Living Your Life: Self-Care

Self-care is something I’ve written quite a bit about on this blog. And fortunately, there are a bunch of ways to practice it. But finding healthy routines that are sustainable, and not getting caught in the trap of finding what feels good in the moment is a difficult one to navigate. And unfortunately, the more unhealthy habits are something that is usually passed down by those closest to us. There was no class in high-school, when I went anyway, for teaching us how to take care of ourselves and our needs.

This is an unfortunate truth for those of us who didn’t have the support to find out how to practice this skill. It is also at the core of how we grow, and become the best versions of ourselves. That’s why I go over it so frequently in this blog. Because I believe the more we take care of ourselves, the better we our at taking care of our environment. Immediate, but also globally. In this post, I’ll be taking a look at some of the ways I practiced unsustainable self-care, and the healthier habits I’ve picked up in their stead.

I think the first way I learned how to practice self care was by playing video games and watching T.V.. These aren’t inherently bad habits in anyway, but they are ones that I definitely used in unhealthy ways. I was using them, video games especially, to dull my senses. To “zone out” my surroundings so I didn’t have to interact, be a part of what was happening to, and around me. But I was also introduced to video games shortly before some traumatic events in my past took place. So in a way I was playing them to escape the chaos of what was happening in my life. It was a defense mechanism.

But they were something that I did for decades of my life, to avoid those closest to me. I was well into my thirties and still playing games like World of Warcraft for hours a day. If I had gotten a second job and worked as many hours as I played, I’d have a healthy retirement fund by now. It also took a toll on my marriage as well. I was spending more time with a video game than with connecting with my then wife. This makes me sad to think about, but I also recognize that I was still in protection mode. I still hadn’t realize that I wasn’t able to trust those closest to me, and that I was perpetuating the cycles of my past. Looking back, there was a lot of pain that wasn’t being recognized or even known about, first by me, then by everybody I was pushing away with an arrogant disposition.

But that’s the nature of what happens after we experience trauma. We go into shock and dissociate. I was definitely dissociated from all of my emotions, save for the very strong ones such as pain and anxiety. The times I wasn’t feeling these emotions, I was doing whatever I could to numb myself incase they came rushing back in. T.V. is another good example of dissociation in my case. I spent so many hours of watching others live their lives out on the screen, only to avoid what was happening to and around me. Another way for me to zone out, aka dissociate.

But again, I was still only trying to protect myself, the best ways I knew how at the time. Using this method, I could still be around those closest to me, without actually having to connect with them in a meaningful way. I could be around them, and keep up the appearance of being a functioning member of my community, while still keeping largely to myself.

And the same was true of alcohol and medication. For me, being numb was safer than being present. This was because there were so many ways I was afraid of being hurt.

But all the while, using all the different modalities I could find to dissociate, I was really seeking to numb the fear of being with those closest to me, but also with myself. The relationship I was most frightened of was of being with myself, and the ways I had picked up the habits and ways of abusing myself, in the same manner I saw my caregivers abuse themselves, but also the ways they in turn abused me. Like a cursed family heirloom being handed down from one generation to the next.

And all the while, while I was avoiding and numbing my relationships and my feelings, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t building the most important relationship, with myself. I had no idea outside of alcohol, video games and T.V., what brought me a sense of joy. I had no idea what I liked as a way to treat myself asides from using unsustainable methods and just plain hiding from my feelings and other people. This was kind of a shock when I realized how disconnected I was from who I am.

Luckily I wasn’t completely in the dark and without any resources. I knew that I liked music. Still a great source of comfort for me. Also one that has been there for me, in one form or another, for most all of my life. I can remember the first time I ever heard and loved a piece of music. I was probably not more than four or five, and I had just gotten my first alarm clock. Not that I had anywhere to be back then, but I remember scanning the stations and exploring my new device. I came across a piece of classical music and was mesmerized. The violins in particular were what stuck out to me. From that day on I knew I loved music.

