Quarantine and Neglect: How Isolating can Bring up Old Feelings of Neglect

I’m quarantining now and it’s been a week or so since I’ve started. It’s the first time I’ve had to since the pandemic began and it’s not easy or pleasant, that’s for sure. I’m catching up here on NLL a bit. Doing some research and looking into tutorials which is nice, productive. But there’s another aspect to quarantining that has me feeling a bit off. I wasn’t sure what it was at first. But the more I sat with the feelings the more they reminded me of growing up in my childhood home. What I was experiencing was the remanence of my feelings of neglect.

We already know some of the downsides to quarantining are being disconnected from family and friends. But I had no Idea what I was going to experience when I shut the door and the world out for seven days. The feelings first came on as a bit of boredom. I currently live with two others, so I only leave my room for a few things. But isolating in a twenty by twenty foot room with very little in the way of social interaction is trying on me emotionally.

At first I thought, “this isn’t so bad, people have it much worse than I do.” But the more I have time to think about my situation and feel my emotions, the clearer it feels. That I’m reliving the neglected parts of my past where I wouldn’t see my caregivers for what felt like days.

Just me sitting in front of the T.V. by myself, watching another episode of the Simpsons. Except when I would occasionally go into the kitchen to try to find something to eat that wasn’t soda or cerrial. The same friend of mine that coined the frase, “I’m here, I care”, also said that they were raised by the Simpsons. And with them being on for close to four hours a day, I definitely spent more of my time with that family than I did with my own.

I understand the sacrifices my caregivers had to make in order to provide for me. It wasn’t always easy for us when I was growing up. But I feel as though they could have struck a balance between working and spending time with the family. Subsequently there are few moments I can reflect on that feel like quality family time.

Instead it felt like I was walking around my house feeling like a ghost. Empty. Which brings me back to quarantining for the past week. There is that same ghost like quality to sitting in my room alone. Feeling the emptiness of years past weighing down on me. As I said above, it wasn’t easy. I didn’t have the same routines to fall back on. Usually I drink a few cups of herbal tea with honey before I go to bed. I also talk to the people I live with over dinner. Instead I eat my meals in my room in solitary with only water and a lemonade.

The dishes pile up on my shelf because I don’t want to make too many trips to shared common areas for fear of infecting someone if I have gotten the virus. It reminded me of the ways I used to live. Some of my apartments as I’ve mentioned before were manifestations of the ways I learned to neglect myself. So isolating for a few days is bringing those feelings of neglect right back, front and center.

Feeling and being alone, posible being sick and living in questionable surroundings is for all the reasons I’ve started above, like feeling and being neglected. Reliving some of these emotions is draining and I imagine I’m not alone in noticing this. With more and more people quarantining it would only make sense that this type of isolation would bring back some painful memories of past experiences.

We work so hard to create comfortable lives. Filled with people, activities and rituals that when we lose it all so swiftly, what we could be left with is old feelings of painful neglect. But it’s not as bleak as it seems.

There are definitely resources I’m able to draw on to help me through some of the more difficult times here while alone. And to remind myself that I’m in the here and now, not in the past anymore. Because it’s so easy to get swept up into reliving the past when old feelings come tumbling in. Remember that the lives we’re building aren’t gone. We just need to access them maybe in different ways.

Some of the ways I keep myself company are obvious ones. I reach out to friends via text or IM. Catching up with old friends and being support for them makes me feel more connected. Sharing thoughts and memories that keep me company during the times I feel most stressed and isolated is comforting.

Also making plans to go visit them when we’re able to travel again gives me something to look forward to. I haven’t seen these friends in a very long time so seeing how they’ve changed over the years while rehashing some old stories sounds like a great way to reconnect.

The friends I’m talking about live on the west coast. I’ve known them since I was in grade school and high school when we lived in the same city. I’ve also only recently reconnected with them finding I have more time on my hands and less to do thanks to Covid. I’m happy I did because like I’ve said above, they’ve become a source of emotional support. So if you’ve always wondered how an old friend of yours is doing, maybe you lost touch after high school when you both went your separate ways to different colleges. Don’t be held back from reaching out because you feel things are too different now. Send that text, message or email. You’ll probably be surprised with how welcoming they are. I know I was and I’m happier for it.

