“Why am I Pushing Myself So Hard?!” Who’s Standard are We Measuring Up To?

This is something I know all to well. I’m going to share something in this post that I haven’t yet shared with you all, but I think I’m finally ready to take the plunge. I’ve been living up to others standards for my entire life. And it all started on one fateful night in Vermont, 33 years ago.

When I was eight, I watched a close family member die slowly from skin cancer, due to the chemicals she was using for her screen printing business. It was difficult to watch. I remember the seizures she would have and my caregiver holding a metal spoon in her mouth to stop her from swallowing her tongue. Her jagged teeth were evidence of these actions, that left such a vivid imprint on my younger self’s memory.

While she was dying, my family made regular trips to Vermont to be with her and her family while she was passing. It was during these trips where something that would shape the rest of my life happened, and it was based around somebody placing an unreasonable standard on the shoulders of an eight year-old.

During these visits to my family members home in Vermont, we would spend many nights in that beautiful verdant greener. It was during these nights, that another care taker would visit me in the early morning hours.

I would be sound asleep, when suddenly I felt water being poured on me from the outside of my sheets. I opened my eyes to find my caregiver pouring water on my groin. They then pulled me from bed with fervent anger and a flurry of confusion and wet sheets, and scolded me for “wetting the bed”, towering over me in the dark and using whispered, harsh, cold and cutting tones about what I’m not sure of, because to this day I still don’t remember what they said to me. But I know that it had something to do with how to be a man.

I’m not sure the amount of times my caregiver visited me in the night, but it was always confusing, terrifying and left me feeling so alone and so confused about what it meant to be part of a family. Something I’m still coming to terms with to this day.

One night, he pulled me to tell me how good a job I had done because we felt like a family while making dinner. Another as I said above, he poured water on my groin and told me I had wet the bed. I didn’t have feelings for what I was experiencing at the time, but it was intense, terrifying and beyond confusion. I can remember looking in the mirror while I was in the bathroom, cleaning the “urine” off of the sheet I had “wet” and not knowing what was happening, what has happened and what to do about it.

And later, when I told my main caregiver what had happened, they turned their back on me. Leaving the eight year-old me alone on the landing, with no where to go but back to the hands of those who would continue to abuse me. This with the other trauma I was experiencing at the time, lead to a lot of confusion around what it means to have a reasonable standard.

I’ve been living with that standard for my entire life. I’ve only recently begun to take a deeper look at where that feeling is rooted, and in what I’m believing about myself and my belonging. It’s left me with a lot of uneasy questions about how I had been living my life and whose life was I actually living?

As it turns out, I spent most of my life living up to what I thought was expected of me. And what I thought was expected of me was to live life like Jim Morrison. This was the lifestyle my caregivers had adopted and one I had picked up the torch from and ran with. That’s one of the reasons why the lyrics of Lana Del Rey’s song, “Gods and Monsters” struck such a chord with me. “Living like Jim Morrison” was my and my family’s mantra, and the entire reason I started blogging in the first place.

This blog has become a place for me to reparent myself. To learn to live a life that is healthy, and set to my own standards. So what does it look like when you’re living under somebody else’s standards? Let me share with you my experience of what I was going through and how it shaped the ways I saw myself, others and my relationships.

Signs You’re Trying to Fit Someone Else’s Mold

For me, fear and anxiety were the most prevalent feelings. I was always in a state of fear or anxiousness, and it was mostly due to not knowing how to be or behave around others, in order to feel loved and accepted. I drank to numb the fear and kept to myself to avoid the possibility of being rejected by them.

So for me, the feelings of fear were clear indications that I wasn’t comfortable with who I was, because of how I had been raised to believe I wasn’t enough. I had been sent so many spoken and unspoken messages about how people should be, and receiving so much criticism at the same time, that all I knew was that I wasn’t adding up to others expectations. And with no direction, I floated along, absorbing these criticisms and never feeling like I could be accepted for who I am.

That’s where I needed to decide to reject the standards others were putting on me. This wasn’t easy. And I needed help from others along the way as well. I started by finding out what I liked. What are the things and activities, and who are the people I enjoy being around. I needed to find out what my resources were so I could better understand who I was so I could find out who I wanted to be. These are the new standards I had set for myself by finding out who I am as a person.

This is where my values began to take shape. And when I found out what my values were, who I was began to take shape. Some of my core values being, kindness, gratitude, being gentle, hard work and being helpful to others. These are a few of the aspects of what makes me who I am and in turn gives me a standard to rise to.

Resources As Accepting Help

I had to learn how to accept help, not only from others, but also from things like medication, or even a morning cup of tea. This was a tough lesson to learn because I wasn’t willing to accept help from anyone or anything. I was arrogant in that I felt as though I could do it all myself, and do it perfectly. This, however, lead to an amazing amount of stress and anxiety. Without the help of others and things, we’d be incapable of accomplishing anything in our day to day. Our goals would be left unmet and our lives would be left unattended.

Here I’ll be listing a few resources that have helped me along the way, to take care of my body and work towards achieving my goals. So if you’ve been looking for ways to attune to your self and body, after you’ve stretched yourself too thin, here are a few ideas that have worked for me.

Teas

This is a big one for me. As I’ve said previously on this blog, I used to drink up to 5-7 lattes a day and as many beers at night. I was avoiding coming home to my feelings and my body. And after all the abuse I’ve endured it’s no wonder.

So lately I’ve been in the habit of drinking green tea in the morning, and something that is stress relieving at night. This way I still get a little help in the mornings when I need the extra boost, and the tension eased when the day is through. Without going overboard, too far in one direction or the other. I usually drink jasmine green in the morning and Yogi Tea, stress support in the evenings when I’ve had a long day.

