Giving Up What We Think We Need To Get Through The Day: “It’s No Easy”-Melba

I’ve spoken a lot about the different methods I’ve used to get through my days in the past. They mostly consisted of drinking too much coffee in the mornings, between 4-6 large lattes a day and alcohol at night, usually 5-6 drinks. And on occasion, I would take an Adderall or muscle relaxer to speed up or slow myself down. I used other methods as well, such as food and pornography, to escape my emotional world, which were also detrimental to me living a healthy, well balanced lifestyle.

Now I realize that as far as addictions go, mine were on the milder side. I never fell into the harder drugs, and for the most part they never interfered with my day-to-day responsibilities. What it did do however, was decimate most of my relationships. The most important one being with myself.

I had no idea what I was feeling most of the time because I was too busy running away from what I was unwilling to confront. My neglected self. First by others, but then I picked up the legacy and ran with it using the methods that were taught to me. I’d like to talk about this neglect, and how I perpetuated it by using what was shown me, and how I broke free from the cycle of neglect, mostly using self-care. So if you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and help yourself a little sooner than I did myself. Let’s start by taking a look at the environment I grew up in.

Control and Belonging

I was raised by a rowdy bunch. There were quite a few of us in my early childhood, and we would get together often. We were loud and opinionated which wasn’t so bad, but we were also mean and drunk most of the time. This was no bueno. Children were dealt with swiftly and using harsh actions. I learned from a very early age that it wasn’t in my best interests to show up on my caregivers radar.

It seemed as though the children in my family were always being punished for doing something against the will of our caregivers. I realize now that it had more to do with my caregivers feeling a lack of control in their lives, so they needed to control those around them, starting with the most vulnerable. This imparted the lesson on me that, to be an adult meant to always be in control.

This is a dangerous mindset to be in, because being in control for my family meant, controlling those around us and our emotions. We employed multiple tactics to achieve our desired goals. Among them being, drinking coffee and alcohol to control our emotional states, while also carefully withholding our love and affection from one another in an attempt to manipulate the other into treating us or seeing us in the ways we wanted them to. As you’ve probably guessed, this did not bode well for any of us.

As a result of our attempts to control our surroundings and each other, we cut ourselves off from just about everybody in our lives. We withheld our emotions from one another so much so, that we became little islands, paralyzed by the fear of being seen as needy, weak, stupid, undesirable… you name it and we most likely had an insecurity surrounding it. And slowly, we spoke to and saw each other, less and less as we moved through the years. Drifting apart like islands in the stream.

Our reasoning being, that if nobody could truly know us, then we’d be safe from their critical judgements and cutting remarks which were omnipresent. But in the process, and what we didn’t realize was, that we also cut ourselves off from ourselves. The pieces of each other that are ingrained in our beings, the habits I learned from my caregivers, I then learning to hate those same habits in me, which left me feeling isolated and angry.

Isolated because we avoided each other and angry for not feeling accepted by those I was behaving like. Not to mention how confusing this all was to sort out. So confusing in fact, that it took me until my late 30’s to sort it all! And that was after I decided to stop running from my emotional world and the put down the habits I was doing to avoid them.

Coffee to Speed Past the Feelings, Alcohol to Numb Them

I’ve said so many times on this blog how I used coffee to speed past my feelings and alcohol to numb them. Of course, I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time. I only knew that there was an awful lot of pain that I hadn’t reckoned with and that I would use just about anything to keep myself from feeling it.

I was enamored of drug culture when I was younger, around my teenage years. This was a time where, ideally, I would have been guided by a loving community of family and friends, to navigate the strange times of changing feelings and journey into adulthood. Instead, I ran from both changing, and adulthood. Mostly because I was still looking for the security in my belonging that I had lost in my early childhood. In short, I didn’t want to grow up for fear of resembling my abusers, the “grown ups” in my life.

So I took whatever I could to run from it. Caffeine was cheap and widely available, so I drank a lot of it to speed through my day. Alcohol was equally as available and more than effective enough to numb out the feelings I was running from, so I drank, a lot. There was also the occasional Adderall and muscle relaxer when caffeine and alcohol weren’t enough. But these were the status quo in my family growing up. Accompanied by a fair amount of critical judgements and you have the environment I was raised in, massively unhealthy.