Another resource I’ve come to rediscover in a new way is doing yoga. I didn’t think I’d be able to keep up with my practice in the area I have. I usually exercise in a separate room where there’s plenty of space to flow through my vinyasas. But the useable space in my room is just enough to walk through to strategic places. I.e. the wardrobe, hampers and bedside.

They are already cramped quarters and I didn’t think I’d be able to fully extend into my warrior IIs. But after moving some stuff around I find that I have just enough room to do my practice in.

I also shifted the time I practice to early in the evening when the sun is going down. I light a few candles and find that my space is cosier than the room I usually work out in. It reminds me of one of the first studios I started my practice in. There isn’t as much room, but with the sun setting and the ambient lighting from the candles, and all the pieces in my room that come together to give shape to my personality, it feels as though I am in a more intimate version of the studio where I first learned to love yoga. It is more me in every way and definitely feel less isolated.

If you’ve been thinking of starting a workout routine but can’t find the time, now maybe the best opportunity to get into a healthier habit. The reason I like yoga so much is because you don’t need a lot of equipment to get started. A mat, maybe some videos and time. Yoga with Adriene has a wide selection of different length videos to choose from. So if you only have the time or energy for twenty minutes of yoga, she’s got your back.

Another resource I’m able to cultivate is reading. I never used to read that much. I picked up reading as a hobie in my early twenties. Even then I wouldn’t call myself an avid reader. It felt as though it were taking up too much of my time. I’m not sure from what because I mostly played video games and consumed a lot of television.

When I did read I mostly read nonfiction. But reading only one subject matter for any length of time is a good way to burn yourself out. Lately I’m keeping a few different genres of books around for some variety. I have one science fiction, one on sustainable living and another I just put on hold at the library for houseplants that purify and cleanse the air in your home.

My old reading habits were one book at a time. And I had to finish that one before I started another regardless of whether or not I liked it. It felt more like work actually. But now I try to read twenty minutes before I go to bed. And if I don’t feel like reading the book I read last night, that’s okay. I just pick up another. Or if I don’t feel like reading, that’s fine too. But knowing I have that twenty minutes before bed set aside for that purpose makes me feel a little better about my reading habits. Like I’m cultivating something that will make me a little healthier. And it feels good.

Do you have a Goodreads account? If so, it may be fun to revisit some of the books you put on your shelf to look into for later. That’s where I found the book on houseplants I ordered from the library. And if you haven’t checked out your local library in a while, it may be worth the endeavour. There are loads of resources there and they are all free as long as you have a library card. They’ll even deliver materials from other libraries that are in your network. So if you can’t find what you’re looking for at your local library, chances are one in your network will have it.

NLL has been a huge resource for me as well. I’ve set a word limit and some R&D time and goals for the week or day. I don’t always meet them, but it’s good to connect with my creativity and explore some of my emotional spaces through writing. Also I keep a bullet journal as I’ve mentioned before on this blog.

Writing is a passion of mine. But if it wasn’t writing I’d be pursuing some other creative outlet. Cooking or maybe looking into brewing beer again comes to mind. Being alone is the perfect time to pick up a hobie that you may have started a few years ago. Or maybe there’s something that you’ve always wanted to start but can’t find the time.

A friend of mine is watch youtube videos on woodworking. The same friend who helped me build the shelves that I spoke about in my post on, building shelves building community. He’s finding people who are doing creative and interesting projects that are in line with his shared interests in woodworking. The Bourbon Moth is one of the finds he told me about. They’re a company that makes furniture using reclaimed pieces of wood. They also have loads of YouTube videos on diy woodworking projects.

If woodworking’s not your thing, maybe you’re into a sport or knitting. There are so many people out there sharing their passions on YouTube or by blogging and podcasting, that there is no shortage of ways to connect with others about what you’re into. All you need to do is get out there and look around a bit. Who knows what you’ll discover. And don’t forget to let those you care about know along the way. You may just learn something new about an old friend or family member.

Another way I’m taking care of myself is by attending to my need for some variety in my diet. Before I went into quarantine, I went to the grocery store to stock up on some supplies. Snack foods I could keep in my room that I knew would lift my spirits while I was pacing around the tiny square footage of my bedroom.

I knew I wasn’t going to be spending the time in my kitchen that I normally do, cooking meals for the week and going food shopping. So having a few healthy snacks that I could munch on during the day in between either leftovers from the fridge or takeout is something I look forward to. Knowing that I’m looking out for myself and taking care of those small needs is gratifying and comforting. It’s like knowing I’m here for myself when things get tough.