Friends and Family

This seems like a no brainer, but if you’re not used to asking for help, it can be difficult to see friends and family as people to listen to you when you need an ear, or just a hug if you’re feeling lonely. This can be especially tricky if you’re on the outs with some family. A situation I know all too well. This is why it’s especially important to stay in touch with those you are closest with and is so important for your mental health and well being.

They can be there to support you when you are feeling at your worst, and you them. They are good for advise and guidance when you’re feeling a little like you don’t know which direction to go or what to do next. And also they’re there for the good times and bad. So you have a shared history of what you’ve been through together which helps to build tighter bonds.

Yoga

This one is an important one for me, as it helped me to realign with my body and it’s needs. Exercising and feeling good about my body has done me a great service for helping me feel safer in my body. A place I was too scared to go to before. Once I started to feel the progress I was making in my practice, I was also feeling more confident in the movements and even in the discomfort of some of the poses. It also helps to know that the sensations don’t last forever. And yoga has helped to bring me to terms with some of the dis-ease around my body.

Therapy

Helping to talk out what you’re going through with someone who is there to listen without the judgements that we may get from others who are close to us is important. Licensed therapists and LSWs are a great resource in helping us to sort through what’s troubling us and can give us good insights as to how to help with our situation.

I’ve been seeing one for a while, and they’ve been there for me through some tough times. Also it’s important to find one who is a good fit for you. Each one has a different style and you may not find the one who is right for you on the first go around. I think I found the person I’m with now after visits with two others. There’s also a growing community of online therapists now as well, if this fits into your schedule better.

Accepting Your Own Pain

This was difficult for me, as there was a life’s time worth of pain and loss to accept and tend to. I’d been avoiding it for so long by speeding past it with caffeine and medications, and by numbing it with more medication and alcohol. What was so difficult about it all was that I didn’t even really know I was doing it. I was self medicating on instinct, like a habitual impulse to push away the pain. It’s strange to think about now, but it makes sense that I didn’t want to feel what was difficult. But as the saying goes, sometimes it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees.

Forgiving

This one was important, and one I’ve come to terms with recently. I first had to forgive myself, for pushing myself to hard, but also forgive those who abused or neglected me, whose footsteps I followed in the lack of care of my own needs. Meditation helped me to come to terms with this one. I needed the time and space around the feelings that were too intense to feel at the time to be able to understand them, where they were coming from and who their origin was with. Myself or someone else. Only then was I able to understand and forgive what was coming up. And this was difficult to do and to recognize at first.

But the more I meditated, the easier it was to recognize when a feeling would come up that was either something I sped past or froze in my youth. The more they came up, the easier it was to first, feel them, but second, to stay with them as they were happening. I could then forgive them for coming up, but also ask for forgiveness from myself for avoiding them in the first place. It wasn’t easy, but the longer you stay with them, the easier they are to be with them.

Conclusion

Whatever your standard maybe, don’t give up. You have more strength and wisdom in you than you believe. I like to think of relying on help from others as the Buddha’s wisdom of relying on sangha, or the group of people closest to you. And that if you ever doubt your true nature, remember that you have Buddha nature. An awakened heart and mind. So let all your feelings, even the difficult ones, just be. Accept them as they are and stay with them.

Image Credits: “y2.d40 | worry lines” by B Rosen is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Living Your Life: Relationships, Romantic

Here’s another topic that I was completely in the dark about. Along with friendships, romance and intimacy were so far from my definition of what a healthy relationship is that I’m amazed I was able to find anybody at all to share my time and experiences with. But as I was taught to develop friendships via poor role modeling, something I went over in my last post, the same rubric was also true of my romantic relationships. Only instead of looking the part by being popular or in charge, I was taught that sex appeal was the most important attribute and way to be valued in a relationship. This was unhealthy, though at the time I didn’t know any better or any other way of being in relationship.

So I chased this impossible standard that was laid out for me. Looking back at how I saw myself in my relationships, I’m not even sure what it was that I was seeking. I had an unrealistic image of what I thought I should be, and no real guide or understanding of how to get to where I thought I should be. And most of the time I think I was just chasing a feeling. Comfortably numb, as Pink Floyd aptly described it.

And if I wasn’t getting the connection and intimacy that are available in healthy relationships, does that mean my partners were also void of these experiences? Or was it a one sided phenomenon? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but my former wife told me before we split up that she had felt safe with me. I felt unsafe most of the time so maybe it was a one sided experience. What I do know for sure is that I had problems feeling intimate and close in relationships, especially with romantic partners.

And I suppose some of this understanding comes from a question of perspective. What does intimacy mean to different people? One popular dating app I am currently using has this as a question for matching purposes, “does intimacy mean sex”. For me, the answer is definitely no, though, that’s what it has meant in the past. It’s an aspect of intimacy for sure, but the way the question is worded suggests you can only be intimate with those you are having sex with. And that seems too close to confusing sex for love to me. Especially being raised by people who’s number one value was sex appeal. This feels much like the environment for conditional love.

So what did I do to over come these doubts blocking me from feeling intimate in my relationships? It took a lot of feeling uncomfortable in my relationships and trust that I would eventually feel a sense of comfort and ease in them. It wasn’t easy, and it’s something I’m still working on. But it’s also something that I can feel myself getting stronger in, and have seen noticable differences in my moods and relationships.

I started by first, reaching out. This may seem obvious for those who have healthy relationships, but for those who have been in abusive or conditional ones, it can be a daunting task to open up to another human, not knowing what to expect. I’m currently using a couple of dating apps, and one way I’ve been reaching out is through sending messages to people I feel I would match well with.

Just the act of letting someone know you are interested is the first and most important step. The environment I grew up in was a very cold one at times. We learned to hold back our emotions and feelings of affection for one another, almost as a way to punish or keep the other person wanting what they can’t have by making it seem as though our regard was unobtainable. But the older I get, the more I realize that this is most likely due to being too scared to open up and be our emotional and vulnerable selves around one another. The feelings of being unlovable were too painful to expose to one another so we hid our feelings and felt ashamed of who we were seen as.

