Self-Care

When we find ourselves in difficult times, it is necessary to nurture ourselves. It is more than necessary. It is vital.

Let’s try to do things that are truly nurturing. If you’re feeling down due to any reason, you may think that buying a bunch of new clothes will cheer you up, and for a few brief moments, you’re correct. You’ll be happy with your new clothes, but it will fade. A shopping spree is not nurturing in the long run.

What kinds of things will help us feel better longer? That is an excellent question, and it’s one I struggle to answer.

Let me share what works for me.

I like to read, so often times when I feel low, I will take an old book off the shelf that I know I like, I will open it to a random page and just read. I may make myself a cup of tea to enjoy, too.

I also meditate. There was one day last month that I was feeling a lot of anxiety. I was able to take the day off, and I spent it at home alone. I meditated four times that day. It was very refreshing, and it helped me soothe my anxiety. It worked. I felt better. (For one way to meditate, click here.)

I had anxiety last week, and I searched for anxiety-relieving music on YouTube. I found a lot, and I listened to some. It worked. It really did. Try searching for it and see what you find.

Here are some ideas for nurturing yourself:

Take a walk in a park. Sit in a park. Sit in the sunshine. Study the stars in the night sky. Study the moon. Spend time with your pet. Ask a friend who has a pet to let you spend time with it. Listen to soothing music. Play soothing music on an instrument. Read a story. Go to the library and spend time in the children’s section reading books. Read a book to a child at the library. Meditate. Try a guided meditation on YouTube. Draw a picture of a pretty scene. Make a collage of pretty scenes from pictures in magazines.

The ideas are endless. I think the focus should be on nurturing.

What will nurture your heart? Do that. Do as much as you possibly can.

Healing the Wound

When I remember my drinking days, the pain is what comes up first. There was tremendous pain. It was pervasive. It seeped into every corner of my being, and it oozed out of me in all my relationships. I was capable of happiness, but it was always fleeting. It was never enduring.

I drank for one simple reason: it gave me relief from the pain. What I did not understand was that the relief was fleeting. The drinking did not do anything to help heal the pain. The wound remained. The drinking was a kind of Band Aid on my wound.

It’s no secret that my wound was my warped perceptions of what it meant to be gay. The ideas inculcated in me about homosexuality were not compatible with living a happy life. I grew up convinced that god hated gay people, and that gays were beyond god’s grace. I also had good reason to fear ostracism from my family if they knew I was gay. Finally, society allowed violence against gay people. Some portions of society even condoned it preaching that gays were beneath contempt and unworthy of safety and fulfilling lives.

I became an alcoholic, because I got relief from my pain when I drank. The pain was so great that I needed a lot of alcohol to relieve it, and I needed it daily.

The day came, however, when the pain became more than the alcohol could cover. That day I faced the fact that alcohol no longer worked. That day I also discovered that quitting drinking was not a simple matter. I am grateful that I found AA. With the help of the 12 Steps and with the love from a sponsor and other members of the program, I found a way to live without alcohol.

Sadly, the pain was still there. The wound went untreated. I lost the Band Aid that alcohol provided. My next course of action was to find a way to heal the real wound. I am grateful that I found therapy as a young adult. I continued it through the years, and it proved invaluable for healing my wound.

Meditation also helped me slowly change my perceptions of what being gay meant. I learned I am not an abomination. I learned god loves me. Most importantly, I learned to love myself.

Gradually, I healed.

And I discovered that when my wound healed, drinking became unnecessary. It’s not even the slightest issue. I go to gay bars these days and feel nothing. I have no compulsion to drink alcohol.

AA gave me the tools to stay away from alcohol, but the AA I was exposed to did not direct me to the tools I needed to heal the wound that caused me to drink. The AA that I was part of treated the drinking as if it was the wound. It taught me that not drinking was enough.

But it wasn’t enough. I needed to heal the wound. I had to find the ways to heal outside the rooms of AA.

I doubt I’m alone. I am confident when I say that alcoholics drink because it provides relief from a pain-causing wound. We need to stop drinking because it is a destructive way of treating the wound. It does not heal. It masks only.

We are doing a disservice by telling people that the pain will stop when the drinking stops. This wasn’t the case for me, and I know many people who agree. We need to do our part to help individuals stop drinking, but we also need to actively direct them to the places where they can heal their wounds.

After 18 years of sobriety, I’ve seen countless people return to drinking after a period of sobriety, and I am convinced it’s because they could not find a way to heal their wound. They return to using the only Band Aid they knew that gave them any amount of relief.