If you’ve read my post on sorting your music collection, you’ll know that I’m weeding out some of my music library as well. I’ve also started a new playlist of songs to look into, that I’ve heard while at work or out and around. I’ll play it on shuffle when I’m doing a task and if I hear a song I like, I listen to the album to see if it’s a keeper.

I noticed that I play the same few albums over and over again on repeat. And it’s not that I don’t like those songs, but after a while I need a little variety with what I’m listening to. Doing the same things, whatever they are, over and over again is mentally draining. This way I’m mixing things up in my daily routine musically and discovering new songs I like at the same time. I’m also thinking less about the past as well.

It’s strange how music has the ability to bring us back to times and places in our lives. I know for me I avoided a lot of the music I used to listen to. I’m not hitched to the old songs as I once was when they come up. I know that they’re there, but I don’t fear them popping up as much as I used to. Because I’m building a more positive connection with the tracks I’m listening to now. Associating them with a brighter outlook and a more positive times and places.

Another aspect of my life I’m tending to is taking care of my house plants. I have a moderate collection of plants I’ve collected over the years. I have them on a schedule for watering and feeding, but asides from the basics I haven’t put a lot of effort into their maintenance. Lately I’ve been doing some research on them. What their ideal environments are, what’s the difference between low light and medium light needs? Ways to get more moisture to plants that like high humidity.

I’m currently trying to bring a crispy wave birds nest fern back to life. It isn’t quite the right time of year for it’s growing season, but I’ve put a plan in place to bring it the love it needs when it wakes up. For example I was watering the center of the plant before, which is where the new frond growth happens. A little research said that this is a good way to stop new fronds from coming up. So I’ve started watering around the sides.

It’s a nice feeling attuning to my plants needs. Searching out new ways to care for them while adjusting my care routine to reflect these new habits I’m trying to develop. Because that’s what I’m also doing for myself really. I know I need food, but I don’t want just any food. I want something nutritious but also something I’ll enjoy. Same with music and reading. I enjoy these things and want to cultivate positive experiences around them while discovering new favorites. There’s so much out there to discover and experience, but we won’t find what we’re looking for if we’re focused on how alone we feel.

Those are the current ways I am attending to my needs while isolated in quarantine. The stress of isolation is still here, that doesn’t go away. But knowing that I’m connected to my larger support group, and caring for my own needs is a huge resource. The old feelings of neglect still pop up once and awhile, but they are surrounded by so much more support then they ever have been before that they aren’t as pressing or encompassing, intense as they once were.

The loneliness isn’t so lonely knowing I can reach out to people. The boredom isn’t so heavy knowing that I’m pursuing interests and hobbies. Life feels a little more full. Like I’m more me. As Tara Brach put it, “it’s survival of the nurtured, not the fittest.” And while I’m attending to my fitness levels, I’m thriving because I’m nurturing the parts of my life that used to lay neglected. First by others, then by myself.

It took a lot of work to get to the place where I can feel this nurtured. But it’s not impossible and it gets easier with help. It may seem bleak for the moment, but remember that this too shall pass. And a little bit of self nurturing can go a long way. So be kind to yourself. Pick up that hobie that you’ve always been interested in. Reach out to that friend you haven’t spoken to in years. Go through your libraries and rediscover some old favorites or find some new ones. Whatever it is, do it with kindness and you will be nurturing yourself. Until next time, peace and thanks for reading 🙂

Image Credits: “empty room” by tozzer577 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Search for a Laundry Basket: What your Environment Tells you About Yourself

I’ve been looking for a laundry basket, two actually, to replace the ones I have currently. The ones I have work, they’re functional in that they hold dirty clothes, but they just don’t sit right with me. I recently bought one of the baskets I’m using and the other is a hand-me-down. But the one I recently bought has since bent in a few places because it’s not the most sturdily designed basket. And the hand-me-down is cracked, dirty and an eye sore.

For a while I was telling myself “they were only laundry baskets, it doesn’t matter what they look like”. But the more I used them, cleaned around them and walked past them, the more I realized they were not only less functional because of how cheaply they were made, but I also feel as though they were saying to me, “are you willing to settle for this? Two cheaply made hampers that you will be looking at for however long it takes for them to break?”