And these were the types of romantic relationships I sought. Where sex appeal was the most important attribute and a relationship that I didn’t have to be responsible for. Either for myself or for my partner. I wasn’t looking out for my partner because I felt as though I had to be constantly guarded to protect myself. I’d later find out that I was hyper vigilant due to the trauma I experienced in my childhood, but while I was experiencing it, I had no idea what it was that I was experiencing. Only that everybody was a potential threat, especially those closest to me, like my partner.

And that’s not to say that there weren’t times where I felt intimate. But these times were not a priority to me in my relationships. I was mostly seeking pleasure, the way I would drink to numb feelings that were too raw. These are the same ways in which I viewed relationships because it was what was shown to me. To switch this way of viewing relationships, as something I used to give me pleasure, I began to accept the people in my life, myself included, for who they are.

Now I no longer look to fit an image of how I think my life should look in order to live up to some comparison, to how I think others will most likely accept me. I’m making decisions based on who I feel I am. But this takes some digging to get to. There were a lot of different voices from my past trying to strong arm me into believing I wasn’t good enough just being me. And even worse were the voices of my past abusers telling me their projected images of who they thought I was. This mostly came in the form of toxically masculine standards and the ideas of what it means to be a man.

And of course, I took these messages into my relationships. Trying to live up to the pre-approved standards that were laid out for me to adopt as my own. But they didn’t work. And more importantly, they didn’t suit who I was. I thought I needed to be loud, in charge and have strong opinions. To be in control of every situation and never show weakness. I needed to be hard in order to be the “man” I thought I was supposed to be.

But of course, this lead to me being largely unable to feel my emotions. This is ultimately what lead to me being unable to understand and seek out qualities of intimacy and tenderness in my relationships. And this was the major reason my relationships ultimately failed. I was incapable of responding to my own, and my partners emotional needs with tenderness through the emotional walls I had built to keep others out.

Now that I’ve learned from my past mistakes, I’m viewing looking for a partner in a different light. My values shifted. Instead of looking for a woman whom is attractive and has sex appeal, I’m looking for someone who is loving and caring first. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be physically attracted to the woman I eventually fall in love with, only that the quality and ability for us to connect in a loving way is more important than how she looks in a pair of underwear.

One of the habits I’ve been doing to change the ways in which I think of and view relationships is, I’ve created a values list. This is a list of attributes in a partner that I value. Some examples are, loving, caring, kind, beautiful, loyal, creative, adventurous, sexy. Notice that being attractive is still on the list, only this time it isn’t the foundation of what I’m looking for in a partner. Being loving, caring and kind precede beauty. But attraction is still important in a match. Only now I have a healthier perspective of where it is as a priority.

As I’ve said above, I’ve been on a few dating sites and have developed a few habits around when and how often I use them. I’ve recently listened to a podcast called “Deeply Human” where the first episode was on dating. The host of the podcast was interviewing a doctor who studied the process of making decisions. He said that if we are given too many decisions, then we have a difficult time keeping choices in perspective. We tend to take the best qualities of each potential match, and compare them to who we are looking at. The result being, that the more potential matches we look at, the more likely they are to not add up to the conglomerate ideal we’ve mashed together from disparate parts.

With this in mind, I’ve begun to pair down the amount of potential matches I’m looking at in a given session. The doctor on the podcast suggests to only look at between five and eight potential matches. I’ve also limited myself to messaging only three potential matches at a time. This way I’m reaching out while also giving each match the attention they deserve without feeling overwhelmed.

And it makes sense to put some boundaries around this area of my life as well. I know that if bring an unreasonable amount of intensity to dating, then I’ll end up feeling desperate and as though I’ll never find someone to be with. And this is a very scary and vulnerable place to be. So slowing down helps to keep my values and priorities in focus while I’m looking for a partner. Win, win.

It also helps with self confidence as well. The more profiles you read, the more you can’t help but to compare yourself to those your looking to match with. It’s kind of like the social media effect, where you are constantly comparing yourself to the very best of what your friends are posting and maybe feeling as though you’re coming up short.

The same goes for dating apps. Everybody wants to show the most amazing aspects of their personality, lifestyle and careers. If we look at the positive self projections of others for long enough, we may feel like we’re not good enough for them, not adding up. And we all have our things, nobody’s perfect. Slowing down is also good for keeping some much needed perspective in an environment where everybody is trying to sell their best selves.

These are the habits that I’ve come to cultivate while looking for a partner. I’m sure it’ll look a little different for everybody, but it’s good to have some foundation, to know what your looking for and so hopefully, when you do meet the one that’s right for you, you’ll recognize them for who they are. And one last bit of advice, be persistent. The road may not be easy, but I believe there’s someone out there for everybody. Peace : ) good luck and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Dates?” by .::RMT::. is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Living Your Life: You Gotta Do Your chores

As I’ve said in earlier posts, I’m currently living with one of my childhood caregivers. This wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it’s one where I didn’t have a lot of other options to choose from. All in all it’s been a good decision. We’ve gotten a second chance to reconnect and learn what it means to be a family. So with that in mind, the subject of this blog post wasn’t in the initial outlined plan, but it certainly fits with the theme of this series of posts and is one that I’ve come to realize after cohabitating with people I’ve come to rely on in our living space. After all, taking care of your living space is essential to your overall happiness and speaks a great deal to how we feel about ourselves.

Lately I’ve been feeling a bit uneasy when I’ve been in my bathroom. I wasn’t entirely sure why at first, but as the weeks went by I couldn’t help but to notice that the unease I was feeling would not subside. The bathroom has been left unfinished for many years now and that has something to do with the feeling, but there was something more to it than that. Something that was growing more tangible with each visit.