But it was exactly these types of memories, this type of intimacy with myself that I had lost or forgotten. The moments of, “I enjoy this, this makes me happy”, was something I had lost touch with shortly after my trauma and then again when I was actively seeking to numb myself with whatever was easy. Aka, video games, T.V., drinking and medication. These were definitely not easy places to inhabit emotionally. And I usually felt as though there were some unattended emotions just waiting around the corner.

And there were. Lots of them. I still hadn’t dealt with the feelings and emotions from my abuse and the trauma I endured. How could I have when I was actively seeking to numb them for so long! So it wasn’t until I stopped doing those things that were keeping my emotions at bay that I truly began to feel, and understand the emotional life I was leaving unattended.

I first started with lessening my alcohol consumption. This was a difficult task, seeing as how I was drinking five to six drinks a night, just to wind down. But I did, and I’ve felt healthier ever since. I’ve replaced my nightly beers or mixed drinks with a few cups of herbal tea. This way I can relax and unwind without being intoxicated. I can stay present in the moment instead of zoning out.

It’s important to remember too, that this is a big transition. Or it was for me. I sometimes feel as though I’m drinking too much tea. This is where it is important to reality check myself. Having three, sometimes four cups of herbal tea is not the same as having four mixed drinks. I like to think of this part of me as Freud’s classic super-ego. This is also incidentally the part of me that is a perfectionist. The one that sets unreasonable standards and then will beat me up for not achieving them. This can be dangerous if left unchecked.

I’ve also been eating healthier overall, and leaving one night a week where I plan and make a special meal for myself to wrap up my work week. This way I am eating healthier foods and making healthier nutritional decisions, while also treating myself to something tasty that I am looking forward to making during the week. I also plan some sort of dessert into my special meal. So I feel as though it is a little break from the norm.

When I was drinking as much alcohol as I was at night, I was 50 to 60 pounds overweight. And the food I was eating was definitely not thought through in regards to their nutritional values. I was overweight and felt unhealthy most of the time. So the time I spend now on taking care to nourish myself brings me a sense of ease. One where I’m looking out for my health, but also finding foods I enjoy cooking and eating and that taste phenomenal as well. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to sacrifice the things I like to take care of my needs.

Yoga is another way I incorporate self-care into my routine. With the amount of T.V. and video games I watched and played, I needed to get my body moving, and reconnect with the parts of me that had been stagnant for far too long. And it’s worth mentioning that it took me a while to figure out a routine that was healthy, yet took care of my need to move and connect with my body in a healthy way.

For example, when I first started doing yoga, I was going to two 60 minute classes a week on top of running 10 to 20 miles as well. My workout routine has evolved from then and until recently I was working out three days in a row, two yoga and one run day without a rest inbetween. My cycle was three days on, four days off. This was okay, but it left me feeling depleted, drained. I enjoyed the workouts but the intensity of doing it all in one block was too much. Again with the super-ego : )

I’ve since switched to a workout every other day, with two days off in a row at the end of my week. This way I have a chance to relax a little between workouts, while also not feeling as tired on a workout day. I also look forward to my workouts more often now. Knowing that I’m taking care of my need to rest between workouts is a huge step towards me being able to listen to and care for what my needs are, all the while learning how to listen to what my body is telling me.

I’ve also been paying attention to what my body needs for rest more frequently as well. I used to stay up late, and for no real reason other than I wanted to watch more T.V.. I was usually idly wasting time, doing and gaining nothing from the extra energy I was expending doing nothing. I now go to bed when I’m tired, or at least recognize when I am tired without trying to cover over those feelings with alcohol or caffeine. It’s amazing what your body will tell you when you’re not trying to drown out its messages with something to get in the way of listening.