And the answer was a resounding no! So why was I holding on to them when I could replace them with so much ease? The easy answer is, if you’ve read my post on budgeting, you’ll know I’m saving money for an emergency fund. So being frugal was my default, easy out. But the tough answer is that I just didn’t feel like I was worth something better.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me and the sadder it all felt. They were something I looked at everyday and every time I looked at them I felt a little worse that they were there. But I just kept telling myself that they were doing their jobs. Don’t fix what’s not broken. You can make do.

So there they sat. And when I dressed in the morning or evening, I just accepted that I was settling for less. Until I got it in me that they needed replacing. I’m not positive what the final straw was, but by the grace of God, I decided to start searching for new baskets. I’m looking for something sturdy and preferably sustainable, but most importantly, I’m looking for something that makes me feel better about the ways I choose to live my life and what I surround myself with.

As a comparison, one of the first apartments I lived in more resembled a trash heap than a dwelling. I was living in a run down part of town. And I remember one day or maybe it was a week, the trash had piled up so high on the floor that I had to wade through calf high drifts to get to the bathroom. And that’s how I lived my life. Surrounded by piles of garbage.

And my surroundings were definitely a reflection of how I was feeling about myself. Worthless. As though I wasn’t worthy of the time or effort to deserve nicer or more quality things. This was most likely the catalyst for my decision to replace my laundry baskets, but it took a long time to come to that conclusion. It has been 17 years since I lived in that apartment. My house is much cleaner than it used to be and I was still clinging to parts of the past that I no longer needed. So why was I holding on so tight, what was I afraid of?

Well part of the problem was that my experience was a learned one, from my care-givers. Not that either lives in squalor, but they never expressed a sense of inherent self value to, or around me. No doubt they in turn learned from their care-givers as well. So much of their value was based on the things they owned and wore.

So it’s not their fault as they fell into the trap that is perpetuated by the never ending chase to feel accepted and cool. But the message still persisted: I’m not worth the time and effort to take care of myself and my surroundings. I’m willing to settle for less. And it was this mindset that I grew up with, was surrounded by and carried with me into adulthood.

The more we decide to take care of ourselves, replace the broken things in our lives with the things we enjoy, the more we are telling ourselves that we are worth the time, effort and care. We don’t have to just settle for what’s here because it’s working for now and that’s good enough.

And this may seem to run counter to the message of my blog. That buying things will bring you happiness. And in a way, it does. But the act of replacing things that are causing you suffering, or at least some dis-ease with those things that bring joy, seems to me anyway more an act of self-care than setting our values at what we purchase or how we are seen. The more we can enjoy the spaces we dwell in, the greater the ability we have of cultivating a sense of ease, joy and comfort. And these things are important. If they weren’t, places like prisons wouldn’t feel like you were paying a debt to society, it’d be more like a hotel.

This type of settling for less is also another form of self neglect. Settling for less or letting the broken pieces fill up your life until you are surrounded by a life’s time worth of cobbled together pieces of the unuseable is not the way to feel as though you are a whole, dynamic person, worth something or have inherent value.

This is what I am talking about when I say our environment is telling us stories about ourselves. All you need to do is look around the areas of your life where you spend the most amount of time to get a feel for where your self values lay. Are they filled with trinkets that remind you of loved ones or good times? Are they cluttered or disorganized? Do you use or appreciate the things that are in these places or are they just taking up space?

For me, the bedroom, kitchen and living room are the big three where I spend the most amount time. They all have aspects of them I’d like to change and unfortunately I’m not in a position to make the definitive decision on how or when to change them. But regardless, it’s worth the time to take stock of your surroundings and notice, what are the things you’d like to see changed?

As I said, I’m not able to make the changes I’d like to, but I have a list and a few boards on Pinterest where I’ve already planned out what my future living spaces are going to look like. So even if you’re not in a position to make the changes you’d like to, it never hurts to make some some-day plans for when you’re able.

Or if it’s a shared space, bring everybody together that uses the space and find out how they feel about it. Start a discussion about it. Who knows where it could lead. And you’d also be building better, stronger relationships while doing these projects together and healthier communication skills by understanding and attuning to each other’s needs. Getting to know their likes and dislikes and in turn, know them more wholly as a person.

