More on Forgiveness: When We’re Our Own Worst Enemy

Forgiveness. This is not an easy topic. And if you’re anything like I am, nothing gets past your ruthlessly critical eye. Especially your own doings. This has been the case for me for a very long time. Something I’m just now learning to tamp down. But it took some doing to even recognize how unforgiving I was. Also, how the people I chose to surround myself with shared my sense of self righteousness. I cringe a little, thinking back on how I was acting with those around me following suit.

But things have changed for me for sure. I’ve given up many of the old beliefs that were holding me back. I’m no longer the “score keeper” I once was and I’m more willing now to let things go. But if we’re being honest, that was never my intention. My goal was to be kinder, not as mean or petty as I once was. But there in lies the catch. In trying to whip myself into shape, to be kinder, more forgiving, I was unwilling to forgive myself for the ways I was behaving. So I needed to learn to extend a little of that forgiveness inward, before I could be kind and forgiving outwardly.

Forgiveness Starts with Yourself

This is so rote, so cliché that it should be a no brainer. But I feel as though each family, or person has to learn this anew each generation. I know from my experience that forgiveness was something that was held just out of reach from me by my family. And to be fair, I don’t know that any of us felt as though we were even worthy of being forgiven. We carried with us such an air of feeling as though we weren’t enough, no matter what we were doing, that it just didn’t register that we could be forgiven.

Knowing What Forgiveness Feels Like

So instead of trying to practice a little forgiveness, we chose to cover over our unworthy feeling selves. We did this with our holier than thou attitudes. This however, did little in the way of making us feel better about ourselves.

As a result, we all had very low self esteem. We were lonely as well. Mostly because we were pushing everybody away but, also due to us feeling as though we were the only ones feeling that we didn’t deserve forgiveness or kindness. We were trying to be perfect to avoid the critical judgements of each other, while holding everyone to the impossible standards we had created for ourselves. This was a dangerous combination.

The result? Not to my complete lack of surprise, we didn’t know what forgiveness felt like. We were so busy holding it back from each other, that we held it back from ourselves a well. And in the process, forgotten what it had felt like. However there was, for me, a lot of free floating anxiety and fear. Mostly of not feeling accepted by others. Or feeling loved and belonging. Like I said, it was lonely.

Holding Back

What’s so strange about this experience was, that I could actually feel myself unwilling to let go. I could feel myself withholding love and forgiveness from myself. It feels like when you see a small child throwing a tantrum because they are told to stop doing something against their will. And that’s what made this feeling so difficult to manage. Because there was also a feeling of contempt for the part of me that was withholding forgiveness.

The part that I feel should have known better. The part that should know that I’m only hurting myself. But then how should I have known if it was the only way I knew how to relate to my ability to forgive? I wasn’t taught another way. So I continued to hold back my ability to forgive myself.

Realizing Something is Off

It wasn’t until very recently that I put the pieces together of what I was doing and the effect it was having on me. I noticed when I was speaking to someone about how unreasonable my standards are and how I didn’t want to go back to my old ways of being. Then she said something to me that made me physically feel well, cared for. She asked me, “have you forgiven yourself for the ways you used to be?”

The answer to that question was most definitely a NO. And to be asked that, to directly recognize that I was treating myself as unforgivable, a criminal, was eye opening. A feeling of being relaxed, full, washed over me from head to toe. As though I had been waiting for a person to ask me just that for a very long time.

And finally, I turned my attention to that place. The place that had been treated as though it were volatile. But I couldn’t have done this all at once and without a little prep work. The years of self-care I have been practicing, paved the road for me to be comfortable enough to open up as I did.

Listening to Ourselves & Taking Good Care

Here was where I was able to listen to myself with a different kind of focus. I had been listening inwardly for a while now as part of my self-care routine. But now I’m able to differentiate between the parts of me that need my attention. Now I’m able to respond with more patience and know what I need.

Now I know that the part of me that was holding back was doing so because my love and forgiveness have been so abused in the past. I am scared to be open and loving enough, to forgive. Because then I’ll be wide open to the ruthless critical judgements I’ve been so used to from the past. Including from myself.

The feelings of being turned on by those who are supposed to love me. Supposed to be there for me and show me care. I could be left again, as I had been so many times in the past.

Reparenting Our Wounded Parts

And it’s here where the work really begins. We need to guide those parts of us we had trained to turn their backs on us and others to show forgiveness and love again. Even in the face of inevitable pain. Our wounds will be opened again. That’s an unavoidable part of life. But it shouldn’t stop us from living and loving fully. This is the part I keep getting stuck on. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

It feels crazy to open up again after so much abuse. Abuse of trust mostly. And of not being able to rely on others to take care of us when we’re at our lowest. But it’s a part of being connected. For me, I had to open up slowly. I was so confused as to what trust and love meant, that I was guarded all the time. Not knowing when the other would finally turn on me. Because in my experience, it was a matter of when, not if.

So I started small. Really small. After I set up a safe and cozy place that I could use as a retreat, I started venturing out into what had been historically unsafe territory.

