we relate to these things and people? For me it started with slowing down, literally, and seeing what it is that I had been doing to run from the relationships I was avoiding.

One of the big ones I was using was drinking caffeine to exces. I have vivid memories of driving around with one of my caregivers, who would always have, what felt like dozens of mugs under the driver’s side seat. Rolling and clinking together as we made our way from destination to destination. My caregiver had drank so much coffee during the day that they were wound up and constantly go, go, going. It was exhausting watching them, let alone following them around all day while they ran “errands”.

And as soon as I was old enough to strike out on my own, and run my own “errands”, I started drinking coffee. This started when I was fourteen, and probably didn’t stop until my early thirties. I had been pushing past so many emotions and feelings for so long, that when I finally slowed down to feel them, I was levelled by them. It was not pretty. I remember spending nights holding myself against the fear and anxiety, wondering if I would always feel this weight.

As a reaction to this flood of emotion, I stopped drinking caffeine completely. This was okay for a while, but I still felt as though I was running from something. Like caffeine was a drug that was to be avoided at any cost. And I was done living my life in fear, especially from something that was not all that scary.

So instead of running from caffeine, I turned it into a resource. My caffeine intake now has some much needed boundaries around it. Instead of the seven double to quad-shot mochas a day, I now have two to three cups of green or black tea in the mornings. Jasmine green is one of my favorites, but there are so many great teas to try, I’m surprised I ever limited myself to only one type of coffee.

And I still drink coffee on occasion. But I usually save it for those mornings that are just too much to handle without an extra kickstart. The difference now is, I’m using it sparingly and with care. I have a caffeine chart on my phone that has the amounts of caffeine in milligrams for each type of beverage I consume. This comes in handy for knowing what my intake is for the day so I don’t go overboard. Also the moments are more enjoyable when they’re happening slow enough to comprehend. I’m not trying to just get through the day as I had used to do. Which also left me feeling pretty wound up by the time the evening came around.

This is when I would usually start drink. I was drinking a lot in the evenings, and am surprised that I didn’t develop a drinking problem. I would drink six or seven mixed drinks and beer a night. I was constantly buzzed throughout the evenings, and this was every day! I started shortly after I stopped my caffeine consumption for the day and switched over to alcohol to help me unwind from the stress of the day, but also the amount of caffeine that was streaming through my body. And sometimes I’d mix the two. Energy drinks and vodka were popular around the time I was at the height of my drinking caffeine and alcohol. This was a strange combo, and one that was definitely not sustainable.

I always had a drink in my hand as a way to manage my emotional state. I was seeking constant control of what I was experiencing. And on some days, when the coffee, energy drinks and alcohol weren’t enough, I would take ADD medication or anti anxiety meds to really speed things up or slow them down. This was not a sustainable way to live and am lucky to be alive with the ways I was mixing medications with alcohol and caffeine. No bueno.

I remember watching Oliver Stone’s “The Doors”, when I was a teenager and thinking, “you know, my family is kinda living this way, maybe that’s what they want from me.” Also no bueno. There was never any adult role model around to show me otherwise, and when they were around, they’d drink like they were rockstars. Lana Del Ray’s lyric, “I’m living life like Jim Morrison” hit really close to home, or rather was a good description of my home life. This seemed like a natural fit, so it’s what I aspired to. I burned a lot of bridges and missed out on a lot of opportunities because of the ways I chose to live. When I finally stopped living this way, I was completely clueless and I had no idea what to do.

And this was where I was left. By my caregivers mostly. I had friends, but we were all in the same boat. We had all been kicked out of some club or another and had banded together against what seemed like an insurmountable task. Starting out and living our lives with absolutely zero direction and advice on what to do next, or how to make the most out of our lives. And all at 19. This was a scary time, but also one filled with excitement. We were out on our own, living our lives the best way we knew how and doing it without any resources.

Of course, we didn’t even know what a resource was. And it wasn’t until my early thirties that I began to understand what they were, and how to find out what they mean to me, and then foster them so they would be there when I needed them. This took a lot of digging and practice to find out what works and what doesn’t. And it’s not over. Resources, for me, are something that are constantly changing, evolving.