So if you’ve been holding on to something for far too long just because it still works. A chipped glass, broken mug or a shower caddy that’s seen one too many showers, maybe it’s time to ask yourself, “what am I holding onto this for?” Changing your surroundings may help to bring more ease to your day to day life. And in may help to establish a stronger feeling of self-worth and value. Peace, 🙂 and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Dirty Laundry” by Changhai Travis is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Attunement and Self-Care: Knowing How to Attune to Our Feeling Selves

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE I grew up in a family that never spoke about their feelings. That’s not hyperbole, we never spoke about anything actually, and feelings were especially taboo. If we view feelings and emotions as a language to convey and communicate needs, we were deaf and mute. It has taken me decades of time, fumbling around with, and trying to understand this language that had eluded myself and my caregivers for so long. So now that I’ve grasped the basics of my emotional language, I’m realizing how connected my understanding of my emotional states, are intertwined with self-care. For some (hopefully most), this is not news. Knowing how you’re feeling at any given time and then being able to respond appropriately in the moment is second nature. And that’s great, but if we’ve experienced trauma, and we’ve been disconnected from our feelings 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. 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 patients. I remember the day clearly, that I found the emotional space to hold difficult emotions without reacting to the discomfort of the feelings. I was waiting for a woman whom 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, 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 patients. If we’ve grown up in families where we feel like a burden, or there’s been neglect, 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, belong, then when the people who are supposed to show us love, instead are filled with contempt, we may take on that contempt and aim it inwardly, at the places we feel are “unlovable”. Because if we didn’t have these “unlovable” places, we would logically be loved by our loved ones, right? Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE 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, loved. I took everything personally because I didn’t know how to draw clear boundaries between myself and my emotions and those of my caregivers, and I felt so much of my belonging hinged on their approval, their good moods, that I may or may not be responsible for, that I was constantly in tune to them. Even the 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 and beer to slow me down. This was how I learned to ignore the most basic of needs to feel a sense of being loved and feeling belonging. 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 patients felt again, it was meditation, yoga and running that helped me practice and foster a place for patients to grow in defiance of the fear. And it wasn’t easy. I was putting off feeling a lot of emotions, and when I sat down to learn how to feel again, they all came flooding back. 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, something I’m still coming to understand. Running and yoga helped me to understand how to push my boundaries and limits in a healthy way, build resilience. The reason these methods were so helpful was, because like I said, it was tough work being with my difficult emotions, running and yoga mirrored the difficulty level of being in a difficult emotion, but it 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 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 has 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 these difficult feelings. And the more we practice coming home to the space where we put unwanted feelings, what we’ve been avoiding feeling, the more we show ourselves the patients and kindness that are necessary for self-care and for feeling the difficult emotions. Like the 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 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 along the way. These are the tools I’ve found to be helpful to attune and reconnect with our feeling selves. 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 of Self by Creating Healthy, New, and Self-Sustaining 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 I had a deeply entrenched belief about the nature of men having to be tough and unfeeling while women were “afforded the luxury” of being pampered and taken care of.

If that was tough to read, then I’m on the right path because it definitely
did not feel okay to write. The strong sexist overtones were literally and metaphorically 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 them. I’m surprised that I found my way out of the maze they dumped me in at all.

I would spend my days watching my mother drink coffee all morning long while driving to multiple locations to shop for clothing or house wares that she called running errands. She would then meet her mother and they would gossip and complain about the people closest to them in their lives. In the early evening she would switch to drinking vodka tonics, cooking dinner and paying bills or budgeting at the kitchen table. She would finish the night by watching hours of television. She was in perpetual motion or at very least she filled her time with distractions that would keep her from sitting with her internal life.

I love my mother but from her is where I learned to avoid my emotions with either chemicals or distractions. The men in my life weren’t much more emotionally intelligent either. Using mostly anger and aggression to hammer their points home. I don’t remember many teachable moments in my childhood. Where an authority would sit me down and explain to me why what I just did wasn’t the safest or best way to react to a situation. But there was a lot of yelling and beatings for not following the rules. 

So it was here that I was left. The maze between my mother’s teachings of neglecting my emotional body and the fear I learned from the male role models in my life. Fear and neglect were emotional states I knew well growing up in my family. I now know that it wasn’t their fault. They 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 them were all the unattended emotions that were wildly in need of some kind, structured attention. But when you’re a child just learning how to communicate with your loved ones and learning the languages they’re modeling for you with their spoken and implied rules, it’s difficult to understand that it’s not you. It isn’t personal.

As children we are often the centers of our own worlds. When we sit at the kitchen table listening to our parents cutting up others for their perceived shortcomings often enough, it can be tough to suss out when they turn their disdain towards us in a moment of frustration and the child becomes the target, that the children have not fallen into the category of “other”. Not belonging with and to their parents. Showing the child that the love the parents once gave so freely is conditional and unstable.