Sitting With Those Who Hurt Me

I moved in with my father after my last relationship ended. It was the best thing that could have happened for me at the time. I needed the time and space to put my life back together after the mess I had made of it. It was pretty bad. I alienated almost all of my friends, wound up about 115k in debt, with no plans for my future and no idea how to move myself forward in life. I was a drift.

But while I was licking my wounds, I was spending more time with those who had hurt and abandoned me in the past. I was spending time in physical proximity to them. Even if it was just watching T.V. together. For half hour increments, I was slowly getting used to the old feelings that were arising while just experiencing their nearness. And it was tough at times.

I remember dissociating a few times just sitting on the couch watching a show. This was how badly my trust and emotions had been abused. I felt unsafe in the safest possible environment. I’m in an affluent neighborhood, surrounded by (now) loving and caring parents, no concern for food or shelter, surrounded by a network of caring and loving support, financially stable and genuinely cared for. It couldn’t have been any safer for me.

But there were those parts of me that still remembered what the pain felt like. It was here that I needed to turn my listening ear towards.

Knowing When to Take Space for Yourself

And I needed to listen inwardly. I had no idea that there was an entire world inside of me that had gone unnoticed for as long as I can remember. Numbing it out with the drinking and the medication. The mean natured opinions I would dispense towards anybody who would listen. Anything I could use to quell my inner emotional world, I would use to numb.

So when I started practicing self-care, I begun to slowly learn that I could be kind enough to treat myself with respect. This was also a slow process and one that needed time and space apart from those around me. Because there’s a part of all of us, who wants to feel a part of something. Some belonging. But in the process of seeking that belonging externally, if we’re not strong enough in ourselves, we can drown out the inner voice that so desperately needs our caring and loving attention.

This is where taking space, along with practicing self-care, paid off. My safe and cozy place acted as a center for me to come home to. To feel at ease just being. The clean atmosphere, the ambient lighting and the refreshing scents, all coming together with gentle music playing, creating a sense of ease. Safety. It was here that I found a way to listen to myself. Slowly and with care.

Releasing the Expectations

This is also a place without expectations. A place where I can allow myself the space to explore what my needs are. To slow down and repair some of what has been damaged by the missteps of my past misguided self. A place to heal, and to quote a Peter Bjorn and John song, a place where “I am more me”.

Growing up I had nothing but expectation after expectation piled on top of me. First from my family but then by my peer group. It seemed a never ending stream of rules dispensed to hammer me into something that was acceptable to others. Not true to who I actually am.

And who I am is a sensitive man who feels deeply. I’m a hopeless romantic and lover of music that’s a little on the lighter side. I’ve been listening to Mree a lot lately. The antithesis of how I was raised to be “manly”. I do still appreciate some things from the past. But I wouldn’t say that they define me. And I feel that this is an important distinction to make.

Be More You

Because we all have a version of ourselves that is the truest form of ourself. I know I do. And I’m uncovering a little more of it everyday. It’s strange at times. Scary too. But there are also tender moments mixed in with crests of excitement. A journey worth the taking to be sure. But a journey that starts with letting ourselves be fully us and that starts with letting go of the past. Forgiving ourselves and moving forward.

So if you’ve been on the edge of letting go of the past, let this be your permission to let go. Forgive yourself and move on to the next challenge. There’s too many possibilities to explore that we won’t be able to if we’re dragging the past around with us. Don’t worry what others will think. They’ll come around or they won’t. What’s most important is, to be there for yourself. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “forgiveness” by cheerfulmonk is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Sexual Boundaries: What Happens When There’s No One To Give You Guidance

This is a tricky topic to navigate. There are a lot of people with very strong beliefs on what is right/wrong and there are even more people unwilling to talk about the topic at all. Neither, from my experience, are very helpful when it comes to figuring out what are healthy boundaries to maintain. I’m not an expert on the topic, but I have been around some pretty unhealthy environments pertaining to sexuality.

I’d like to talk about some of my experiences and what I’ve learned from them while trying to sort through these situations and my emotions surrounding them. It isn’t easy, and it is definitely strange at times, but it doesn’t have to be a source of anxiety. In fact, sex is something that can be fun, and if handled with respect, something that adds to our quality of life.

Unhealthy Lessons From The Past

In the environment I was raised in, there were very few boundaries around sex. However the one boundary we did keep was, that no one should ever talk about it. This was confusing to sort out as a child. Especially when the number one message being sent to me was, your self worth is mostly determined by how attractive you look. And being attractive was directly correlated to sex appeal in this environment and under these rules I was raised under.

There were a mind blowing amount of critical judgements being made about our appearances as well. It seemed to be the only thing that had any value. But what was even more confusing was, being surrounded by sex, via the act itself, pornography, sexual devices and contraceptives, and without any explanation as to the role these things have in our lives.

I was just left to figure it out on my own, with ample unspoken and unhealthy messages to guide me. And it took me a long time to begin to understand how these messages would manifest in my life through my actions, and what healthier versions of these lessons are. The following are just a few areas that manifested in my life where I was left to fend for myself when trying to make sense of this new sexuality I was coming to understand.