Now that I’ve shared with you the ways I developed my old, unhealthy resources, next week I’ll share some of the resources I’ve developed over the years, how they’ve evolved and how I’m make them a priority in my life now. Resourcing isn’t always easy, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Check back next week for some self-care love. I know I can use some after rehashing the past! And I’d love to hear any comments on what you’ve experienced or need resourcing around too, don’t feel like you are alone in this. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “… you’ll feel better…” by Anne Ruthmann is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

What to do When You are Surrounded by People Unwilling to Move on, Leaving You to Move Forward on Your Own

I’ve been through and dealt with a lot of trauma in my past. It’s been a crazy ride to say the least. But I’m finally in a place where I’ve taken the deep dive inward, faced my demons eye to eye, and have come out the stronger for it. But after doing the difficult work of inner reflection, I’m left with little in the way of support. After I woke from my trance of fear and self-doubt, I discovered that almost everyone that has been my support to some degree is in exactly the same place I used to be. Scared to move into the future, and clinging to the past in hopes of getting what they never got in the first place. This is a frustrating place to be.

So how did I and how can we move on when we see our past selves reflected in those that are closest to us? From my experience, it starts with setting healthy boundaries and by understanding that we are solely responsible for our own actions and emotions. While everybody else is responsible for their actions and emotions as well. This is a difficult lesson to learn when you are on your own, looking towards other people to help you move on who want to stay locked in their old patterns of blaming others for their emotional states. It can be a confusing place to be to say the least.

The dynamic with my caregivers growing up was, as I’ve said above, one where nobody ever took responsibility for their own emotions. It was everybody else’s fault that they felt the ways they did because others MADE them feel that way. Not that their emotional states are a reaction to an action that originated from someone else, and something that they (the owner of the emotion) have control over (their own emotions).

Coming to relationships from this perspective, it makes perfect sense why it would be scary to foster and develop relationships with others. Other people become the sources of possible discomfort, fear and pain. From this mind set, it’s not your fault you feel this way. It’s the other person who is unjustly doing you harm, with malicious intent. And this feeling is only compounded if you’ve experienced betrayal or trauma in your past. To quote Iron and Wine’s, “Sacred Vision”, “forgiveness is fickle when trust is a chore”.

I was wrapped up in blaming others for my experience of my emotions for much too long. It was a prison I was holding myself in, to avoid the pain of feeling connected again and the hurt and betrayal from those I loved and trusted. And I pushed a lot of people away using that method of being. But it wasn’t my fault, it was what was taught to me. And even though it wasn’t my fault, it was and is still my responsibility to take control of my emotional life and give myself the loving guidance I needed, but never received. And this was difficult. It still is.

I used to dissociate. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s when you disconnect from your emotions, body and current circumstances. It’s a defense mechanism to protect the self from feelings that are too overwhelming due most likely to trauma. It’s like when you blackout from drinking too much. Only no drinking involved. This is scary. Knowing that your emotions could overpower you and leave you feeling completely helpless. But even still, with emotions so powerful that they could render me completely vulnerable and unable to account for my actions, I was and am still responsible for my emotions.

This may seem unreasonable to some. I understand, it’s not an easy thing to experience let alone understand. But our emotions are only that, emotions. And if we let them, they will control our lives leaving us victims of our own feeling selves. But if we want to live in peace with our emotions, we need to learn how to self regulate. For me this happened when I slowed down long enough to be able to feel and stay present with each emotion, regardless of how difficult it was too feel.

When I slowed down enough, stayed curious enough, that’s when my emotions really began to take shape. I could feel each emotion as it was happening, and realized that there was a reason for it being there. Before I had the patients to sit with my emotions, I was drinking a lot of coffee. I think I was doing this to stay ahead of my emotions, so I didn’t have to feel them. This was my way of avoiding my emotions, and one I learned from my caregivers.

I also drank a lot of alcohol at night, to numb what I was trying to speed past during the day. This was another habit I picked up from my caregivers. Also something I needed to learn to undue, to defrost the frozen emotions that had been piling up through the years.