What to Do When You’ve Found Yourself Alone

And these were the methods we chose to isolate ourselves from one another. When the cost of getting too close, was too much to take. Running became our number one tactic in keeping ourselves safe. And rightly so. With the amount of abuse we were dishing out to one another, it’s amazing that any of us are still talking to one another, however little that may be.

But in order for me to get to this place, I needed to do a lot of work. First off, I needed to find some resources, otherwise the sheer amount of loneliness, and work I needed to accomplish in order to feel stable would have been overwhelming.

This mostly took shape in the form of me giving myself the care and attention, that I would give to somebody I cared about deeply. Something I was shamed for doing by those who raised me. Anytime I asked for something for myself, I was made to feel as though it was more than just an inconvenience, I was personally using the other or taking advantage of their “kindness” just by having needs. I’ve said before on this blog, the term martyr was used liberally around taking care of each other’s needs. We were as ungrateful and spiteful as we could be.

Taking the Time to Unlearn Old Habits

And it was here that I needed to do a lot of work to unlearn the ways I had been behaving. I was mean and spiteful, arrogant and condescending, ungrateful and felt as though the world owed me something and used people like objects. Focusing only on what I could get from them, not on how we could care for one another. No wonder I had no close friends.

What really got me to change my old habits was a combination of learning to sit with and through my emotions without the aid of some substance to help me run from what I was experiencing, mostly through meditation, then caring for myself as they, my emotions, came up. As I’ve said above, I was shamed for even thinking about caring for myself. So even the act of learning to be kind to myself was quite the feat.

But that’s what I did. When I felt worried or overwhelmed, I took the time to stop, ask how I was feeling, recognize and allow the feeling to be there, then I was able to care for myself by asking myself what I needed. Tara Brach has a great resource called R.A.I.N., and it’s what I use to navigate difficult emotional states when they arise.

Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture

It starts out with R, which stands for Recognize. I simply recognize what is happening in the moment, as it’s happening. Then the A is for Allow. Whatever is present for me, I allow it to be Just as it is, no judgements. I is for Investigate. This is where I ask the emotion how it needs me to be with it. Do I need to respond with kindness, or does it just to be witnessed? And finally N is for Nurture. This is where I take the time to be the parent for myself that I never had. To show myself that I care about what’s happening in the ways nobody had shown me before.

This is a powerful tool and one that, when used regularly, has the ability to change the ways we see and interact with ourselves. And it does take some time. The big changes don’t happen in one fell swoop. As Tara would say, it takes many rounds of R.A.I.N. before it becomes a learned behavior.

Building Trust

And eventually what happened for me was, I started to trust myself. I could trust what was happening, the emotions that were coming up in the moment without running from them and into some mood altering experience. And this trust was paramount to building a stable foundation for all of my relationships to rest on. Most importantly the one with myself.

Because while I was running from myself, I was showing myself that I was not worth the time and effort to care for and nurture my own needs. And if I didn’t know how to be there for myself, how was I going to show up for somebody else? I just didn’t have the tools for that job before I learned to slow down without a substance.

So I practiced. I practiced showing up, and staying when it got tough. I cooked my self-care dinners on Tuesday nights, even if it was a budget friendly recipe and I enjoyed a beer with my dinner. I kept up with my yoga practice and meditation, even though I was working between 50-60 hours a week and was spent at the end of my work day. I cleaned and cared for my surroundings even though sometimes it seemed like that’s all I was ever doing, was ticking things off the list. But the efforts I put in were important for me building consistency.

I was so used to being left, time and again, by everybody that ever mattered to me that I had no consistency, nothing stable to rely on. So I needed to create that stability I sought, for and with myself, by building these routines that I stuck to no matter how tired I was. I was showing up for myself when everyone else said it was too much to stay. And here’s where the trust started to form.