Pornography

This was something that had entered my life at a very early age. It was also something that I was surrounded by and that was endorsed by my caregivers from the start. For whatever reason, people back in the eighties and nineties had huge collections of pornography laying around their houses. I remember vividly that it was a staple in one of my caregivers bathrooms as a child.

The first, and one of the only times my caregivers ever spoke about the subject, was to tell me not to make the pages stick together. I couldn’t have been more than 8 at the time and I had no idea what they were talking about. I was just excited about this new discovery. But what young boy wouldn’t be?

From then on, there was a pretty consistent stream of being surrounded by pornography in one shape or form. As I’ve said above, there were large collections of all sorts. From devices and magazines, computer files full of paraphernalia… The list goes on. And since nobody was talking about this massively unhealthy relationship we all had developed to sex, I was left to navigate this terrane all my own with exception of the examples I had modeled for me.

I remember vividly, one of my caregivers, upon me walking downstairs in the mornings, covering himself with his robe with a guilty expedience in front of the computer and then turning it off. Not to mention the giant collections of digital and physical pornography they had. This happened for years. The poor role modeling and everybody being too embarrassed to talk about it left me wondering, “what am I doing wrong?” Not realizing how unhealthy the environment I was in, was.

So when I was old enough and on my own, I was mildly surprised to find out that I had picked up right where my caregivers had left off. I was embodying the ways in which my caregivers were living, mostly because I was looking for someone to tell me why I didn’t feel as though I was loved and belonged even though I was doing the same things they were.

Love & Sex Are Not The Same

The more I thought about it, the more this made sense to me. If the only thing that ever really mattered to my caregivers was looking attractive, and the only things I knew about their emotional lives were from the large caches of riske materials they had squirreled away, than the way to feel loved and belonging, according to this dynamic anyways, was to be obsessed with pleasure seeking behaviors. So that’s what I did until something inside of me changed.

I hadn’t realized that love and sex weren’t the same thing. From my previous lessons, I thought the more attractive you were, the more loved you would be. At the time, and for a long period of my life, my role model was Brad Pitt’s character from Fight Club. I wanted to look like he looked, act like he acted and pretty much, be him. I thought that this was the way to be accepted and loved. Looking good naked was what I thought the foundation of a “healthy” relationship was built on because it was the measure against which I was judged.

When Things Change

But this all changed for me one day when I found someone who I felt accepted me as I was, and where I truly felt a sense of belonging. Not because I looked good naked, not because I met some unreasonable standard, but for simply being me.

This was earth shattering. I had no idea what to do with these new emotions I was experiencing. I was scared of feeling accepted because every sense of belonging I had in the past was hinged on me fitting a certain criteria. But I also wanted to cling on to this newly found sense of unconditional acceptance for fear that I would never experience something like it again.

My newly found sense of belonging was the catalyst for what drove me and my now ex-wife apart. When I told her what was happening with me, the weight of her feeling betrayed was too much for the relationship to bear as it was. I can understand where she was coming from because we both had similar outlooks on acceptance at the time. But the change that was taking place in me hadn’t fully actualized yet. I was willing to work through what I was experiencing but unfortunately, she wasn’t willing to do the same.

Left on My Own Again

After I attempted to communicate what was happening with me, and falling short of feeling understood, I was left on my own again. I jumped into a relationship almost immediately with a person who was more of a match with the former ways I had been living, but not for the new ways of being I was cultivating. So this relationship ended, but it was for the best.

I was still coming to understand the relationships I had with my emotional self and how I was cultivating a sense of belonging to and with the other people in my life. Only this time I was learning to leave behind the old lessons from my past.

Wanting to be Fit, Not Look Good Naked

This was a huge stumbling block for me. As I’ve said, so much emphasis was placed on how good I looked by my caregivers that I thought as though looking sexually attractive was the only way to feel loved and belonging. So I became vegan because I read that eating a plant based diet would help me maintain a low body fat percentage.

It took a long time for me to even admit that that was why I had made such a drastic change in my life style. I was telling myself I was doing it for the animals mostly. But when it came down to it, the messages from my past were too strong for me to just let go and be free and clear.

Now I have a different outlook on my eating habits. I eat vegetarian when I’m out due to it being difficult to eat vegan most places, but cook mostly vegan for myself. I’m doing it for a combination of reasons that I feel is more honest to me. The reasons now are: for the environment, for my health and for animal well-fair.

The environment is in dire need of our love and attention, and the less we support big agriculture, the better off our planet will be. This article from the BBC explains that a 5th of the worlds total carbon emissions are created by the meat and dairy industry. That’s a big piece of our planet’s health.

And my health is just as important as the planets health, as is all individuals. Before I made the change in my diet, I weight 240lbs and was drinking more than half of my daily calories. I now weigh about 180lbs and feel much better overall. I have more stamina and am able to exercise with greater ease leaving me feeling healthier. It also helps that I quit smoking cigarettes in my mid-twenties and drinking large amounts of alcohol in my early thirties.