Both the patients and the thaw were difficult aspects of my healing to learn. There was a reason I was running from the emotions I was and it was because they were painful! The amount of neglect and abuse that needed to be processed and at the hands of my caregivers, seemed insurmountable. And the process still isn’t over. I still hit pockets of feelings of abandonment and distrust. Fear and distress. But the difference now is that I can recognize them for the emotions they are and let them be. Without trying to cover over, speed past or numb them out. They appear, they are intense, but they subside. As long as I stay present with the feelings, as they are happening, they don’t add up to overwhelm me at some later date or in the moment.

And it took a lot of practice to get to this point. A lot of faith too, to know that I would be okay if I let the feelings in again. After being betrayed by them so long ago and by so many. It also took a fair amount of forgiveness as well. I had to forgive others for how they abused me, and myself for the ways I abused myself. Learning to trust again after so much abuse is difficult. But it starts with us. If we trust ourselves, we can learn to trust others again as well.

And that’s not to say we fling the doors wide open and trust whomever happens to walk through them. We need to use wise discernment when evaluating whom is and is not trustworthy. But the first step is to unshackle the doors to our emotional bodies to be able to feel out how others make us feel with their actions. If our boundaries are being violated in some way, this is a good indicator that something is not right. Off in some way. But we can’t do that at all if we don’t at least greet them at the door.

I think this is what me and my caregivers were so afraid of. We wanted some guaranty that we weren’t going to be hurt by the other or another. But there is no guaranty and in relationships there is always the possibility of getting hurt. There’s no way around that. But some people will lock themselves up their entire lives for fear that they will get hurt again. This is the case with my caregivers. So along with the intense and crazy amounts of abuse I’ve received, they also taught me to isolate and not ask for any help for the emotional pain I was experiencing. Double whammy.

I’ve recently been staying with one of my caregivers and this situation has been breached on multiple occasions. The most recent was when I had realized that my caregiver has been dissociating for years. This was kind of a shock to recognize at first. I had been so focused on how I was coming to understand and learn about and relate to my emotions, that I hadn’t even realized that I had learned to dissociate from a combination of my caregivers! I had been so desperate for support, I was clinging to whatever form was readily available to me. And what was available was a form of unhealthy attachment.

My caregiver had never learned to relate to their emotions. And in turn, taught me to avoid feeling anything as well. I felt like I was blindsided when I realized what I had been struggling with for so long was in fact a learned behavior from my caregiver. Only the trauma I received was intense enough for me to be in emotional shock for a very long time. I hadn’t even realized I was dissociating until the shock wore off decades after the initial traumas. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

So once I wasn’t in emotional shock anymore, the dissociation started. I had been dealing with it in some form for the past five years. The causes were mostly from pushing myself beyond what my mental and physical limitations are in a self-destructive way. Like the time I ran three miles and did yoga for 45 minutes, after a full day of work and not eating anything from the time I woke up at 5am. I got out of the shower and passed out. But while I was out, I had a full conversation with my caregiver about how tired I was.

But I also dissociated around others, when I was building some form of relationship. It would happen, that I would begin to feel an overwhelming sense that I was unsafe. Then I wouldn’t remember anything for a chunk of time, maybe 30-45 seconds. Then everything would continue as normal only I wouldn’t be aware of what just happened. It was confusing for sure, but not totally unexpected. Considering how disconnected I was from almost everybody and all the traumas I’ve experienced at the hands of caregivers. I was so afraid to be in my body and feel my emotions, that if I got even close to feeling them, I would panic and leave in the form of dissociation.

But knowing that it was something that I learned from a caregiver gave me hope. Hope that I could reconnect with the parts of me that had been pushed away for so long. As it was, I felt as though I were isolated when I was with my caregivers already. So I used this time to reconnect with myself. I learned to listen to myself. How I am feeling, when an emotion comes up I give it my full attention as well as I’m able. I ask myself what I need, but also give myself the caring and gentle guidance that was never taught to me by my caregivers. It was in this kind self talk that I learned how to ease into myself again. To be present in my body. It was a slow process, but it needed to be slow.