It’s not enough to stop drinking if we ignore the reason the drinking started. The drinking is only a Band Aid. It is not the wound.

Again, we need to actively help individuals find a way to heal their wounds.

[I have been thinking about this for a long time. I’m reluctant to share it, but I have experienced my words reaching others who feel the same but are unable to speak for various reasons, so I’ll share.]

Being Selfish

One of the oddest things about life is that when we are very small, we have to be taught to share. It is stressed over and over again that we have to share with our playmates. We aren’t allowed to hoard all the toys or take all the food from the lunch counter.

Many of us spend a great many adult years unlearning this lesson. We have to learn a healthy way of being selfish.

I have spoken to many people in various forms of distress. One of my favorite suggestions is to do one nice thing for ourselves every day. These can be very simple. We can give ourselves a full minute of deep breathing. Taking a walk in the sunshine is another good way to be nice to ourselves. If it’s what we want, we could indulge in our favorite food. We get to decide how to be nice to ourselves.

Many of us are taught to always place others before ourselves. This is appropriate in many situations, but it’s not healthy at all times. There are many times we have to place our own needs above our neighbor’s.

It is popular to say that we have to love ourselves before we can love others. I used to disagree with that. I thought I needed to deny myself my own love. I thought I could love others while ignoring my own needs. I now see that I cannot give what I do not have.

Ultimately, doing one nice thing for ourselves each day is meant to lead us to loving ourselves continuously.

When I come from a place of self-love, I can reach out with more love than I ever imagined. I am capable of more compassion than I knew previously. Empathy is more genuine.

It’s possible that being selfish may be the best way to help each other.

New Frontiers

A few days ago, I thought I’d finished with all the transforming I needed in one lifetime. I was done. I was going to live with the imperfections, and I was going to be happy.

That lasted until I got too tired of the discomfort. Pain actually.

This morning in meditation, I opened my belly, and I began to pull out something that hurt. It turned out to be attached to a chain that would not let go of its anchor, so I dove down to find out how deep it went.

It was deep. Very deep.

I got right down to where a little, snarling childlike version of myself was protecting the end of the chain. I thanked the snarling child for doing his job. He protected me for many years by getting me the things that I wanted. I then explained to him that his work was done. I soothed him. He was quite surprised, but he settled down and released the end of the chain.

I picked up the chain, I took the boy’s hand, and we went up to the surface. I gave him to an angel, and I was released from the pain.

It left a void, and I invited light to fill it.

What I have just described is a kind of guided visualization. I use it a great deal, and I get very good benefits from it. I’m able to help myself with very simple techniques. It’s really startling how much pain I’ve been able to release using guided visualization. I recommend meditation to anyone who thinks they can’t help themselves. I’ve been meditating for many years, decades actually. It works, and it does not have to be difficult.

I’m still going to revel in my humanity.

Using Tools

This morning, my anxiety has been high. I have hopes for a situation to work itself out in a certain way in the very near future, and I’m anxious about it. Because I’m in recovery, I have experience using tools to help me cope when I have difficult emotions rolling around inside.

The first tool I used this morning was meditation, and it helped enormously. I was very calm and centered for a few hours afterward. Sitting in a quiet place and breathing helps me when I’m anxious or otherwise unhappy.

I would normally go for a good powerwalk, but my knee doesn’t feel right. I have to stay off it for a while. I’m sad about this, because exercise is a very good way to work through unpleasant emotions.

I got to work fine, and I’ve been concentrating on some tasks. That helps a great deal, but it doesn’t take my whole mind off what I’m anxious about.

So I turned to another tool: friends in recovery. I’m a member of a small group on the internet of people in recovery from mental illness. I asked them what they did to cope with anxiety. One person reminded me to take breaks from the busy-ness. I just did that. I left my cubicle and went for a walk in the sun. I went down the street to the cathedral and sat there for five minutes. It worked. I feel calm again.

I have therapy tonight, and it couldn’t come at a better time. I will be able to talk to my psychologist about what’s going on. I have found in all my years in therapy that when I talk about a problem, it loses its power. Sometimes it disappears completely.  It really works.

I do not know if talking to my therapist will cause today’s anxiety to disappear completely, but I am positive it will help.

I am grateful today for the tools I have to aid me in my recovery.

Routine

Last weekend, I had a houseguest. An old friend from the city I used to live in needed a short break from her surroundings, so I spoke up and invited her to come over for a weekend. She jumped at the chance.