And finally, yes I am concerned about the well-being of the animals on this planet. I have a hard time stepping on insects, let alone knowing that animals are literally being slaughtered for my meals. But also knowing that not eating meat and dairy naturally leads to lower levels of unhealthy fats and cholesterol, as well as being healthier for the planets carbon emissions is reason enough for me to make the change from wanting to look good naked to being a part of the solution to the health problems of our selves and our planet.

Stronger Alone Means Stronger Together

And all this work that I’m doing for myself is something that ultimately will make me a stronger person. I’m learning to accept myself where I am, so I can make changes towards a healthier, stronger version of myself. Because when my belonging hinged on how attractive somebody else found me to be, I was putting all of my self worth in the hands of the beholder. This is why I felt as though I had no agency in my life, and didn’t feel a sense of belonging. Because my worth was not something I had a say in.

Instead, I had to find a person that found me sexually attractive, then do whatever it was that they wanted of me in order to hope to feel a sense of being loved and feeling belonging. This, as Melba would say, was no bueno.

Now that I’m feeling and looking healthier, and for healthier reasons than to get laid or to feel loved, I’m stronger for it. And it’s the practice of this mindset that is helping me to stay grounded in what matters most. And that is to feel strong in my self-worth by taking the best care I’m able, of myself, to lead the healthiest and happiest version of myself. Aka, living my best life.

And it’s once I’ve learned to live from this place of intrinsic self-worth, that I’ll be able to be in a healthy relationship with another. As my boss likes to say, “I need to be a better one before I can be a two”. It’s also helpful to remember that it’s a practice and that it isn’t always going to be an easy one.

There are definitely times where I just don’t feel strong enough to carry the load I have. But it’s in these times that we need to be gentle with ourselves. I know from my experience that my self worth was attached to somebody else’s perception of me for so long, that I forgot I even had a say in how I felt about myself. But once I started practicing the self-care and giving myself the love I needed, it became easier and easier to feel into these states and the load was easier to carry. But I had to ease my way in, little by little.

As I’ve said above, it isn’t always easy sorting out how we feel about ourselves from how others project onto us their expectations. But with some practice, we can begin to sort out what is ours, from what is expected of us. And along the way we may even pick up the tools to find those who will accept us for who we are, instead of who they want us to be. So don’t give up! You are much stronger than you give yourself credit for 🙂 Peace, and thanks for reading 🙂

Image Credits: “Melissa Adret, Model” by Melissa A. N. (Model) is licensed under CC BY 2.0.Copy text

Knowing How to Attune to Our Feeling Selves

I grew up in a family that never spoke about their feelings or how to attune to them. That’s not hyperbole. We never spoke about anything really. But feelings were especially taboo. If you view emotions as a language to convey and communicate needs, we were deaf and mute. It has taken me decades, fumbling around with and trying to understand this language. Something that had eluded me and my caregivers for so long. So now that I’ve grasped the basics of my emotional language, I’m coming to understand how knowing how to attune to our emotional selves and connecting with my emotional states, are intertwined with self-care.

Self-Care and Our Emotions

For some (hopefully most), this is not new news. Knowing how you’re feeling at any given time and then being able to respond appropriately in the moment to your emotions hopefully comes as second nature to you. But if you’ve experienced trauma and you’ve disconnected from your emotions and body, then reconnecting is no easy task. Even if you haven’t experienced trauma, but have been under chronic stress. Then attunement can be a chore as well. So how do we begin the work of reconnecting to our emotional bodies? So we can better attune to our needs and foster the emotional space necessary for self-care? For me it started with finding patience.

Be Patient

I remember the day clearly that I found the emotional space to hold difficult emotions without reacting to the discomfort I was feeling. I was waiting for a woman who I loved and we were running late for something. A situation that would normally invoke irritation in me. But I found the space to let the emotion be, while focusing on how I really felt about the person. The love that was at the core of our bond and not the irritation that was transient. And it’s important to note that the irritation was still there. Only it wasn’t stronger than the feelings of love and patience. If we’ve been brought up in families where we feel like a burden, or we’ve been neglected, we can internalize those as signs of there being something wrong with us. And if we’re not told and reinforced that we are loved and belong, then when the people who are supposed to show us love are instead filled with contempt, we may take on that contempt and aim it inwardly. Usually towards the places we feel are “unlovable”. Because if we didn’t have these “unlovable” places, we would be loved.

Forgetting Who I Am

This was how I lost track of who I was on an emotional level. With so much neglect and contempt, I was constantly looking for a way to feel part of and accepted by my family. I took everything personally because I didn’t know how to draw clear boundaries between my emotions and those of my caregivers. Because I felt so much of my belonging hinged on their approval. Their good or bad moods, the ones that I may or may not be responsible for. I was constantly in tune to them. Even their slightest of shifts could fill me with fear. But along the way I learned to stop listening to my own wants and needs. For instance I didn’t really know how I was feeling most of the time. But I also didn’t even know if I was hungry or tired. I did learn how to push myself beyond my limits though. Mostly fueled by coffee, to keep me going during the day and beer to slow me down at night. This was how I learned to ignore the most basic of my needs. To feel loved and belonging.