So last week I decided that the bathroom needed new bath mats. I made a plan to go to a local home furnishings store and get a few to replace the ones already in use, after my shift at work. As I was going to the store, during my commute home, I made plans to clean the bathroom after getting the new mats. I wanted the feeling of walking into a freshly cleaned bathroom, crisp and new, after I was done with cleaning it. So when I got home from the store, I lighted a pine tree scented candle, rolled up my sleeves and got to the task of cleaning my bathroom.

It was dirty. I had swept up a sizeable hairball from all the dust that had accumulated for however long, maybe the size of a salad bowl, and the shower curtains were in the same shape as the bathmats. It was in such bad shape that the plastic lining was flaking off and the bottom was discolored from the mold that was lining it. The plunger was cracked and the cabinets needed a good purging as well. It was at that point I realized that the bathroom looked an awful lot like one of the bathrooms in my first apartments and that’s what was making me feel so uneasy.

To give you some context as to what my bathrooms used to look like, there was a constant layer of mold on and around the bathtub, sink and floor. There was trash plastered to the floor and walls, and the floor was missing pieces of tile in strategic places showing the subflooring. Once, for a period of about a month, maybe longer, there was vomit on the wall from one night where I ate a whole pizza, then got into a shot contest where I took a shot of tequila that had a cigarette butt in it. Let’s just say I missed the intended receptacle.

This was a shock for sure. Everyone in the house is an adult, we should be on top of this type of thing. The bathroom wasn’t in as bad shape as my early apartments were, but sadly, things had been left unattended by pretty much everyone. We had been treating our living space the ways we had been treated, with neglect instead of care.

Not only that, but we were shirking the shared sense of responsibility of keeping something alive, the household. We were collectively avoiding cleaning as one way to make our house feel more like a home. There are other things that bring people together to feel more connected as a family as well. Such as shared experiences and meals to name a few, but making your living space a place you want to be in, surrounded by things and a feeling of cleanliness, is a huge part of feeling at home. Comfortable. This is what we were missing from our shared time together. A feeling of shared responsibility and comfort in knowing that we are taking care of one another by taking care of our dwelling.

After I made this realization, I shared it with my childhood caregiver and their spouse, and it all started making much more sense to me. I had been feeling as though I wasn’t really part of the family. There were only certain areas of the house I felt comfortable in. My bedroom and the kitchen being two of them, and the rest felt like it was off limits. Add the fact that we are all too polite to ask one another to do something for one another, like helping clean the bathroom, and you have a pretty cold environment. One definitely hostile towards forming tight bonds.

The act of buying something for the house, even something so small as a couple of bath mats, or a basil scented candle for the kitchen, made me feel more secure as a member of the family. I felt as though I were trying to create a more home-like environment by taking care of those I live with, while also taking care of my own needs. And I have to say, it feels good.

I also spoke with them about putting candles in the bathroom for when I shower at night. It’s a way I help myself to decompress from the stress of the day. But this is also a way for me to express myself and a part of my personality in our shared space. More ways of feeling connected on a more intimate level. We all felt more connected after the talk and the conversation flowed a little more freely. They agreed that they had been a little lax about some of the cleaning responsibilities and I agreed I could have been doing more to help out.

So I decided to make doing chores more of a routine. The same way I meal prep for myself, I am creating a schedule and a general maintenance list for the house. This way we can create our home together, by sharing the work of caring for each other by caring for our shared spaces.

I divided the house into two parts, with the two most important rooms in the house as focal points. The first is the upstairs, with the focus being in the bathroom. The second part being the kitchen and downstairs. I will switch off doing these two parts every week with someone else in the house, and the alternate week will be the time where I’ll do the part previously undone the week before and someone else will do the part I had previously done.

With any luck, the house will begin to feel more like a warm and welcoming place. One where we want to create memories and cook meals in together, instead of the cold and somewhat distant place it has been for so long. We will learn to rely on each other, and feel comfortable just inhabiting our shared space together. We’ll start feeling like a family again. Only a healthy version. One without the untrusting attitudes and unhealthy boundaries we had previously been used to. Let’s get into the “how” in what I did to create a sense of shared responsibility among the household.

I began with a quick mental checklist of what needs cleaning in the house. I started with the two most important areas of the house (for me) and radiated out from there. The two rooms I chose are the bathroom and the kitchen. After I chose these rooms, I created two zones in the house around these rooms that could be cleaned and cared for in one cleaning session that would last maybe one to two hours, depending on the level of clutter or mess.

I then went through the zone, and took down another list of the specific tasks that need doing. For example, the bathroom zone needed to be cleared of general clutter, dusted, the bathtub and toilet needed a scrubbing and the floor needed a sweep and mop. Then the hallway just outside the bathroom needed to be swept and vacuumed, and the stairway needed to be swept and dusted as well.

After making these more specific lists of tasks, I now have a jumping off point where I can start cleaning. So when each week comes around, we have a set routine where we know what needs to be taken care of and how to approach the job.

This past week I spent a good portion of time doing a deep clean of the two most important rooms in the house. I didn’t get to all the tasks on my mental checklist, but the job definitely feels more manageable, knowing that I’ve already done the more labor and time intensive tasks. Now when we begin our cleaning routine, it will be that much easier to keep up with. As long as we keep up with the tasks, there shouldn’t be an overwhelming amount of work to do. This may not make the work a joy to do, but it will make the tasks a little easier to accomplish. But if you’re like me, I get a little excited about the idea of cleaning and organizing something. So who knows, maybe it will spark some joy : )

I’ve also started a list of general maintenance items that need to be done around the house as well. This includes items that need to be replaced or small jobs that need our attention. For example, I put a list of items I need to replace for both the bathroom and general cleaning supplies for the house. This way we can keep our place looking and feeling as clean and organized as possible while keeping on top of the tasks and items we need to pick up.

