It has been on my mind, because I have been both deeply needing and deeply providing.
Needing a soft place to land.
Needing food that fills me up, instead of breaking me down.
Needing as much sleep as I can get.
Needing space to move about freely and wide blank days in my calendar.
Needing the close proximity of love, without the overwhelm of touch.
Needing the words that re-affirm, as many times as I am able to reach out and ask for them.
I have been needing so deeply, that the terminology of stereotypical self-care barely seems to suffice.
The way that I have been tending to myself feels as though I am stacking action on top of action, rebuilding my reserves.
My hands have been moving steadily, as if knitting with small needles, re-enforcing the bare spots in my energy field and sewing on robust patches.
I will use the term self-care here, as long as you and I can expand upon it’s meaning together. For, when I say self-care or self-love, I mean:
The multitude of ways that I have learned over time to care for myself. These are my quiet rituals – not to placate myself or prove to myself that I am deserving, but action I take because I have been gifted with the care of this magnificent body and this magnificent life.
This care reflects the knowledge that I have accumulated as I have paid close attention to myself, turning my focus inward to notice my needs on a miniscule level.
This knowledge is the gift in return for the permission to experiment, to get curious, and to wonder about the complexity and manipulation of variables in my life.
That, over time, I have gotten to know myself better.
I have grown to think of myself as both sprawling landscape and trusted groundskeeper. I care for myself now, not because I have to, but because I find myself so heart-achingly beautiful and intriguing, I cannot help myself.
We are deserving because we exist.
Our bodies have stood by us, resilient and humble, and they deserve our very best efforts on their behalf.
If I am to be honored as the groundskeeper of this body, this spirit, this life – I should realize, first, how lucky I am.
This post is about real self-care, the gentle way that I tend to myself on a daily basis. I wanted to share this with you, not because I believe that it is the right way to do things by any means, but because it is my way.
It is my hope that you are inspired to find your way.
This care includes:
Sleeping at least 8 hours, with a dark t-shirt thrown over my face, so that my sleep is deep and undisturbed by light. Trying not to fall asleep to TV episodes or scrolling mindlessly through Facebook, whenever possible.
Tongue scraping. Coconut oil pulling. Face washing and moisturizing with products that include ingredients that I can pronounce and understand.
Reading for fun. Reading books filled to the brim with fantasy and ridiculousness.
Drinking 16 oz. of water pre-coffee. Before I take a sip, I look out the window and focus on my intentions for the day. I imagine those intentions pouring into the glass with the water, and drink them down reverently.
Food that makes my body feel really good – which, for me, means eating whole foods and a delicious decision to avoid grains, dairy, and sugar. Lots of greens.
Moving and stretching, as often as possible, with a particular preference for getting extremely sweaty and group classes where I am supported and paid attention to.
My days include many cups of tea, honoring my desire for hot beverages but noting my inclination towards caffeine consumption to the point of anxiety.
Close attention to my desire for an intimate connection with my partner, and very gentle words with myself when thoughts of grief or judgment come up around this topic. A reminder that intimacy can be found in many ways, and that sex is not meant to be something that I use against myself or as a manipulator or a primary source of validation.
Dinner that is well thought out and planned for.
Connection with the people around me and a frequent, quiet reminder that I am not a burden, I am not too much for my loved ones, I am in the right place at the right time – the things that are the hardest to remember.
Before I go to sleep, I often spend fifteen minutes looking at myself in the mirror while I wash my face, and floss and brush my teeth. My sweetheart sometimes refers to this as the twilight zone, wherein I go into the bathroom and never come back out. During this time, I allow myself the simple pleasure of not rushing. I move slowly. I get ideas while I brush my teeth. I think about my life. I pluck my eyebrows. I notice the simple evidence of my aging. I cut my nails. This is often my favorite time of day, when I know that I am about to curl up in bed and I’m saying good night to myself.
If you’re reading this list, and noticing, as I just did, that it seems like my care of myself is a full-time job – you’d be right. Staying in my body, loving myself for exactly who I am, is my highest priority. I believe that my doing so enables me to truly enjoy my life in a way that I had never known how to before. I give myself the ultimate permission to be myself, and to need whatever I need.