Learning to Listen, Learning to Attune

There was a lot of confusion and fear without a doubt. But it wasn’t hopeless. If it was the love of a woman that allowed me to understand how patience felt, it was meditation, yoga and running that helped me practice and foster a place for patience to grow in defiance of the fear. And it wasn’t easy. I had put off feeling a lot of my emotions. And when I sat down to learn how to feel again, they all came flooding back in. It was overwhelming for sure. But they needed to be felt. And there was a learning curve. Understanding how to let in a metered amount of emotion while learning what my limits are is something I’m still coming to understand.

Overcoming Our Barriers

Running and yoga helped me to understand how to push my boundaries and limits in a healthy way. To build resilience. The reason these methods were so helpful was because it was tough work being with my difficult emotions. Running and yoga mirrored the difficulty of being in a difficult emotional state. But it also gave me a sense of being physically capable of overcoming obstacles. Barriers that were holding me back from being wholly present in my body. Either during a difficult workout or sitting with a difficult emotion. And what’s more is, I was stronger after the effort. On the other side of my physical and emotional barriers. And it seemed insurmountable at times. But it was and is possible. And coming to terms with unfelt emotions doesn’t solely lay with those of us who have experienced trauma. In the day to day, so often we put off things that we see as being difficult. Talking with a friend or family member that have wronged us to some degree. Or apologizing to a coworker we may not like when we know we’ve been insensitive. Both examples of ways we avoid difficult emotions.

Practice and Be Forgiving

And the more we practice coming home to the space where we put unwanted feelings, what we’ve been avoiding, the more we show ourselves the patience and kindness that are necessary for self-care. Much like my workouts, the work you put in, is the resilience you receive. And what holds it all together is practice. Especially when it gets difficult. Those are the times where we need to double down, hold in just a little longer. And be forgiving if we don’t feel we’ve lived up to our standards. If you’re like me, you’ve probably set the bar too high to begin with! And it’s a practice anyways. We’re never really done with the work of living, so why beat ourselves up for not getting it “right”. Or just the way we want it? Practice kindness to yourself, be patient with yourself and forgive yourself and you’ll learn to attune to yourself. These are the tools I’ve found to be helpful to attune and reconnect with my emotional self. Thanks for reading, peace : ] Image Credits:“LISTEN” by elycefeliz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Self-Care Sundays! Coming to Terms With Your Fear and Neglect by Creating Healthy, Sustainable Habits.

Self-care. This used to be a term I knew almost nothing about. For a long time, I didn’t know I had needs that weren’t food, clothes, shelter or water (more like beer actually). Anything beyond the realm of survival was definitely not on my radar. A younger me would most likely scoff at the idea. Self-care, in my mind, equated to something like getting a mani-pedi. If you’ve read my post on toxic masculinity, you’ll know that I had deeply entrenched beliefs about the nature of men. Mainly, men having to be tough and unfeeling while women were afforded the luxury of being pampered or taken care of.

What Are Your Beliefs About Self-Care Based On

If that was tough to read, then I’m on the right track because it definitely
did not feel good to write. The strong sexist overtones were literally and figuratively beaten into me from the time I was a small child. This is no exaggeration. My family ran from their emotions using so many different modalities, that I’m not surprised that I literally did not know what it was like to experience emotions. I’m grateful that I found my way out of the maze they dropped me in, because it was a bumpy ride.

In my youth, I would spend my days watching one of my caregivers drink coffee all morning long, while driving to multiple locations to shop for clothing or house wares that they called running errands. They would then meet their mother and would gossip and complain about the people closest to them.

In the early evening they would switch to drinking vodka tonics, cooking dinner and paying bills or budgeting at the kitchen table and finish the night by watching hours of television. They were in perpetual motion. Or at very least, filled their time with distractions that would keep them from sitting with their internal life. I love my caregiver, but from them is where I learned to avoid my emotions with either chemicals or distractions.

My Unkempt Maze Of Emotions

The men in my life weren’t much more emotionally intelligent that the women. They would use mostly anger and aggression to hammer their points home. I don’t remember many teachable moments in my childhood from the men in my family. There was however, a lot of yelling and beatings for not following their rules. 

So it was here that I was left. In the maze of my lessons of neglecting my emotional self and the fear of the male role models in my life. Fear, anxiety and neglect were states I knew well growing up in my family. Though I now know that it wasn’t their fault. They themselves were, “faced with something that could consume you completely” to quote a song lyric from Grimes’ “Skin“.

In the case of my family, what “could consume you completely” was all of the unattended emotions. The ones that were wildly in need of some kind and structured attention. But when you’re a child learning how to communicate with your loved ones and learning the different types of languages they’re modeling for you, using their spoken and implied rules, it’s difficult to understand that it’ not your fault that you don’t understand. That it’s not personal.