This also has the added bonus of allowing us to bond as a family by planning trips to the local hardware store. Also making a collective effort to add input on what we feel needs attention. If you are anything like we are, you may find that after you do a deep clean and organize some of your belongings, that you have an embarrassing amount of extra or duplicate items that you may not have touched in months or years. This would be a good time to take stock of what you do have, what you use, how often you use it, and what you could you do without.

For us, we have two sets of pots, one brand new and the other just sitting around waiting to be recycled or donated. The initial plan was to get rid of them, but they are still around, haunting or living space. This wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t taking up valuable cabinet space. I like to view extra items in the kitchen, the same way I view unintended plants in the garden. Sure you may have a tomato plant that sprang up in the eggplant bed, but if it’s not an eggplant, then it’s a weed. The old pots are still mostly functional, but we have a new set and planned on getting rid of the old ones. So in my book, the old ones are a weed.

I also have about 15-20 mason jars collecting dust on our shelves. I got them to store my dry goods in. But if you’ve read my post on shopping from your pantry first, you’ll know that the food I bought mostly just sat around in these jars for months, if not years! They looked good all lined up in their storage containers, but they were definitely being underutilized. As I’ve been shopping from my pantry first, I’ve been freeing up a lot of space since I haven’t been replacing the items, and have ended up with an awful lot of empty mason jars.

I use them to store the meals that I batch cook in, but there are only so many meals I can store in the fridge at one time. The rest need to either be repurposed, or recycled. And this isn’t always an easy task to do. I know I’ve developed some sentimental attachments to inanimate objects over the years. And it seems the longer you have an item around, the fonder you become of it! I feel like this is where it enters your comfort zone. You’re just so used to seeing it around, that you recognize it as one of the family.

And of course this is a little different for some items over others. Such as, you wouldn’t want to throw away a pan your grandmother gave you that she made your favorite brownies in. But in the end, things are just that, things. Besides, it’s not the pan that you love, it’s the memories of your Nana’s brownies. But tossing a peanut butter jar you used to store tea in is a no-brainer. Marie Condo is a great resource for just this type of letting go. If it sparks joy, keep it and use it lovingly. If not, thank it for its service in supporting you in your life and donate it or let it go.

This should work to make your living space a more inviting dwelling for everyone. One where you’ll enjoy the time spent in it, together. And as a friend of mine said, we attuning to each other, by paying attention to each other’s surroundings. This is how you build the foundations of a caring family. This is where we really begin to understand what it means to be together, united.

I hope this post serves you on your path. It isn’t always an easy task, coming together to make something, from what sometimes seems like out of nothing. But when people, friends and family all chip in and lend a helping hand, it’s amazing what we are able to accomplish. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Amelia Cleaning” by donnierayjones is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Clean Your Plate!: How Healthy Boundaries With Food Can Help Us Heal From Old Wounds

Every Tuesday night, I make a special, self-care dinner for myself. I usually search for a recipe that looks interesting, or something that has caught my eye during the week. I go shopping for my meal that night, and take my time cooking the meal to really savor my time preparing something I will enjoy. I even had a co-worker make me a special bowl for the weekly ritual. I usually make a large batch of whatever I’m making so I have leftovers to eat during the week. And last Tuesday was no different.

However, there was something different about last week’s meal. I made a tortilla soup topped with corn chips, cilantro, avocado, cheddar and sour cream. It was tasty, but that wasn’t what was different. What had changed was, by the time I got to the end of my bowl, I felt as though I was forcing myself to finish the rest of my meal. I had at some point stopped enjoying my meal and began forcing myself to enjoy my meal.

This was a confusing place to be. I made these meals especially so I could enjoy and connect with the experience of cooking something I like while also nourishing myself in the process. Why was I now forcing myself to enjoy something, after I had already enjoyed the process and consumption of it?

And the more I thought of it, the less sense this seemed to make. The bowl I had my friend make for me was the second bowl she had made. The first one was too small for my liking. I wanted something I could fit a lot of food in. Further more I usually made, and served myself, way too much food, and had up to three or four drinks and a dessert to follow with some sort of tea to round out the meal. I was not concerned about my portion control, only how much I could consume.

This switch, from a ritual I had created to forge a new and soothing relationship with myself, to turning into something that was not as enjoyable as I had initially planned it to be, had me feeling uneasy. Then I realized there was much more beneath the surface to what I was experiencing.

It began with my portion sizes. I was serving myself way too much food. So much so that I felt as though I was muscling through the meal towards the end rather than enjoying the experience in a relaxed setting. I was using my experience with food, the joy I received from making the meal, to sitting down and relishing in the flavor combinations of a meal well prepared, like a drug. And from this perspective, more is better. But I was also covering over some other feelings that had been left unattended for a long time. The feelings of how I related to food.

When I was growing up, my experience in relating to food was not an enjoyable one. I do have some fond memories of holiday meals being prepared. The smells of rosemary and roasting meats wafting through the house as family gathered to celebrate. But a majority of my time spent with meals was not so steeped in revelry. I would often hear from my caregivers, “clean your plate” in reference to finishing the food that was given to me.

I also spent very little time at mealtime with my caregivers. And the times I did spend with them was filled with petty arguments and insults. A thousand tiny cuts. They would prepare meals for me, but I believe that family mealtime ended for me around the time I was 12-14 years old. My caregivers were gone until 2am most nights, leaving me to fend for myself when it came to nourishment. It felt more like survival most nights. This is an exaggeration, but the loneliness mixed with not knowing how to cook for myself or how to pick healthy meals that would leave me feeling my best was anxiety provoking and confusing. I spent most of this time alone, not sure of what to do to take care of myself. It was a lonely and scary place to be for a preteen.

And the times we were together, my caregivers referred to me as a “human garbage disposal”. This was also confusing, and seemed in direct contradiction to my prime directive of, “cleaning my plate.” I was confused. Paired with no direction on how to please my caregivers, it seemed that everything I was doing was somehow wrong or unexceptable to their judgements.