Once I realized I wasn’t going back to the same old ways of living, I began to feel things again I hadn’t felt in years. I was learning to relax on my own, without the aid of chemicals while also appreciating the accomplishments I was achieving. I was growing up and it felt good.

So if you’ve found yourself in a place where you’ve been running from your emotional world for too long, don’t worry, there’s hope still. It may not be easy, and it may feel impossible at times, to overcome these feelings of being run down, anxious or fearful. But it’s not only possible, it’s doable.

Start somewhere small. Take stock of the areas in your life that have been neglected a little, or need some love and attention. Then make a plan to get involved with your own life with more sustainable resources, like exercise and self-care nights, whatever shape they may take for you.

Cut back on the caffeine and alcohol intake if you feel like they are getting to be too much. Get in touch with your body and see what it needs by spending some down time with yourself. Whether it’s in nature or in a clean room with some candles burning. Learning to listen to yourself is invaluable to building a relationship with yourself. Like my boss says, “be the driver of your life bus, not a passenger”.

And be consistent. The more you show up for yourself, the more you send yourself the message that you’re worth the time and effort, and most importantly that you care about yourself. Pretty soon, you’ll be a whole new version of yourself without the vices you once relied on for support. And most importantly, never give up on yourself. You just may surprise yourself with who you become. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Beer glass” by Bruno Girin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Self Care Listening to our Bodies: How do We Know What They’re Saying if We Were Never Taught to Listen

Self-care isn’t easy for everybody. This was most definitely the case for me. One of the places it was most difficult was in learning how to attune to my body’s needs. And one of the more basic places this took shape was around the food I ate.

You Are What You Eat

For example, I wouldn’t eat breakfast. It wasn’t until very recently that I’ve started making and bringing breakfast to work with me. Now I’m making an effort to eat something for the first meal of the day. I would eat breakfast occasionally. Usually when I was out with friends or family. But I never took the time to make breakfast a meal and take the care to nourish myself. The same was true for lunch as well. The only “food” I had through my teens, twenties and early thirties was lots of coffee in the morning to keep me going and more alcohol at night to slow me down. That was a hard way to live.

Learning Lessons the Hard Way

What helped me to understand just how badly I was neglecting my physical needs were a few hard lessons. I’ve been a runner for maybe 8 years. I used to run up to 13 miles. But have recently cut back to a modest 2.68 miles twice a week. I’ve also been a yogi for some time as well. Though not as long as I’ve been running. Yoga started for me about 6 years ago and have loved getting on the mat ever since.

I was also raised with an intense work ethic, to put it mildly. I worked hard for sure, but I never learned how to slow down. Or relax and unwind after a hard days work without alcohol. Relaxing just wasn’t something that was valued in my family. Under the work ethics of my family, no matter what I did it was never enough. But I knew for some absurd reason I had to keep working.

Pushing Yourself too Hard

So when I started eating more healthful foods, and exercising regularly, I thought I was doing the right thing. I wanted to feel and look healthier and I wanted the health benefits from living a healthful lifestyle. But what I was missing was the ability to listen to my body. One of the hard lessons I learned was when my body’s under stress or I haven’t eaten enough, I get a floaty feeling in my body. So when I went for a run one day feeling this floaty feeling and not understanding what it was that I was feeling and after I finished up on the mat, I hopped in the shower. What I didn’t realize that these were the conditions where a person will pass out from pushing themselves too hard.

And I passed out. I didn’t hurt myself too badly, but it was a shock for sure. I had been so used to being propped up by caffeine and alcohol that once I was drinking tea in the mornings, cutting my caffeine intake by less than a fourth of what it used to be and only having the occasional drink, I wasn’t prepared for the consequences of how my body would respond under these stressful circumstances.

Unhealthy Lessons About Self-Care

And to be fair to myself, I didn’t really know how unhealthfully I was responding to my body’s needs. Because quite frankly, I didn’t know what they were. While I was growing up, I was never taught how to feed myself properly. Or anything else regarding my personal health. I was fed and my clothes were washed, but I never had a caretaker pull me aside and say, “I’ve noticed you’re only eating candy during the day, this is why that isn’t the best diet for you, or probably anybody”. Or teach me anything in the realm of self-care really. All those life skills your family are supposed to pass down never happened for me. No family recipes, no budgeting skills, or selfcare lessons.