I had been running from and freezing my emotions for so long that if I undid everything all at once, it would most likely have unfortunate effects. There was also a lot of difficult feelings to process. Big feelings. Like the fear and shame from the abuses I experienced. I remember many sleepless nights where I held myself against what felt like a cold and malicious world, while I relived the emotions that had been too painful to endure the first time around. I felt my younger self, huddled in terror as I allowed the emotions to wash over me. I didn’t want to, and my instinct was to fight them. But as I let them flow through me, they became lighter, more manageable.

And with this release of emotions, came a freedom. The emotions sometimes still comeback, but I know them now. And I fear them less, or I am more secure of who I am in knowing that I can handle what comes up. But it was only after I did this work, after I woke from the fear and terror that had gripped my life, that I saw those closest to me, who’ve experienced traumas as well, still gripped in that same fear.

This was where I was seeing my old fear in their actions and emotions. The way they would knit their hands together in uncertainty made me feel as though they were unsafe. What that meant to my past self was that I was unsafe. These kinds of triggers would happen frequently. From the short conversations we would have about the weather, never really going any deeper than topical subjects. To being too afraid to ask for help with a project. Some sort of shared collaboration that would mean some type of emotional connection or vulnerability.

There was too much fear to connect in any spontaneous way. And even the ways I had planned were tenuous. I had been batch cooking my meals, and started a self-care Sunday dinner where I would cook a special meal for myself once a week. This helped to heal some of the raw emotion that was wrapped around food for me. So I decided to ask my caregivers to join me in a night where we cooked meals together. They agreed, but it was the first thing we had done together since I had been staying there and I had been there for a long time. It was incredibly vulnerable for me to share a resource that has been so healing. But I thought that I would take the risk. Open up.

It was a success the first few times. We enjoyed the meals and had fun cooking. But after having a conversation with one of my caregivers, where they said they didn’t really feel emotions, I began to wonder if what I was trying to build was a mutually shared experience. From my perspective, there needs to be effort put in on all parts. My caregiver has never put effort into any aspect of their life. They never ask for help or try to connect with anyone. If they are involved in something, it was someone else’s idea or plan. This is sad to think about, but also necessary to understand that for better or worse, my caregiver is responsible for their own self, emotions and actions.

And this is where it is most important to keep clear and firm boundaries. Especially with those who will continuously take, without even realizing how much pain they are causing to the other person. For example, if they don’t really know what feelings are, then they have no idea how vulnerable I am being by sharing something that has been such an important resource for me. They can’t then begin to understand the emotional investment I have in those dinners, and how sad it makes me to think that the only ways we connect are in ways that I come up with. In a way it feels like being used. Yeah, it’s a good time, but when the good time is over and you have a conversation with the person, as I did with my caregiver, about how they don’t really feel emotions, it feels like a slap in the face.

Where it gets tricky, and where a lot of people get caught up in, is blaming the other person for “taking advantage of my feelings”. It’s a frustrating place to be, to know that the only way you connect is through your own intentions and efforts. But it’s not the other person’s fault that we feel taken advantage of. We have a right to feel however we feel, but the difference is knowing that you have control over how you will and will not be treated. You give up your power when you make the other person responsible for how you feel. This may be obvious for some, but if your were steeped in an environment where, how everybody felt was the fault of everybody else’s doing, then you are raised to believe you have no power. You are at the emotional whim of those closest to you.

So in the case that you are sharing something that is close to you, or is held in a vulnerable space, it’s important to know what your limits are. How much are you willing to give, without receiving anything in return? And it’s important to respect your limits and boundaries. This is especially important if you are still cultivating trust in yourself, and others. The more we let our boundaries be violated by ourselves and others, the more difficult it is to build and maintain this trust.

It’s also just as important to realize how much the person you are giving to is aware that they are taking without reciprocating. If they don’t know that they’re taking without reciprocating, it may be easier to forgive because the intention isn’t malicious, but the result is still the same regardless, and you have to take care of yourself first. If it is malicious to some degree then it is important to know this, and set firm boundaries around the person.