And to further drive home the “human garbage disposal” nickname, my caregivers were more than intolerant of overweight persons. This was also confusing, as my caregivers and myself, were also all overweight. There was literally no sense to be made from any of these interactions. Again, a very confusing place to be.

One of my caregivers went so far as to offer me money to lose weight. I believe the arrangement was 40$ to get down to my ideal weight. I agreed, but what 13 year-old wouldn’t want 40$? But with no direction on how to lose the weight, and being poorly fed with no direction on how to achieve my goals by the same people wanting me to lose weight, I didn’t stand a chance and felt like a failure.

Fast forward to my mid twenties, I was overweight, had zero boundaries with the food and alcohol I was consuming, but I stayed faithful to my caregivers instructions, and chose Brad Pitt’s character from the movie, “Fight Club” as my role-model of how I thought I should look… What hurts so much now thinking about all of this is, that I had no idea how unreasonable these standards are and were. I thought these were perfectly normal and reasonable aspirations because they were expected of me by my caregivers.

I should also mention that one of my caregivers top values is looking attractive. Which, unfortunately for me growing up, was reinforced, time and time again. So I wasn’t even aware of how unreasonable these standards actually are, and backed by a society that is equally image obsessed, it took a great strength of will to even see past the idea that looking thin and attractive, was not the most important aspect of life.

All of these unhealthy messages I received growing up left me feeling confused, angry with myself for not being able to live up to these unreasonable standards, highly judgemental of others who couldn’t live up to my and my caregivers standards, and just plain unsatisfied. By the time I hit my early thirties, I was overweight and angry about it and my diet was the most unhealthy it had been ever. Something needed to change.

I first started with exercise. I started running two miles every few days in the local commons. I was going through a divorce at the time and there were other major shifts happening in my life. One of the ways I was able to take some steps in a healthier direction and control of my life was by getting out on the road and running a few miles. This was the start of me making more health conscious decisions that directly affected my life for the better.

After I got into a routine of regularly exercising, I shifted my focus on what I was eating. This was particularly difficult, considering the environment I was in. I was living with a woman who was in her early twenties, who was living life much the same ways I was in my early twenties. This should have been an indicator that I was moving backwards with my life choices, but I was under a considerable amount of stress and dealing with a life’s time worth of unchecked emotional baggage. I understand why I made the decisions I did, but would not make them again. Needless to say, our eating habits were not the healthiest.

That being said, I was however able to begin to make healthier food choices and change my habits while I was living in less than ideal circumstances. I began grocery shopping as I would for a family. Planning and preparing meals for us for the week. I was roasting whole chickens and preparing other whole foods, straying away from fatty and sugary prepared and processed foods. I was taking control of our nutritional needs and moving us in a healthier direction.

This was also around the time I decided to reduce my alcohol intake as well. This change stems from my taking a conscious effort to part ways with the habits and patterns my caregivers had modeled for me in my youth. And ones I stayed loyal to, until I decided to make changes for the better.

And as soon as I stopped drinking as much alcohol as I had been consuming, that’s when my health really started to take shape. I was less sluggish, I was losing weight due to the sudden decrease in caloric intake from not only the unhealthy foods I was eating, but also the empty calories in the beer and coffee I was drinking. And speaking of coffee, I also lessened my caffeine intake. I was drinking around 4-5 double or quad shot moccas a day! This was excessive by any standard.

So in the course of two years, I had turned my eating habits from something unhealthy to the point where I may have had health complications had I kept with my poor eating habits, to exercising regularly, watching my alcohol and caffeine consumption and eating healthier, whole foods. All in all I had made some pretty remarkable changes in my personal life. So fast forward a few years and I’m still defaulting to some of my old habits. Why was this so?

From what I am able to tell, much of it stems from my avoiding the old feelings of deficiency I received from my caregivers growing up. I was still looking for the external validation of living up to my caregivers unreasonable standards that I adopted as my own. All the healthy eating and diet changes were a way of trying to live up to my caregivers impossible standard. The difference is, now I have the tools I never had before. Now I know how to please my caregivers.

But this is still an unhealthy way of living. Trying to live up to impossible standards is exhausting and dangerous. I remember one night, after working a full shift without eating breakfast or lunch, I ran three miles and did thirty minutes of yoga. I was so exhausted from the day, that when I got out of the shower and bent over to towel off, I passed out on the bathroom floor. The person I live with came into to the bathroom to see if I was okay. I clearly was not.

So I’m still holding on to these conflicting and unhealthy messages from my past, which all stemmed from, “clean your plate”. Even after all this work, I’m still holding on to some of these lessons. Why?

From what I’m able to tell, I feel a sense of accomplishment from “cleaning my plate”. This is the external validation I am looking for, that I never received from my caregivers. There’s a part of me that is still looking for validation for what I never received. So how do I change this unhealthy way of relating to myself and these unreasonable standards I’ve adopted? How do I learn to be okay, just as I am, while still striving to be the best version of myself in a healthy way? I think it starts, for me anyways, with my meditation practice.

During my meditation, I recite a set of affirmations that helps me to be the version of myself I want to be. One of the lines is, “it’s okay to be me, just as I am”. I need this constant reinforcement, to help to break the old patterns of not feeling as though I’m adding up. And not adding up meant feeling like I didn’t belong to my caregivers, which made me feel unsafe. Add some early childhood trauma to the mix and you have a recipe for a difficult set of patterns and expectations to break free from.

This reassurance also helps to let me know I’m not perfect, and that’s okay. When I was younger, I really thought my belonging hinged on the good opinion of my caregivers. Now that I know that my caregivers are just people, it’s a little easier to forgive myself for not living up to their standards, as I no longer view their words as absolute law.