Navigating Anger in the Family Maze Of Communication

Also, anger and conditional belonging can be another area to be fearful of when learning our place in the family structure. As children we’re the centers of our own worlds. When we sit at the kitchen table as children and listen to our parents cut up others for their perceived shortcomings often enough, it can be tough. Tough to know that when they turn their disdain towards us, in a moment of frustration and we become the target, that the we have not fallen into the category of “other”. Or that we no longer belong with or to our parents. In turn, showing us that the love our parents once gave so freely is conditional and unstable.

This can be a lonely place and one filled with fear for not feeling as though we belong and with it, feelings of self-doubt. I know I was left to wonder what I could have done that made my caregivers turn on me so quickly. And this family dynamic is something that I’ve carried with me. And inadvertently, have tried to recreate it in my other relationships. If the foundation of how we view ourselves is built on the criticisms of our family relationships, then we are left with a very unstable vision of how we see ourselves and our relationships. And luckily, this is where a self-care routine helped me overcome and nourish some of the fear and neglect that had been instilled in me from childhood.

Self-Care and it’s Positive Effects

From my experience, practicing self-care means we are sending the message to ourselves that we are important and valuable. And the more often we send ourselves these positive messages, the less we believe unhealthy messages. The ones of feeling unloved. Those that we receive by the neglect and abuse from our caregivers. As an old co-worker of mine used to say, it’s like you’re telling yourself, “I’m here, I care”.

And a little bit of care goes a long way. Especially since we have everyday stressors to deal with. Added to the neglect from the past it can feel insurmountable at times! But what helps us to embody and strengthen these messages of self-care we give to ourselves is, repetition and consistency. We need to make showing up for ourselves a habit.

Self-Care Routine, Self-Care Sundays

Which brings us to self-care Sundays! For me and my schedule, I needed to set some time aside each week. This is so I know I have some slotted time to relax. And even learning to relax is a challenge! So I started by choosing a time to begin to learn, which for me became Sunday nights. Since I work in the food industry, my Sunday is my Friday. So I thought, what better way to start my weekend than with a little down time for myself.

The consistency of my routine being once a week gives me the sense that I’m valuing myself and my time. I know that no matter how stressful my day or week gets, or the tasks that pile up, I’ve set aside some time where I can do something special for myself. Or just be. Without worrying about what I need to do next.

And this is where consistency is important. I needed the set structure of having a specific day and set time, to be able to learn that I could count on myself to show up. Or that I’m here, I care. To focus on myself with a kindness and attention that I hadn’t received before from those who were supposed to show me how it’s done. And as I’ve said above, from my experience growing up as a man, it was difficult societally because self-care has historically fallen in the realm of the feminine.

Self-Care is Everybody’ Job Not Gender Specific

Which was another obstacle I found myself navigating. Around the gender specific roles I was taught. Whom should do what. I felt a mix of guilt, shame and a little bit of fear for showing kindness to myself. As though this was not my job. I was swimming against the current of my family’s unspoken rule of showing kindness at all. It was not only seen as a sign of weakness for a man, but also feminine by nature. I had to teach myself that kindness was not a feminine emotion, but a human one.

The following sums up the types of role modeling my family members exemplified in my childhood. The man of the house made a living and had a career. He was the unquestioned authority and head of the household. He used violence and aggression to keep his family in line and protected. The woman was caretaker of the man and children. She cooked, cleaned and soothed her man using whatever means necessary. She was submissive and navigated her world with a childlike naivety and cruelty. Alcohol and denial were the two tools most often used to keep this model “working”.

Under this model I was taught that I needed a woman to be kind to me, because I couldn’t do it for myself. I was unable to feel kindness being a man, so instead, I needed a woman to feel it for me. Asides from this being an extremely unhealthy dynamic, it taught me the lesson that I couldn’t be kind to myself or others.

Gender Specific Emotions Breeds Contempt

As a child, I was given a considerable amount of unhealthy messages. Kindness being the woman’s job or even having emotions as being feminine, were a few of them. But to my younger self this made sense. This was due to all the men in my life being terrifying and the source of most of my abuse. But the women were just as fear provoking, neglectful and spiteful. So fitting into the roles I had laid out for me meant, I needed to be hard and unfeeling. In control of myself and others while enduring all the contempt we were generating under these unspoken rules.

Little did I realize that this was my family trying to control their external experiences to feel more in control of their internal worlds. If everybody acts the part that’s pre-approved, then everybody knows where they stand with one another. But asides from being unhealthy, this also takes the spontaneity out of life. Trying to predict everybody else’s emotional states and reactions in order to feel safe in a relationship is more like surviving than being in a conscious loving relationship. And not allowing for people to change is just as bleak an outlook.

What I feel was the missing piece to my family’s way of being in relationship was, they were relying on someone else to take care of themselves while they took care of another. And if your source of belonging and care is threatened and you are unable to provide that care for yourself, then you would go to great lengths to try to control that source of external “care”. Even if it is abusive.

The Importance of Self-Care

This is why self-care is so much more important than just taking ourselves out to dinner once in a while. It’s a way to show ourselves that even if we don’t have someone who is willing to take care of us, we’re still capable of giving ourselves the care we need. We’re still worthy of love and we still belong. We’re not only willing, but perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves.