And also keep an eye on how you’re feeling regularly so you don’t burn yourself out. Life is demanding enough without spreading yourself too thin. Especially if you have someone in your life that may be a taker without realizing it. Setting aside some self-care time is essential to keeping yourself in a place that is healthy enough to meet the demands of everyday life.

Find friends and close ones that are willing to listen. I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for the handful of close friends I have, that I can reach out to when I need a pep talk or just someone who knows where I’m at. Also take time to understand what your likes and dislikes are. This may take some digging, especially if you are, like so many, wrapped up in the latest trend that feels fun, just to be a part of something. For me, my yoga and running practices are essential to my peace of mind. Cooking as well, as I’ve mentioned above.

Find support. When you are dealing with people who are stuck in the past, it’s easy to get locked into old patterns of behavior. Knowing you’re not going it alone is something that is invaluable for your emotional well being. I hope you’ve found this to be helpful in some way. If you have any resources you’d like to share, to help regain your peace of mind, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits:“‘We must learn how to MOVE ON. MOVE PAST THE DISTRACTION.’ James Martin MOVE ON TO WHERE GOD IS TAKING YOU. CHANGE IS AHEAD. GREATER IS IN FRONT OF YOU.” by diva0768 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Food and Family: How Cooking Together can Build Tighter Familial Bonds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I usually light a basil scented candle and put some of the more ambient lighting on in my kitchen. I clean out my fridge and gather my ingredients, ready my recipes on my computer, put some soft music on in the background and go through my recipes one at a time. Making sure that I take as much time as I need so as not to feel rushed or pressured in anyway. If it’s in the winter, I choose recipes that utilize the oven to generate more heat in the kitchen, to create a more cozy, comfortable setting. I also like drinking a few cups of herbal tea while cooking in the colder months. And in the summer, more salads and dishes with raw veggies. As well as some lemonade or iced herbal teas as a refreshing change for the warmer season.

The ease that I’ve brought to this aspect of how I take care of myself has become a great resource for me. I feel safe, calm and at ease in the kitchen. Instead of insecure, a bit of fear and the uncertainty I used to feel. What I realize now, was I was carving a space out for myself to feel safe, in control. I was so used to having almost every aspect of my life being so out of control that I literally didn’t feel safe anywhere. Once I established a foothold for safety in the kitchen, I padded my kitchen and cooking time with loads of resources in order to bring that sense of calm, ease and comfort I was working so hard to cultivate there. So after I made my kitchen and meal prep routine a resource, I thought to myself, “how can I share this with others?”

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

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

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

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

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

The reason I felt so unsure was that most of my childhood memories around meal times were filled with lots of angry yelling and shattered dinner wear. I knew that things were different now. We had all mellowed our tempers since those early meals together, but there was still a place inside of me that felt as though it could happen again. That I wasn’t safe.

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

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

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

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

As we finished cooking our meal, I put the naan I had picked up for the meal in the toaster and my father had gotten some bowls from the cupboard, I felt more at ease. I wasn’t totally comfortable, but it was the start of feeling safe again. As though maybe it was okay to start to trust those I choose to keep company with. This was something I had been notoriously bad at when I was younger.

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

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

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

Luckily I had established some healthy boundaries for myself. I was not my same old self, the one who would leave themself wide open to be abused in the ways I had been used to, all to feel a sense of belonging. I recognized what was happening and since have kept to my boundaries. And I feel much better for it though it wasn’t easy. I still miss the bonds I made but now recognize just how unhealthy they were.

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

This all seems pretty basic, but if all you know growing up are people without boundaries and saying and doing the most hurtful things to one another, it’s nice to know that you can change the ways you used to be. That there is hope for the future and future relationships. That was something that was definitely missing from my early interactions in all my relationships.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s not easy. But if you don’t define your boundaries, others are more than willing to define them for you. From work, to romantic relationships, family and friends, if you don’t have a clear idea of how you want to be treated in your relationships, you leave yourself open to having your trust abused as well as many other important aspects of your connections. And it isn’t always the other person’s fault either.

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

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

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

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