Also, being kind and patient with myself. When I was forcing myself to finish my meal a few days ago, I was already feeling uneasy and a little sad. I needed self-care then more than ever. Because there was and is a lot of confusion and mixed messages around food and sustaining myself. And my younger emotional self is still holding out for that chance to make my caregivers proud of me for doing what they asked of me. This will take some time for my emotional self to feel better about. And the only way I can come to terms with that is through being kind to myself and the feelings as they arise.

Exercise and healthy eating are still going to be integral routines to my lifestyle choices, but for different reasons than they were before. It’s still okay to want to look and feel good, only the perspective has shifted from looking and feeling good as being my top value, to being a means to living a healthy and active life. Because when I was living a sedentary lifestyle, overweight and drinking too much, I wasn’t happy.

I was drinking caffeine and alcohol to numb my emotions while watching T.V. and playing video games to avoid living my life. I was also overweight and unhealthy. As I said above, I was most likely headed for some health complications due to my lifestyle. That wouldn’t have been good for anybody! So knowing that I’m living my life, to be the best and healthiest version of myself is now my number one value when it comes to health choices and making value based decisions, and this makes me feel healthier. My values are no longer set at how good I look naked, and that feels good : )

And finally, knowing that we are not perfect. This one was a difficult one for me to come to terms with. My caregivers focus on perfection was omnipresent. I felt as though, if I didn’t get that A, or wasn’t the perfect image of what my caregivers wanted of me, regardless of how impossible the image was (see Brad Pitt’s character in Fight Club for example), I was unsafe and unloved.

I went so far as to study Val Kilmer’s, Jim Morrison, because they liked The Doors, and Jim seemed to be living life like my caregivers. I had no idea how unhealthy this dynamic is and was. But I remember how lonely it was growing up, with no one around and not feeling loved or belonging. Realizing that I don’t have to be somebody else, that “it’s okay to be me, just as I am”, has done so much good in remembering I don’t have to add up to someone else’s standard. That it’s okay to be me, flaws and all.

And it takes practice. Sometimes I still find myself wanting to conform to someone else’s ideal to be loved, to feel belonging. It’s in those moments that I remember the things that I do value. The friends I have who know and love me for me. The activities I find joy in like yoga and hiking. And the plans I have for my future, that help to ground me in who I am outside of somebody else’s standard.

So if you’re struggling with a set of unreasonable standards you were presented with before you were able to form your own healthier versions, you are not alone. And also, it’s not too late to change these standards. Be persistent, take the time to learn who you are. Your likes and dislikes. What are the moments that bring you joy? Is it a song that you particularly are drawn to? Do you enjoy a certain meal or maybe a treat you make for yourself on special occasions. These are the pieces that when added up, make you who you are. Be faithful to those and you will find your way : ) And as always, thanks for reading : ) peace.

Image Credits: “Stack of Clean Plates” by ljfullofgrace is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Alone: Being Resilient While You’re with Yourself

Being alone isn’t easy. Take away the distractions that we often pump into our day to day and it’s nearly impossible. People expend a lot of effort to get away from the life they find right here. This is what Tara Brach calls “the unlived life”. And it’s aptly named, because this is the life that is usually filled with concern, worry or anxiety. All emotions that nobody really wants to be around.

What happens if I disagree with my employer, or boss at work? What happens when I feel differently than what most people feel as being “normal”, or status quo? These are some difficult questions, and ones that come with a host of feelings, all revolving around feeling excluded or alone in your experience or emotions. These are vulnerable places to be.

And this is where we have a choice. A lot of people, including my past self, choose to run from these places inside ourselves. It’s easier to do what is expected of us in order to keep the order of the existing established rules. Even if this order, and sometimes, especially if the order is dysfunctional. Because those that are keeping the order sometimes need the added validation of their existing situation, of running from their vulnerability, to feel as though they are doing what is best, all in the name of avoiding their unlived life. I.e. the vulnerability of the difficult emotions of uncertain and unanswered questions.

And, all of this isn’t easy. That’s why it’s being run from in the first place! If it were easy, I’d imagine we’d all have many more healthy relationships and the world would be filled with a lot less conflict. But the truth is that we live in a world that is fraught with these types of relationships. And on top of the vulnerability, these habits and ways of being can sometimes be difficult to see, making them even more insidious as the root cause of much of our anxiety around varying relationships.

When you are stuck in the middle of the uneasy feelings, i.e. perceived expectations or mind reading, established relational roles or pigeonholing, most often it is difficult to see past the immediate dis-ease of feeling vulnerable, alone and uncomfortable, and instead we stay the course of what has been historically accepted, avoidance. In other words, the path is clear to follow, but it’s not always the healthiest path.

And this intricate dance, this confusing maze of expectations mixed with emotions and perceived expectations, can be the cause of much miscommunication. From my experience, when you expect a person to behave, act or take on/conform to certain unspoken standards, this is where people feel as though they are never adding up to another’s expectations, or just plane don’t feel enough. And a life’s time worth of feeling as though you’re not adding up is a lonely place to be.

So if we are constantly trying to live up to somebody else’s standards, and we feel as though we’re coming up short, how do we break the cycle of handing the responsibility of living our own lives to others by trying to live up to what they expect of us? I found, for myself anyways, that setting goals and owning my feelings are paramount to taking the leading role in living my own life.

I was so used to deferring the responsibility of the choices that needed to be made during the course of my days to somebody else, that it just became second nature. And there are no shortage of people that are willing to take up that role if you let them. So I first had to recognize what it was that I was running from, in order to take up the reigns of my life again. And this takes patients.

Patients first with you’re emotional experiences and second with finding the ways to best take care of yourself and your emotional needs. If this is something you’ve been leaving for someone else to manage than it is going to be a steep learning curve for sure.