My caretakers thought this was a problem that would sort itself out. Fast forward to my early twenties and I’m waking up in an apartment strewn with garbage. Wading through the empty beer cans and spilled ashtrays on the floor to get to the bathroom that wasn’t in much better shape. I didn’t eat breakfast in the mornings mostly because I didn’t wake until 1:00pm. But even if I had woke earlier, breakfast was not the first thing on my mind. I was more concerned with my survival.

When Self-Care Isn’t Modeled in the Home

But this was also the behavior that was modeled for me growing up by my caregivers. Sure their house was much cleaner, but the type of living was the same. Wake up at 10am. Drink 5-6 cups of coffee to get started. Go to work. Work from 3-11pm with no breaks and finish your shift with a few drinks. Go home and drink a few more to unwind from the busy day. Go to bed and start the sequence all over again. There was never any point at which we stopped and checked in with how we were feeling.

Were we hungry? Tired? Did we need a night to stay in and relax? Maybe a crossword puzzle and a cup of herbal tea instead of three 40s an a pack of smokes? I may seem a bit flippant, but these were serious moments of neglect that we were inflicting on ourselves. Looking back, I’m surprised I made it out at all. Let alone being healthy enough now to take care of and attune to my physical needs.

Self-Care More Than Just Eating Well

Which brings us to passing out on the bathroom floor. It seemed I was doing all the right things. I was eating a plant based diet. Cooking healthy meals for myself. Exercising regularly and hydrating consistently. Not smoking and drinking only occasionally. But what I was missing was the ability to tune into how I was feeling physically.

Was I hungry? How much rest should I be getting to feel my best during the day? Are my portion sizes adequate? Should I really be skipping breakfast and lunch? Or eating only the extra pastries I found laying around at work? These were the questions I needed to be asking myself. But I was never shown how or had these attributes modeled for me.

Survival of the Nurtured

Tara Brach said something that rang true with me in one of her talks, “We are not the survival of the fittest. We are the survival of the nurtured.” — Louis Cozolino. This is something I feel is more true the more I reflect on it. Without the loving guidance of our caretakers teaching us how to care for and attune to our needs; physical, emotion, financial, dietary, hygienic and shown with care, then we learn to neglect ourselves. This may create a degree of contempt towards ourselves and those who neglected us. For the lack of love and caring we feel for ignoring our most basic needs.

If we’re left with these lessons of neglect and self-contempt, how do we learn to give ourselves the care we need? To overcome these feelings that have done us so much harm? From my understanding, it takes a whole lot of love and self compassion. Which can be tricky. Especially if you’ve never embodied these feelings. It can feel a bit hopeless. Like trying to go home only not knowing where you live. But there are some strategies that can help us find the way to loving ourselves.

Strategies for Self-Care

From my experience and what’s helped me to overcome some of my most difficult and critical self-judgements are meditation. slowing down long enough to listen past the critical voices that have taken residency in my mind. I’ve already shared on this blog my self-care Sunday ritual. Something which has been an anchor to help me return to a time and place where I can practice some self-care and tune out from the rest of my daily stressors. Giving myself the gift of a little peace.

What are Your Resources?

Coming up with a resource list helps as well. Basically a list of things, activities or places that bring me a sense of ease, peace and rest. Self-compassion, a practice that will eventually build emotional resilience to the things that come up day to day. And practice. Keep coming back to the resources, self-care, self-compassion and things, places and activities that bring you a sense of peace and calm.

I’ll be going into more detail on some of these methods, plus ways to tell when you’re in need of some much needed rest. If you’re anything like me, you may feel as though you can just push past your physical and emotional boundaries using shear force. Which is the opposite of self compassion! That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading, and peace :]

Image Credits: “Love yourself” by QuinnDombrowski is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Updated: 7/30/22

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

In last week’s article, Self-Care Sundays!, I went over some ways that we can get caught in the trap of neglecting ourselves. By using either the lessons taught to us in our youths by our caregivers or by the unhealthy habits we’ve cultivated in our day to day routines from not-so-stellar role models.