Now that I’ve gone over some of the ways we may find resistance in attempting self care, next week I’ll go over some of my routines and how I made them stick. Because it’s not always easy starting a new routine. Especially one that is at the very core of how we take care of ourselves. Till next time, Peace : )

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

Edited: 6/3/22

Reparenting: How Cultivating a Healthy Diet is Important to Understanding Our Unhealthy Boundaries With Food

A healthy diet is tough to maintain. Food is at the center of most of our celebrations and holidays. We share recipes we love while we find new favorites and old standbys to garnish our plates. We eat every day and we have different dishes representing a plethora of cultures to choose from. It’s also a way we pass time and to cheer ourselves up. We binge on it while we binge on T.V. and there are other ways we use food to be sure. But for most of us food is always in the back of our minds.

Getting Intentional

I usually start a cooking week with the best of intentions. To cook lots of different meals for a quick and easy lunch or dinner during to reheat so I won’t have to stand in front of the fridge or cabinets wondering, “what will I eat for dinner tonight?” But it inevitably happens. My days off come around and something’s come up, or I don’t have the energy to muster the ambitious meal plan I have in mind. So I default to something easy while the food I bought for the recipes I chose slowly waste away in the fridge or on the counter tops.

This happens more often than I’d like to admit. I know I’m not alone and I feel guilty tossing a bunch of produce that’s turned. Not only do I feel bad about the waste but also because meals are so important to our self-care and how we feel about, view and fuel our bodies. The more we take care with the foods that we prepare for ourselves, the more it feels like we are respecting ourselves. And in turn the better we feel about ourselves. But there’s also the voice that beats us up when an unhealthy habit we’ve been taught along the way creeps in.

When Habits Take A Turn For The Worse

And my habits were just that. In my teens and early twenties, I ate a lot of takeout while drinking four to five beers or mixed drinks a night. I had always been overweight, until fairly recently and ate the fattiest, most unhealthy of takeout foods. One of my weaknesses was for pork pot stickers with general Goa’s chicken and chow fun following right behind them. I would probably eat my daily caloric intake in one meal if I got Chinese food for take-out!

My takeout habit started when I was a teenager. I would spend my paper-route money at a sub-shop down the street from where I lived. My mother was always working and was a server so she wasn’t home most nights. She didn’t always have time to make dinner for us or I was tired of eating the same pot of spaghetti sauce, for what felt like a month. So I defaulted to greasy subs and pizzas, while loading up on chips and Slush Puppies at the local convenience store.

It wasn’t until recently, the last few years, that I’ve decided to take a more mindful look at the ways I’ve related to how I’ve nourished myself in the past. And I’ve set some goals for how I want my diet to look going forward in the future. Here are some of the conclusions I’ve come to.

Healthier Food Habits A Turn For The Better

My more recent food journey began when a friend of mine asked me to go to the Boston Vegfest with her five years ago. She also gave me a book titled, “The China Study” by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. Dr. Campbell’s book is about the long term health benefits of a vegan or vegetarian diet on weight loss as well as nutritional values. He champions a whole foods, vegetarian diet. Vegfest was an incredible experience. There were speakers like Dr. Michael Greger, author and founder of the website, Nutritional Facts. He also focused on the nutritional benefits and values of eating a vegan or vegetarian diet. But there were also venders with loads of tasty treats and samples to try as well.

So after those two positive experiences, naturally I jumped in with both feet and became vegan right away. I didn’t try incorporating tofu and more greens into my diet and then slowly fading out meat. Having dairy only on occasion. Nope. Over time my diet has come to resemble something more of a vegetarian diet. Where I mostly still cook vegan for myself and will sometimes eat vegetarian while I’m out. This is due to it not always being easy to find vegan restaurants or restaurants that cater to vegan ways of eating. But I haven’t, nor will I ever eat meat again.

For me it has a lot to do with the environmental impact and the health benefits a plant based diet brings. But I also understand and respect that it’s not a lifestyle for everybody. Vegan’s have gotten a bad rap for being pushy about their beliefs and I don’t want to rest in that camp.

But what is more important for me than the “right” way to eat is, that I needed to set healthier boundaries with the food I was eating. I was drinking close to half my calories for the day in beer alone. Then eating probably my full caloric intake at dinner if I went out to eat! And that was just in one meal! The rest of the day wasn’t stellar either. All said, I would probably eat 4.5k calories in a day with a very sedentary lifestyle. Lots of video games and TV watching without any exercise. Long story short, I had zero boundaries when it came to food.

Are My Intentions Really That Healthy?

When I started eating vegan, it was for weight loss. The health benefits were appealing, but as I’ve said in my post “Search for a Blog“, my family’s values were definitely based in image centric beliefs. My mom would often call me a human garbage disposal with regards to my eating habits. And being overweight pretty much my entire life, I never felt like I belonged to my family. Not that my family members were models for healthy eating habits. But I wanted to belong and I wanted to do it by looking good naked.