Another way I’ve been trying to implement some self-care into my routine is in an unlikely place but one that needs some attention nonetheless. My budget. I got into a lot of debt when I was in my twenties and thirties. Credit cards, student loans, if it was money someone was willing to lend me, I was willing to take it. Now that I’ve been paying off my debt, I’ve kicked it into overdrive and have been going hard. Again with the Super-Ego.

I picked up a second job and am funneliung all available funds towards my debt, via the Dave Ramsey method to get out of debt and live your life. I was going so far as to not buy a cup of tea or coffee on the mornings I was working 18 hour days including a three hour commute! This was a bit much.

You’ll be happy to know that I now buy myself a tea once and awhile, but I also plan on budgeting a treat for myself while I’m paying back my debt. I plan on treating myself to a massage for every 10k I pay off in loans. This way I’m still focused on my goals, but also have something to look forward to while I’m in the midsts of working two jobs and doubles. This can be stressful incase you’ve never been in this boat : D But also necessary to keep some balance and not feel completely burnt out.

These are a few of the routines I’ve developed in helping to live a healthier, more balanced life. I’ve stopped watching T.V. almost completely, but plan on watching some as I don’t want my super-ego to get out of hand in this area either. Having healthy habits isn’t always easy, but it’s possible and rewarding. So if there is something that you feel you’ve been leaning on too much, maybe try replacing some of it with a healthier habit.

Exercise is a good one to start with because a lot of what you need to start is free or cheap. Yoga with Adriene is a great resource if you’ve been thinking of yoga as an outlet. And if running is something that’s piqued your interests, all you need is a pair of shoes. And remember, you don’t have to make major changes all at once! Living a healthy life takes time and practice. Don’t give into the super-ego : ) Take your time and you’ll be in good shape. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Juicy Mountain Retreat (Göcek, Turkiye 2018)” by paularps is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Self-Care: Listening to Ourselves When We are Asking for a Rest

When I wake up in the morning, I know I’m usually going to have a pretty long list of things to do during the day. From my hour and fifteen minute commute, to the demands I have to meet at work. The workouts I like to get in, at least twice during the week, to all the budgeting, cooking, cleaning and laundry I have to squeeze in during the week, it gets pretty stressful.

I meditate everyday, for about fifteen minutes, and it’s been invaluable for my mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s taught me patients, how to slow down what I’m doing and listen inwardly to what’s happening inside. I used to react immediately to my emotions, which lead to a lot of regrets and hurt feelings on either end of the relationship and was unconducive to feeling at ease. In fact, the more I sped up, the faster the reaction, the more likely I was to do or say something I would later regret.

So the faster I went, the more hurt I felt, which left me feeling tired and neglected. And I didn’t know any better, it was what was taught to me by my caregivers. And they in turn didn’t know any better either. So we had just been passing down this hurt from generation to generation not really know why we were, or how to stop.

This is where patients with myself made all the difference. Slowing down enough to feel the hurt I had been running from using whatever I could, but mostly keeping myself busy and tired, so I didn’t have to feel what was being neglected. But turning around and feeling so vulnerable in front of what felt like an insurmountable pile of fear and hurt was one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever had to endure. But I did it, and most importantly, I didn’t do it alone.

I now have a long list of tools or resources I’m able to pull from, when I’m feeling tired or like I’m not enough, but that wasn’t always the case. I started with what felt like nothing. Running on empty. Mostly because I was using old resources to fill myself back up. If I could just work hard enough, throw everything I had at how well I did my job, then I could feel worth something. Then I would be accepted. But that hasn’t work for me, and I’m willing to bet a lot of people run into similar results. It mostly left me feeling physically and emotionally hurt and exhausted. And it didn’t stop with work. I was trying to prove myself in all sorts of ways with the same outcome. I was just wearing myself down.

So I was left with what felt like nothing, and on my own, because I was too afraid and wounded emotionally to reach out for help and I didn’t know how, even if I thought it was a good idea. What helped me to wade through the fear and hurt was something I heard later on in my journey, but made immediate sense as soon as I heard it. “Start where you are, with what you have.”