For me, I had left that job for the person I was in relationship with. I had learned this from my caregivers, so I actively sought out this relationship dynamic. And as I’ve said above, there was no shortage of people looking to live my life for me. It wasn’t until I had ended these relationships that I was left with the unsettling truth that I needed to show up for, and live my own life. This was a shock for sure, because it was a dynamic that I was almost completely unaware of until I was left with myself.

I had to make all the decisions for myself, by myself. Everything from grocery shopping and cooking to budgeting, exercise and work decisions. All were left to my better judgements. It was scary and overwhelming at first. I remember feeling as though I couldn’t possibly take on the entire task of living my life all at once. But what I found made the biggest impact, which helped me to make these decisions without being overwhelmed by the scope of them was, patients, and taking things one step at a time.

Taking things slowly was important to learn. To recognize that I didn’t need to do it all at once, that I could take each task on slowly and deliberately. This helped me to not only make healthier choices, but I also had a clearer presence of mind while making the decisions. So I was also making better choices.

And also learning how to be patient with the emotional experiences as they were happening. Knowing when that little voice that pops up, the one that tells you that you need to act immediately, or else! And how to let that voice have its piece, but also not responding from that voice by being patient enough for the feeling of urgency to wear off, in order to then respond from a place that is more calm and able to see the situation from a more clear perspective.

And instead of feeling stressed out and as though you are frantically looking for answers to a situation by yourself, patients with ourselves allows us the time and space necessary to feel comfortable with the connectic feelings of urgency and uncertainty, while also allowing us to take a responsible and grounded approach to taking care of any situation that needs our attention.

For me, one of the ways this has played out in my recent past is in my professional life. I’m currently in the middle of picking up a new role and responsibilities at a new place of employment. I went in for a shift, and it was unlike the experience I was used to in a similar role at a different agency in the past. My first reaction, instinct was to walk away from the role. I thought that “this is unacceptable” and I was unwilling to compromise. This was, for me, the voice of urgency telling me I was in a situation that wasn’t safe.

But I decided to give the issue some more thought. I talked it over with a trusted friend, and came up with some thoughtful and direct questions that would communicate what my concerns were and how I was feeling about everything I was experiencing. But I had to do it on my own. Sure, I got some advice and guidance from a friend, but it was a new perspective that I gained. I still had to go inward and explore what I was feeling about the situation I was getting myself into.

What are my thoughts and feelings about what I’m about to do or plan on doing, and how am I going to address and attune to my feelings. This is where resilience is cultivated. Because essentially, these are the places where you meet your fears, feel them and find out what they are telling you, and then make some decisions about how you’re going to accept the fear, but move through it anyway to a place where you are confident in your ability to progress.

And like most ambitions in life, it’s not always easy. In my taking on a new role in a new position, I had some fears about the role, some concerns about how things are, and how I was used to them being in the past. I then had to be patient with my initial response which was to walk away from it out of fear. And then feel the fear and understand what I was trying to tell myself by exploring why I was uncomfortable. Once I explored my concerns, I then came up with a plan to take care of and attune to my feelings so they didn’t grow unchecked and take control of my actions.

Another step to this process is, being present with the discomfort of the feelings that are arising when I’m exploring and encountering new situations that provoke fear and uncertainty. Because if it wasn’t for the ability to stay with the feelings, especially the uncomfortable ones, then you would be constantly running from the situations that provoke these emotions. Keeping yourself in a comfort zone where you are unable to grow.

And this is how we learn to navigate our fears and anxieties, while moving forward with our lives in a positive direction. Staying flexible enough to face each new feeling that rises to meet us, but also holding our ground and knowing that we are enough to meet and grow through these new situations. Again, not always an easy task, but there’s something to be said for overcoming a challenge.

These are the decisions that we need to take care of, that come into our lives that we all have to face on our own. As I’ve said above, I used to defer this part of self-care and life responsibility to others. I can remember vividly Living with an ex-partner, in an apartment they had found, working at a job I wasn’t very happy with and going to school for something I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do. I had no idea what I was doing in life, but regardless, I just kept on going being propped up by those around me.

And it’s not as though I’m not grateful for those who helped me along the way. But I wasn’t allowing myself to come to terms with where I was in life by surrounding myself with those who were happy to be in a position of caretaking for me. And this is where we had been trapped in an unhealthy cycle of relationship. Me by not facing the emotions I was running from because I thought the responsibility of living my own life was too much, and my partner who was more than happy to tell me what to do and how to be for her own reasons.

And when the relationship finally ended, it came as a surprise to all parties. We were all finally forced to confront what it was that we were avoiding, but what came as the biggest surprise, to me anyway, was that I realized I was strong enough to change.

At the time, it was the affection of another that woke me up, to realizing that I had the ability and strength to face my own fears, but where it really took shape was when I told my partner about my feelings. How someone else’s affections had woken my emotions, something that had been dormant since the trauma, and that I was willing to work on what was right here, the relationship in the unhealthy form it had taken.

Ultimately my partner had said she was unwilling to work on our relationship. I don’t blame her for ending the relationship, only knowing that she, like me, was running from the difficult work of understanding the whole relationship, including the places of fear, vulnerability and uncertainty makes me sad for what we could have been if we had faced those emotions together. But first we need to do the inner work, to know what we are bringing into the relationship.

So if you have found yourself in a similar situation, or know this one well as a place you keep returning to, take heart. Resilience is possible as long as you are patient with yourself and stick around while you’re going through and sorting the difficult emotions. Feeling alone while you are sorting through these emotions is common. But it’s something we all have to face eventually and it also helps to know that you are not the first.

Many have come before you and have done the difficult work of coming to terms with their fears, vulnerabilities and anxieties. And it doesn’t last forever. It may take some time coming to a place of understanding these feelings, but we all get there eventually. I hope this has been of some help to you, and as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Niagara Falls Peaceful Solitude” by ***Bud*** is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0