I pray to know myself better, so that I can care for myself better. Caring for myself in this way is my primary vehicle for strengthening my relationship with myself. I believe that our relationship with ourselves is the single most important relationship that we have, and, like our other relationships, it requires upkeep and frequent communication.
I also manage to do many other things over the course of my day, and feel very grateful to have my ambitions supported by my body and energy. I am better when I care for myself – the quality of my life is better.
I am curious, how do you tend to yourself? Where might your body be quietly asking for your support?
This post is the final post for The Perfectly Imperfect Project, a month-long series on real self-care. I highly recommend that you head on over to this page to read the posts written by other phenomenal women from around the globe.
Imagine that you are walking your walk, moving along your path and dancing in your own shimmering light as often as possible. You are practicing being impeccable with your word. You are re-inventing your boundaries, in the name of cultivating relationships that rock your world in the best possible ways. You are holding your head high, believing in and investing in your own worth. You are claiming your seat at the table – standing in your power and offering your best to the world around you. In other words, you are doing truly spectacular work, however imperfect or tenuous it feels on a daily basis.
And then, someone comes along and says, in no uncertain terms: You are doing it all wrong, you should…
You brain starts spinning.
What started with a tenuous hold on your personal power, slowly degrades over the course of the minutes, hour, day…
Wait a minute, what if I’m doing it all wrong? What if I’m all wrong? What if my message is getting totally skewed? What is it about ME that is wrong?
I’m never going to get this right. I always mess everything up.
There is something inherently wrong with me. I always going to fuck it all up. I will never succeed.
I should just stop right now.
In short, you move quickly from a place of l-o-v-i-n-g yourself and your life, to a place insulated by fear, the need for validation, and deeply felt, “what if this is true about me?” beliefs.
Now, if you’re like most people, the mere act of moving through this process brings up a lot of shame.
You judge yourself for judging yourself.
You take the original hurt and fear, and you layer a heaping dose of shame and self-criticism over top.
You speak to yourself cruelly, in this place of judgment. You call yourself stupid, worthless, ugly, useless, ________. In that moment, you compound your pain with the injury of turning on yourself.
It is one thing to lose your confidence. It is entirely another to beat yourself up mercilessly for it.
Holding the hope for yourself is the process of cultivating a deep alliance with yourself on a daily basis.
It is the knowledge that you will not always get it right. You will not always be perfect. You will make many mistakes, but mistakes are essential to developing a life that is a magnificent fit for you.
For the purposes of this post, we will call those mistakes experimentation.
When you are able to experiment with your life, approaching your day-to-day with a sense of curiosity and by granting yourself deep permission to play, you are inviting yourself to truly notice what it is that lights you up inside. When you notice what lights you up inside, you stand a chance at inviting more of it into your life.
I know that you’ve got really big, exciting dreams.
I’m sure that you don’t need me to tell you that big dreams crave big, bold courage. They crave the light of the sunshine, and being spoken aloud. They crave fertile environments to unfurl, grow, and take root.
You cannot change what others think about you.
You cannot protect yourself from them if they want to jump in and tell you that you’re doing it all wrong – though you might try.
You can only treat yourself sweetly here, deciding to grant yourself permission to experiment and refusing to layer shame and cruelty over painful moment.
You are the queen of your inner landscape – with your reign reaching to every corner of your body and as far as you dare to dream in your heart.
Run your kingdom with a gentle touch. Encourage every part of yourself to flourish and refuse to turn on yourself - even when and especially when the going gets tough.
Remind yourself of this: I am doing the best that I can. I, above all else, am deserving of my own love and kindness.
Give yourself permission to be a renegade in this department, and refuse to give into the all-too-easy disparaging or self-critical scripts that are on the tip of your tongue.
I remember, very clearly, a time when I realized this:
I don’t even know what I like.
I knew what other people liked.
I knew what the people in my life preferred.
I knew how to do it so that I got an A.
I knew what the right way to do things was.
But I didn’t know how I might do it, if I were given the choice.
I had never given myself a choice before.
This extended to so many areas of my life: food, work, daily schedule, sex, getting dressed in the morning, choosing activities to do with myself. It felt quite global.