We had fun. We ate some very good food at a number of good restaurants I know around the city. We visited a famous site where she’d never been and took a tour. I’d been to this site only once before quite a few years ago, so I was delighted to get to go again. We also went to the mall and walked around the shops. We happened across a high-end chocolatier, and I splurged on some very good chocolates. We also got to spend time with a mutual friend, and that was delightful.

I did my laundry on a day that I don’t normally do that chore. I skipped cutting my hair on Saturday morning. I also didn’t go for my regular powerwalk.

On Sunday afternoon, I drove my friend back to the airport and hugged her goodbye. I then drove home and stayed inside for the rest of the day. I played on the internet and read a book and relaxed.

Monday, I was oddly distracted all day. It was hard to concentrate on work, and my colleague asked if I was feeling okay.

Then it struck me that I was irritable. I wasn’t feeling completely normal. I felt a bit off kilter, if that makes sense.

As I was realizing this, the reason flashed across my mind. My routine had been completely upset over the weekend. I didn’t get to do anything at my normal times.

I’ve understood this before. Routine is very important to individuals with mental illness. It’s a way we self-manage our illnesses. By performing the same tasks in the same way over and over, we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that the time is passing calmly. It’s a way to maintain equilibrium.

It has taken me a few days, but I now feel like I’m back to my old self again. My routine is in place, and my equilibrium has returned.

I am grateful for this reminder. I am also grateful I could enjoy the weekend. It felt wonderful to participate in activities that enriched my life. I loved seeing my old friend again. Even though my routine was discarded for a few days, I was able to cope, and then I regained my routine shortly after and got back to my comfortable feelings.

Coping with Anxiety

Yesterday was not an easy one for me. It was busy with emails flying about and doctor appointments and phone calls. The emails were unfortunately very confrontational, and they caused me a lot of anxiety.

Over the years of therapy I’ve been grateful to have, I’ve come to recognize negative emotions in my body right from the very beginning. For me, they start in my stomach. When I feel it churning or burning, I know that I’m experiencing anxiety or fear. When my chest tightens, then I’ve already missed the early warning signs, and the situation grew. If my face muscles clench or I have a headache, then things are out of control.

Thankfully yesterday, I caught my emotions while they were still in my stomach. It was extremely unpleasant, and I was relieved to have two appointments with health professionals. I saw my psychiatric prescribing nurse practitioner and my psychologist. Both are very competent women with many years in their fields, and I trust them fully.

The nurse practitioner and I had a good opportunity to discuss the situation, and she had some great feedback. She suggested that I begin to disengage from the volunteer organization that I spend so much time and energy giving to. She didn’t tell me to quit, but to let others in the group step up and do much of the work. I have been doing this since the beginning of the year, and I’m continuing it.

My psychologist had even more concrete ideas about easing the trouble causing my upset stomach. I had been insulted by one conversaion, and she suggested I write a very short note to the friend who had hurt me. I did that. I wrote clearly that my feelings were hurt. I did not write in anger. I did not express any either. I stated simply what words hurt me. Just discussing the idea of writing the note eased my churning stomach. Actually doing it and hitting the send button on my computer gave me more satisfaction. Later, I received a simple and heartfelt apology. All was well.

My psychologist paid me a great compliment. When I began counseling with her many years ago, it would take us many sessions to dig up my emotions. Yesterday, I entered her office and immediately explained my upset stomach and what was causing it. We came to a good conclusion, and I followed through. All that was accomplished in one sitting.

I have learned to pay attention to my body. It doesn’t lie to me. If something is wrong in my environment or with a situation that I can’t put my finger on, I can trust the sensations my body is giving me. I did not learn this overnight. It took many years, and I am still perfecting it. I will always be a work in progress.

Anxiety is awful. It robs us of clear thinking and overall enjoyment of life. Causes of anxiety are as numerous as grains of sand on the beach. I used to be terribly frightened to drive in parking lots. Life is not simple, and I needed a coping mechanism to allow me to park with minimal fear and greatest safety. I learned to plot my course. I visualized entering the parking lot from the same spot and turning down the same lane each time. My decision was to park in the first available stall regardless of its distance from the store’s entrance.

It worked. I learned to practice this visualizing and planning technique with many other situations in my life. Whatever gave me fear would be met by clear thinking and discussions with caregivers and planning.

I am not alone today. I have people who care about my success at daily living. They help, and I am learning to accept help.