This can be a lonely place. One filled with fear for not belonging and self-doubt, as to what the child could have done that made their parents turn on them so quickly. I know for myself, that this was how I was feeling and it is something that I’ve carried with me through the years. If our foundation of how we view ourselves is built on these criticisms then we are left with a very unstable vision of how we see ourselves. This is where a nourishing self-care routine came to help me overcome some of the self-doubt and fear that had been instilled in me from very early on.

From my experience, when we practice self-care, we are sending the opposite message to ourselves. One of being important, being valuable. The more often we send ourselves these positive messages that we care enough about ourselves to nurture ourselves, the less we are to believe the messages of neglect and abuse we received from our caretakers in our youth. As an old co-worker of mine used to say, it’s as though you are saying to 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, and if you add neglect on top of that, it can feel insurmountable at times! But what helps to embody these messages of care we take for ourselves is repetition and consistency. We need to make showing up for ourselves a habit.

Which brings us to self-care Sundays! I know for me, I needed to set some time aside each week, so I could just relax. And even learning to relax was a challenge! So it started with finding the time to begin to learn, which for me is Sunday night. Since I work in the food industry, my Sunday is my Friday, and 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 the day gets or how many tasks pile up at work, I have some time to myself where I can do something special for myself. Or just be without worrying about what to do next.

And this is where consistency is important. I needed the set structure of having a specific day, with a set time, to be able to learn that I could count on myself to show up. 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 stated above, it’s even more difficult for men because societally, self-care has historically fallen in the realm of the feminine.

Which was another obstacle I found myself navigating around. 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 in nature. I had to teach myself that kindness was not a feminine emotion, but a human one.

The following paragraph 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, cooked, cleaned and soothed him using whatever means necessary. She was submissive and navigated her world with a childlike naivety. 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 that was the work of women. I was unable to feel kindness being a man, so I needed a woman to feel it for me. Asides from this being an extremely unhealthy dynamic and possibly co-dependant, it taught me the lesson that I couldn’t be kind to myself or others.

As a child I was given a considerable amount of mixed messages. Kindness being the woman’s job or even having emotions being feminine, being a few of them. But to my younger self it made sense because all the men in my life were terrifying and the source of most of my abuse. While the women were 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. But it was these roles that were causing me a considerable amount of fear and anxiety.

Little did I realize that this was my family’s way of 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 care is on the line and you are unable to provide that care for yourself, then I imagine we would go to great lengths to try to control our sources of care. How we’re loved, seen and belong.

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 in certain ways, we are still capable of giving ourselves the care we need. We are still worthy of love and we still belong. We’re not only willing, but perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves and it can be enjoyable too.

Now that I’ve gone over some of the ways we may find resistance in attempting a little 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 picture ourselves and how we imagine the rest of the world sees us. Till next time, bring an open mind. 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

Toxic Masculinity: The Pitfalls of Growing Up Male

I was a child of the eighties. As a male, that meant a lot of different things. As far as my most influential role-models were concerned, they were Sylvester Stallone from “Rambo 2”, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in, “The Predator”. Two men who used gratuitous violence to get what they wanted, and defend what was rightfully theirs. With regards to my emotions, I only had two. Anger which was most prevalent, and the confidence to use my justified anger to protect what was morally right using aggression. These were the lenses through which I was taught to view the world and started as soon as I could speak.

In the world I grew up in, men were men and took what they wanted while drinking whiskey and women were weak and caretakers of their men and children. At the time, I had no idea how unhealthy this polarized idea of how men and women, “should act” was. But I was also a child, where black and white thinking was how I and most children viewed and navigated their worlds.

Unfortunately or fortunately for me I experienced a fair amount of abuse, trauma and neglect, which jettesenned me from the path of the above form of masculinity which I’ve come to know as toxic masculinity. But it took a while to come to this conclusion and I definitely tried to fit in using the methods that were being modeled for me in my youth.

I drank whiskey neat because I thought it was the mark of a man. James Bond, who was one of my role models as well, did so. I watched movies like “Apocalypse Now” and “Fight Club” on repeat, taking notes on how to be the manliest of men by looking and acting the part to the best of what I thought my family would approve of. I even studied Heath Ledger’s Joker because he was sort of in line with the ideology of what I thought it meant to be a man. It helped that the role models I had terrorized me in the way I saw the Joker psychologically terrify people.