I felt like I had nothing and nobody. What I had was a phone, some headphones, hundreds of hours of podcasts and a handful of loving and supportive friends and family.

The podcasts (thanks again to Tara Brach who really put trauma into perspective for me) helped me to learn how to trust people when it felt like too much to reach out in person while also reinforcing positive messages, that I was strong enough, that I could count on myself and that others were trustworthy. This helped to lighten the load of the negative thoughts I had that had taken up residency in my mind. Knowing that I could tune out the negative while listening to some positive reinforcements, and also that it wasn’t just me feeling the weight of a life’s time worth of emotions, actions and thoughts, but I was doing it with thousands of others, for an hour at a time helped me to feel a little more sane in an otherwise chaotic world.

By the time I felt as though I was strong enough to reach out to others, like I had the resources, the few friends and family I had, that stuck with me were there to start to build the relationships I needed to become stronger than I was on my own. And this is where the load really started to lighten. Knowing I was enough as I was, without having to reach some unachievable standard helped to build strength. Instead of constantly tearing myself down for not feeling as though I was worth someone’s time or effort, mostly my own.

It’s been a crazy journey that’s for sure. And it’s not over, but the weight doesn’t feel as heavy. I now go into my day knowing that even if I’m physically tired or just not up to it, I can rely on the resources and people to help me through the day, or whatever I’m heading into. It doesn’t seem as difficult knowing I can count on them to be there for me when I need them.

But there’s another side to counting on people as resources that’s worth exploring. If the friends or family you do have close in, if they have poor or no boundaries, relying on people as support can feel uncomfortable, like you’re a burden to them, or like you’re using them. This is where it’s important to choose those you keep close carefully. If someone makes you feel as though you are constantly bothering them with your problems, or they ignore or disregard your own personal boundaries, it may be time to take a closer look at the relationship.

For me, I had to evaluate all of my relationships because I had no idea what boundaries were. Salvaging some and severing many, I lost a lot of friends that I thought would be there with me for the rest of my life. I remember vividly, getting together with an old friend at a local Whole Foods to talk and catch up. As we settled into the conversation, I realized she was consistently saying hurtful comments, and it seemed as though she wanted me to return with as much venom. This, I realized later, was the pattern of our old relationship, and she was establishing ground rules, to make sure things hadn’t changed.

Luckily for me they had changed. I forgot how mean spirited I could be, and it was a shock to see my old ways of being so clearly in action. I haven’t spoken much with her after that day, and it’s sad. Sad because there were good times, and people are people, they aren’t objects you can just toss aside. But for me, it’s best to honor the good memories I have while keeping my distance and respecting my boundaries by not allowing myself to be treated with disrespect. Because if you don’t define your boundaries, somebody else will do it for you.

This all seems pretty abstract, but coming up with your own resource list can help you to manage difficulties that come up. For me, I make a selfcare dinner for myself once a week, I have a few friends I reach out to when I’m feeling lonely, a few playlists of songs that remind me of the positive times in my life, running and yoga to help keep me feeling my best, and a few types of teas I enjoy during the day. Sleep is important too. Making sure you’re well rested and have healthy meals are all resources you use to keep yourself at your healthiest version of yourself.

And there’s one more thing that’s worth mentioning, it’s not a race. When I was learning how to care for myself again, I threw everything I had at it. I was going to be the healthiest version of myself and do it in record time! But most of what makes us healthy takes time and patients. Building supportive relationships doesn’t happen in a weekend. You need to tend to them over time and consistently to yield fruitful bonds. And rest often, there’s no sense in being the healthiest version of yourself if you’re too tired to enjoy it.

I hope this has been of some help. It can be difficult when you first start out, looking to make things better for yourself. Just know that if you are consistent and show patients toward yourself, you will be alright in the end. Peace, and thanks for reading :]

Image Credits: “Exhausted Salaryman” by hiromy is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0