I still want to look good. And yes, look good naked. I feel like a large part of self care is about liking who you are in that you enjoy your self projected image. BUT, it’s sometimes difficult to draw the line on what’s healthy versus unhealthy self image, thanks largely to advertising, cultural tendencies and trends. But that’s another post for another time, maybe for somebody with a masters or doctorate in social anthropology or psychology.

Finding Resources

When I started eating a healthy diet, I found that I had to make a lot of sacrifices and find new ways and habits of eating that would allow me to achieve my desired relationship with my food. Protein and iron were now on my radar, as I searched for food’s caloric and nutritional values. Also scanning for proper ratios of carbs to fats to proteins were on my mind as well. It wasn’t easy at first but I found loads of recipes on many different sites that were helpful. A big shout out to The Minimalist Baker for helping me get started with vegan friendly recipes. She also has nutritional breakdowns of her recipes as well. Otherwise I would have been eating a lot of stir-fried tofu and veggies, which probably would have gotten old before long.

But there are so many resources online now, making it so easy to find recipes and inspiration. This Rawesome Vegan Life is another great source for recipe inspiration. But you could find yourself in the same trap if you make and eat whatever you feel like eating, without regards to how much and what you are consuming. And I was headed in that direction yet again.

Addressing An Unhealthy Relationship To Food

By not watching my portion sizes and making a lot of sweets and and other high fat, low nutritionally dense recipes, my eating habits turned into something that resembled what I was doing before going vegan. Only I replaced meat and dairy with more nuts and seeds. As well as loads of chocolate and sweeteners. They were all natural for the most part but I was consuming without regard to how much. And eating for big flavor instead of nutritional value.

Questionable Intentions

One of the reasons I went vegan was because I read somewhere, I’m not entirely sure where and please don’t quote me on this information, that if you eat a vegan, plant based diet your body naturally maintains a low ratio of body fat to muscle. But this only pertains to a healthy plant based diet high in whole, nutrient dense foods. Also one low in sweeteners and highly fatty processed foods. This was something I was disregarding.

My health goals now are to get to a certain body fat percentage. Mostly because I want to see if I’m able. But with my lifestyle changes being so drastically different from the ways I used to be, not only my eating habits but also my exercising habits, I think it’d be nice for at least once in my lifetime, to see the best version of myself in regards to fitness levels and healthy diet.

I’m sure some of the drive to achieve my health goals stems from being called a human garbage disposal when I was young. But regardless of the past I believe that there’s a part in all of us that wants to see the best versions of ourselves. This brings me to the other side of the boundaries coin, the need to achieve beyond what might be healthy.

Over Doing It, When Boundaries Are Too Rigid

I was once married to a woman who told me that I became obsessed with things. Hobbies or ideas that I would find interesting. And she was right. I would follow my interests almost to the point of obsession. If I started brewing beer, I had to grow my own hops, brew three batches at a time and know as much as I could about every aspect of the process. If corralled this could be a useful trait. But left unchecked it can become, well unhealthy obsession.

This could be dangerous when applied to a healthy diet or exercise and detrimental to your health as well. If we become too obsessed with cutting calories, then something like pursuing a healthy diet can lead to malnutrition. Which can lead to loss of bone density and lower immune system function in drastic cases. And exercise done to the point of exhaustion can lead to injury. And if our habit is to push ourselves to persist through exhaustion, we run the risk of doing serious damage to our bodies.

Examples Of Overdoing It

This happened to me once while I was running in the upper milage, while training for a half marathon. I was running three times a week. I had two short days, about three miles and one long day, about eight to ten miles. I kept this schedule while also working full time and restricting my caloric intake. This did not bode well for my future self. One day, after I worked a full day and only ate maybe a small breakfast, I went for a long run. When I got home I jumped in the shower to clean up. When I got out and was drying myself off, I bent over and stood up too quickly, which caused me to pass out on my bathroom floor.

I’m not sure how long I was out, but that was a sobering experience to say the least. I don’t think I really understood what happened to me until much after it happened. This is an example of pushing yourself to the point of it being unhealthy. So take it from me, make sure you’re taking good care with a healthy diet and only pushing yourself when you know you won’t do yourself some serious damage to yourself.

So regardless of our healthy diet goals, it’s important to not only reign in over consumption, but to check aggressive fitness goals as well. Because finding the right balance of how you take care of yourself by way of your personal needs such as a healthy diet and exercise and how you respond to your body’s limits is important.

Also, don’t forget about your expectations and how you get there, which are so important for the intentions we set on how we want to live our lives and be the healthiest versions of ourselves. And as a good friend of mine says, Jay Foss, host of a weekly radio show on North Shore 104.9fm, Raising your Inner Voice, “being the best version of myself helps you to be the best version of yourself”.

I hope you find this perspective useful to some degree. As I said in the beginning of this post, finding a healthy relationship to your diet is difficult. Just know that you are not alone. And remember you don’t have to be so hard on yourself. Be well, peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: Adam Sergott, Haymarket, Boston, MA

Edited: 5/26/22

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