I also didn’t like myself much, but, who would like a complete stranger?
Slogans like “become your own best friend” or “love yourself completely” didn’t resonate with me, because there was nothing to ground it. It was like being told to fall madly, truly, and deeply in love with the person sitting next to you on the subway – they may be peripherally attractive or may possess some indicators of intrigue – but they are still strangers.
Also they may disgust or turn you off completely.
I thought: how can I be expected to love this person? I have no idea who they are.
Since like attracts like, I have been attracting many clients like this in the last couple of months, people who look at me with a mixture of bewilderment and incoherence when I ask what it might be like to go on a date with yourself or do something just for you.
Because the truth is, it is impossible to do something just for you, when you don’t even know what you like.
The question remains, how do you get to know yourself?
This actually can be a very pleasurable process, as long as you can muster up the sense to giggle when you find yourself at a meet-up group for 30-something lovers of Wes Anderson movies and realize that it’s totally not your scene.
This process requires some trial and error.
Think about the things that have given you joy over the course of your life. Write them down. These can be the things that you liked when you were 5, 14, during your “punk phase,” or when you were in college.
There may not be many of them – this is OK.
Now, think about all of the things that you’ve seen other people doing, the things that stopped you and made you wonder, would I like doingthat? Write those things down.
This is a running list, so please add to it as you are moving about your life. I guarantee to you that half of those things you want to try won’t live up to your expectations, but some of them will.
The point here is to hop into your life, and muck around a bit. Test the waters. Try something ridiculous.
Get comfortable doing something imperfect in the presence of others. This in and of itself, while not easy, is ENORMOUSLY beneficial to living a full, exciting life.
Now, feel free to replicate this process with food, sex, or any area of your life that has you wanting more – more connection, more laughter, more excitement, more fun, and more intrigue.
Develop a system for yourself for determining how you felt about something that you’ve done, ask yourself:
How did this make me feel?
Would I do it again?
Did it fill me up or empty me out, emotionally?
Were there parts that I liked? (Because the Universe loves specificity.)
For much of my life as a compulsive eater, the cycle looked like this:
Trigger + Sudden urge to “take care of myself” and “treat myself kindly” = “Waking up” in a sea of wrappers with a stomach ache and a broken heart
I would encounter something that made me feel badly about myself, and I would feel as though I was so vulnerable, no one could protect me but myself.
Then I would choose to soothe myself through the comfort of food, the best way that I knew how.
The important part of this behavior was that it was automatic.
I didn’t was acting without thinking, because I didn’t trust myself.
I was eating as I was disassociating from the experience.
What I would like to tell you is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
I know that you are afraid to feel the cavernous depth of your hunger, the blind terror of your credit card statement, the one drink that turns into ten, the cut that was meant to just scratch the surface of your skin, the painful realization that you haven’t stopped yourself before you slammed into your deepest fears.
I know that the idea of taking a good hard look at what is going on in your life can be terrifying.
I know how it feels to eat everything in the refrigerator, and then want to go out for more.
How it feels to want sleep with anyone that you can get your hands on, because you you are desperate for something to make you feel something.
How it feels to check your bank account only to realize that in a frenzy you spend hundreds of dollars on things you’ll never use.
How it feels to act without thinking, without control.
What is the worst that would happen if you took a good hard look at how you were treating yourself?
Would you be able to stomach the depth of your disappointment – in yourself?
What messages does your behavior send your heart about what you deserve?
Do you deserve to blindly injure yourself, again and again?
Or do you deserve to feel as though you are in control of your actions?
What would it take to provide yourself with a moment to make a different choice, when you felt the sudden, painful need to self-soothe?
What might you do with that short window of opportunity?
Would you be able to be kind to yourself for making the same choice, again and again?
Are you worth doing the work?
Might you be able to imagine an alternative ending for yourself?
A different choice?
A new sense of awareness?
You are worth all of the safety, love, and soothing that you require. I know that there are dark, scary places in your heart that feel as though they will never be filled. I know that in moments of vulnerability it can be difficult to trust yourself to make the right choice.
I know that when you are making the choice, it is always better than having no choice.