Luckly, I no longer look to role models like these and God only knows where I’d be if I had continued down that path. What was so insidious on how I started to idolize those characters was not because I had loads of quality time with male role models mirroring this type of behavior. But rather it was due to neglect mixed with subtle and not so subtle criticisms from my role models that left me not knowing how to be as a man.

For instance, my mother told me I was sensitive constantly. More often than not it was when I was showing an emotion other than the two, pre-approved “manly” emotions of anger and confidence. I did not have the ware-with-all to say she’d be sensitive too if she was neglected by her mother as she sent wave after wave of terrifying men to abuse her. That being said, I recognize that it didn’t start with my mother. Her mother, my grandmother handed down her child-rearing handbook to my mother. So I know she must have lived through some of what I experienced.

Telling me that I was sensitive in a way that always felt as though I were being placated in a condescending tone taught me that it wasn’t okay to have feelings. For most of my adult life I didn’t know what feelings were. Not only was there no one there to model healthy emotional boundaries for me, anytime I expressed one that wasn’t acceptable or was unmanly, I was shamed for having them.

The one feeling I came to know by name and understand well was anxiety. And that was only in the times between the 4 to 5 lattes I would drink during the day to stay ahead of my emotions and the 5 to 6 beers or mixed drinks I would have at night to numb the emotions when they eventually did catch up with me. And they were paralyzing.

And even then the ingrained trainings on how to be a “man” still wouldn’t allow me to see my emotions as something to listen to. As a marker for something being out of alignment. During one of my yearly physicals I was speaking to my physician about the anxiety attacks I would have sometimes looking to be prescribed some sort of anti-anxiety medication. Only I told him, “I just can’t live with this weakness inside of me anymore” referring to my anxiety. Luckily, he looked at me with empathy and said that feelings aren’t weaknesses.

Unfortunately that was one of the few times I could remember receiving any kind of healthy emotional modeling. I had a life’s time worth of harsh criticism leading me in the unhealthful direction of toxic masculinity resulting in the bravado of understanding my inner emotional life as a weakness to be rooted out.

So what sparked this awakening so to speak, of how I came to understand just how toxic the perception of being a man meant? And how it was being modeled for me in my youth? And what gave me the ability to want to change my future? It all started when I stopped running from my emotions. But to do that, I had to go digging through my past first.

I spent a lot of time in Vermont as a child. Most of my family was living there at that time and we would often visit on weekends and holidays. One visit during the winter months I remember my uncle telling me to go get wood from the wood pile and stack it next to the fire place. I couldn’t have been more than eight at the time so I asked for a hat because it was January in Vermont. That meant it was cold. He thought for a second and with a mocking gesture, reached into the closet and retrieved a mesh baseball cap. I was too young to question his authority but I remember standing out by the wood pile freezing while trying to grab armloads of wood to bring into the house. Even then I knew something was amiss. 

The message my uncle was sending me, although I was too young to know it at the time, was that man should be able to endure whatever unpleasant or difficult sensations come up. Regardless of what they may be, even if they were self imposed. Instead of modeling that a man should take care of himself by using the appropriate tool for the situation. In this situation a knit cap for the sub-freezing temperatures of Vermont would have been a healthy lesson to learn. Instead in my eight year-old mind I was taught the lesson that men should endure even the harshest of situations without complaint.

When I found out that I was unable to get rid of the feelings that I was told I shouldn’t be feeling, i.e. the discomfort and uncertainty of being unable to live up to the standard of “man” that my family was measuring me to, I learned to numb them later in life through coffee, alcohol and medication. Sure without feelings I could finally live up to the image of what my family thought I should be and therefore my image of how a man should behave, but I also lost myself along the way. And that way of living was unsustainable at very least.

I was unable to foster and keep close relationships with others to any meaningful degree because I was unable to empathize with or understand how or what someone was going through on an emotional level. I was completely controlled by my emotions. I was terrified of them popping up unexpectedly. So I stayed hyper vigilant to keep the fear of unwanted emotions at bay while finding ways of controlling my inner experience by numbing or pleasure seeking behaviors. The list of methods I used to control my emotions is long, but control of my inner life was my number one priority. Not to feel the emotions I had been running from since I was a child, being sent the message that my emotions were dangerous to feel and unmanly.