This week I’d like to talk about some of the self-care rituals I’ve created and how I’ve developed them. But also why they are important in their own specific ways. Hopefully, my routines will give you some ideas and the motivation to start and cultivate your own self-care rituals. So, lets hit the ground running with exercise.

Movement Matters

I started running in my early thirties. But it wasn’t until fairly recently that it’s become a part of my self-care routine. This is partly due to me only recently starting my self-care routine. But also because running has become a place where I’ve learned how to reach and set goals. The pleasure of finding the ease in the work of the longer runs, as well as the friendships I developed with my running buddies along the way.

In my youth, teenage years and twenties, I was lazy. I was adverse to work, all kinds and clocked so many hours playing video games that I don’t like to think what I could have accomplished had I utilized that time towards more productive ends. But I was also living with the effects of years of neglect and abuse. I had no direction, and no one I felt I could turn to for guidance or to help develop a healthy hobby. To give me advice and direction on where to go or what to do with my life. So I was doing the best I could with what I had and what I had was a lot of free time and video games. In short, I needed to get out from in front of a screen and get some fresh air.

Fun Running

So I started running. I began after my divorce and I feel was a way of dealing with some of the guilt I was harboring for leaving my ex-wife (she had started running shortly before we broke up). Later it would become a way for me to find peace while being in the midst of stress. An apt metaphor for life, but it also represented connection with others, as I had picked up a handful of running buddies along the way.

But it became part of my self-care routine because I really began enjoying just being on the road. Not only the fond memories and my feet pounding on the pavement, but also reconnecting with the parts of me that want to take care of myself and my physical health. I finally felt like I had an outlet to making a healthy physical change to my routine. Making my physical health a priority was a step towards making peace with the parts of my neglected self that were paralyzed by the fear of being neglected. The part that was in front of a screen, beer in hand, avoiding the work we all have to get after in life.

Stretch it Out

Yoga was another way for me to reconnect with myself, only for different reasons than with running. I had experienced a lot of traumatic events in my childhood. So much so that I was in a constant state of dissociation from the time I was eight, until very recently. Fear and anxiety were emotional states that were always humming softly in the background. Save for the times that they made their way front and center to my emotional body. Then I was plunged back into reliving the traumatic emotions I experienced in my youth.

Whenever I stepped foot inside my body, the immediate and intense urge to use a method to self sooth would come crashing in. Drinking coffee and alcohol being two of my go tos, but video games and anti-anxiety meds and other forms of distraction were also outlets I used to sooth. I rarely touched anyone and feared being touched by others due to my lack of trust. Most of my trauma happened at the hands of my caregivers. My body was a place filled with paralyzing fear and horror.

When I started practicing yoga regularly, I had only ever done it once before and it was not a good experience. I went with my sister, I was hungover, in a gym where everybody working out was staring at us and in front of a picture window where harsh rays of sunlight where beating down on us. It was an unforgiving hour.

I’m not sure why I started again after the last experience. But when I began my practice in earnest, it was different in almost every way. I went to the Y, where they had just built a new facility and class was held in the ballet studio. The room was large, spacious and private. There was soft light from LED candles placed around the mirror adorned walls of the studio. Soothing, ambient music was playing quietly in the background while the instructor walked among the students correcting postures with a polite and gentle touch. This was the place I learned that under certain circumstances, I could learn to come home to my body again. To trust myself and others.

Since, I’ve started my own practice at home. It’s been an indispensable way to connect more fully with my senses. I usually burn a candle while I practice, to help to engage more of my awareness and be wholly present in my body. And it’s still tough work. But reconnecting and being present in my body while knowing I’m safe as I am has opened up new ways of staying present with my emotions and learning to trust that safety. My body no longer feels unsafe.

Eating and Cooking Healthy Meals

Food was another way to reconnect with myself. My unhealthy relationship with food started almost from day one. I was always overweight growing up. I ate for flavor instead of nutritional value and was never given proper direction on how to cook for myself, or what healthy foods to eat were.

In my teens and twenties, I ate fast food and takeout almost every night and was always drinking beer. At least a six pack a night and my early thirties weren’t much better. I have a sweet tooth too, so I had zero self control when it came to eating sweets. I would eat chocolate almost as much as I drank beer. My family never taught me how to prepare meals, so when I was on my own at 19 I had no idea what I was doing with regards to my nutritional needs. I was completely in the dark when it came to my food choices.

I decided to become vegan about five years ago which I still mostly am. Only on occasion will I have dairy when I’m not cooking for myself. On Sundays, I choose a special meal to cook, something different, or something I wouldn’t normally cook for myself as a treat. I go shopping for the ingredients the night before and usually grab a seasonal beer to pair with dinner. I also make a dessert for myself to round out the experience.

My boundaries with food were so poor that I had no appreciation of the food I had been eating. And if I continued to follow that path I would most definitely have developed some health issues. I eat more healthfully now, since becoming vegan, and my self-care dinners have really come to embody the new relationship I’m forging with the ways I’m choosing to nourish my body.

I’m learning to enjoy the food I eat. The process of making something special for myself and the research of finding something that is appealing to me. I’m learning to nourish my body as well as the experience surrounding the food I eat. Replacing the confusion and fear of not knowing how to care for one of my most basic needs with confidence and joy.

Atmosphere Matters, So Does Tea

Candles and tea are other ways in which I’ve set the tone for my evening meal and post-meal experience. I’ve always enjoyed the ambient lighting provided by candle light, and since my most traumatic experiences happened at night, the cozy setting helps to ease some of the stress the evening sometimes brings.

Tea, herbal, is another way to set a relaxing tone to the evening while unwinding after dinner. I had been so used to being wound up from drinking so much caffeine during the day that I needed to drink five to six beers at night just to relax. Herbal tea is a healthy and tasty way for me to wind down at the end of the day. The one beer I have at dinner and the tea I have at night are ways I’m setting healthy boundaries around the ways I handle my stress levels. They are more for taste and enjoyment now, instead of relying on something to calm me down.

Rest and Good Tunes

And finally, music and sleep. I usually listen to something soothing while eating, without words and I make sure to get at least eight hours of sleep. So I get to bed at a sound hour. Music was the first way I learned to relate to my emotions and listening to music without words helps me to attune to how I’m feeling in the present while setting a relaxing environment, not unlike the yoga studio I would first practice in. While as I’ve said before, much of my trauma happened during the night so getting enough sleep is essential for my emotional well being.

Make a Day of It

These are the rituals of my self-care Sundays. They have evolved from when I first started practicing them. I plan on changing a few things up after I pay down some debt, but essentially they are ways to attune to my emotional well being. But also reparenting myself around the areas of my life that have been neglected. First by my caregivers, but then by me as I carried on their legacy of abuse and neglect of myself.

I needed to learn how to trust myself again after all I had been through and put myself through. It isn’t easy, but the more I persist and kept showing myself that I’m here, I care, the more trust I, slowly but surely am building and ease and confidence takes the place of fear and the emptiness that the neglect left.

And in a way, I’m cultivating hope for the future. Something Tara Brach calls resourcing. I’m now looking forward to my self-care days and rituals. The calm and comfort that I’m cultivating on Sundays I’m now able to call on those feelings and resources throughout the week. Whether I’m in the middle of a busy day at work, or struggling with a tough run, I can call on the good memories of days past or on future plans.

I hope I’ve painted a picture of how I’ve attuned to my needs and maybe inspired some readers to start their own rituals. I’d also like to add that it takes persistence and a little tenacity. As I’ve said above it wasn’t without some struggle, which is counter intuitive to finding ease but feeling at ease isn’t easy. If you are like I was, living with a constant sense of vigilance, relaxing isn’t second nature. So be persistent! It takes time but with a little consistent self-care you’ll be able to attune to your needs and maybe loosen the grip of your fear, whatever form it may be taking. All you need to do is listen inward and show some kindness. Peace : ]

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

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

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