This type of behavior, on how men should be raised according to my family and to some degree societally, is founded on two basic principles from what I can gather. The first principle, men should not talk about their emotions, and second, normalizing this form of abuse by labeling it what it means to grow up male.

Men were not supposed to talk about their emotions. As I mentioned above there were only two or so emotions that were acceptable for men to express. Anything outside the realm of anger or confidence was labeled unmasculine and as a male you would be too sensitive if you expressed them. Men were supposed to be hard, physically and emotionally unyielding and unforgiving. 

But it was this modality of being emotionally calloused that prevented me from creating close relationships. You can’t be attuned to yourself and others in an authentic way if you have such a high standard of how to behave that no one would be able to add up to it. Everyone, including ourselves would always be a disappointment. Letting us down for never achieving some impossible standard. Such as not being allowed to feel emotions of vulnerability and tenderness as a man.

When you view the world through this lens, it’s easy to become jaded and see the people around us as nothing but potential let downs. “Why bother” would become our default mantra when it comes to building connections and friendships. In the end the relationship will never be satisfying because we will eventually show our vulnerabilities to one another and if it’s one thing that men are not, according to the unspoken rules of my upbringing, it is vulnerable.

And the why we as men seem to stay wrapped in this idea of perpetually being unable to speak about our emotions, is that it’s just the way men are.

My mother said to me countless times growing up, “I don’t know how to raise a man”. This not only sent me the message that I wasn’t adding up to what her standard of how a man should behave, but also there was no way that I would be able to act as a man. Because first, internally I was terrified of all the male role models in my life due their abusive tendencies. But second, and what my mom was probably referring to was I had no male role models. Healthy or unhealthy, that took the time to show an interest in me as a person. To find out what my strengths were and where I could grow as a person. I was polarized with either abuse, or neglect.

With this amount of uncertainty it becomes easy to fall into the trap of finding someone who will tell you what to do or how to feel. And there is no shortage of people willing to fill this role. I spent the first half of my life looking to recreate this power dynamic in my relationships. Trying to find someone who would criticize me into submission. There’s a sort of cold comfort in knowing that your life isn’t your responsibility. But this type of thinking and being leads to stagnation and the inability to move on with our lives or affect real change. Not to mention the unhealthy drinking habit I picked up along the way as well. As well as many other unhealthy habits in order to avoid the responsibility of my life.

For me it meant reliving the cycles of my trauma. Trapped in a life without meaning because I couldn’t get passed the feeling that I wasn’t in charge of my own life. That somehow, how others saw me was more important than how I was treating and responding to myself. Or more to the point, I thought I needed someone else to tell me I was on the right path when the only person who could know that was me.

What allowed me to recognize these unspoken family rules and then implement changes for a healthier version of myself was time spent away from my family and me hitting my bottom. I was with a woman I who I married and we were together eight years. I left her for another woman, one who was much younger than I was. It was not a wise decision and I’m sure I could have found other ways to come to terms with my emotions and have stayed married. But the reason I left my then wife was because when I was with the woman who I left my wife for, I felt heard and seen for the first time since I was a child. I felt safe, unjudged.

She would later leave me which was for the best but this left me with nowhere to go and no one to rely on except to come to terms with the person I had become. I moved back in with my father at 34 and began building a relationship that was not based around the unspoken rules of my upbringing. It was scary. It went against all my teachings of what it means to be a man. I.e. it left me feeling vulnerable and uncertain. Confused and scared, but I learned that I could live through these emotions and I could be stronger for them.

Since letting go of the toxicaly masculine lessons I was raised with, I’ve gained control of my life again. I’ve come to make healthier choices about my diet and spending habits. I seldom drink alcohol and have one to two cups of green tea a day. I’ve found direction in my life and I’m starting to build and maintain healthy relationships with friends, old and new again. It’s not always easy but my life is my own now and I no longer seek the approval of someone else to tell me how I’m doing. Or how I’m measuring up.

These are the gifts that being your own man are able to yield. Strong and soft are my new goals, not hard and unyielding. Because unlike the curriculum I was given in my childhood, might does not equal right. There is strength in coming to understand, attune and attend to our own inner emotional lives. But it takes courage.

We have it in us, to embody the strength we need. Some say we were built for it. So take heart dear reader. Know you are not alone and you are already the best version of yourself. You only need uncover yourself 🙂 Peace.

Image Credits: “Texans bravado is a little chilling.” by Tolka Rover is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0