The Struggle is Real
I was 29 years old when I heard the phrase self care.
Maybe I’d heard it before that, but if I had, I couldn’t recall it. My naivete on the subject was pretty pathetic. My counselor sat across from me after I explained a food binge to her and asked me, “What do you do for self care?”
I distinctly remembering blinking and asking her, “What does that mean? I’ve never heard of it.”
Her eyebrows rose. “Self care is time you set aside to take care of yourself. It’s different for everyone. What do you do for self care?”
Without her explaining it, I knew that I couldn’t say I work.
“I trail run a lot. Or, I used to, before I had my son. Does that count?”
“Okay. Yes. That is a form of self care. But what do you do now?”
“Nothing,” I whispered.
Food As Self Care
Actually, that was a lie.
I did do self care: in the form of food. #allthefood
Chocolate was always the most forgivable binge. Culturally, American’s love to cope with chocolate. I could literally justify almost any form of chocolate away. Bad day at work? Time for a pint. (Of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream). Ran through an eight miler without passing out? Time for some Fresh Market Chocolate Chunk Cookies. The fact that I exercised twice a day (before kids—remember?) only helped cement the fact that I needed the calories.
No. My body probably needed some almonds.
When things went wrong—or when things were going well—it was all-too-natural to reach for the fridge. What I didn’t know is that I was giving myself food instead of giving myself freedom.
Taking care of myself is less about food and more about avoidance.
What It Is . . . And What It Isn’t
I’m not going to try to talk about self care on a spectrum for everyone, because it’s too broad. So let’s keep it in terms that I can explain and you can then extrapolate into your own life.
For me, self care is quiet. It’s not watching Parks and Rec instead of thinking about the brownies I ate that made me feel sick.
Self care is connection with myself. It’s not staying up late so I can work myself into a tunnel that doesn’t see my issues.
Self care is sitting in the sunshine and thinking about good things. It’s not a 90 minute run followed by a weight lift followed by cleaning the house. (I’m not saying that exercise is bad—not at all. But historically, exercise has been a way that I binged and justified. When I’m manic about exercise, I’m trying to hide from something. Typically my feelings.).
Self care is being in the moment, not worrying about my future plans.
Self care is staring at a plate of food and asking myself, How hungry is my body? It’s not feeding my eyes, mind, or heart.
Why I Avoid it
So the big question is this: why do I avoid self care?
Why do I find myself packing the days with hours of work? Why do I find myself exercising relentlessly in pursuit of self imposed shame? Why do I eat the extra cookies when I’m not hungry at all?
Because even though I’m aware of my issues, I’m not free of them.
Food is an addiction, just like pornography, smoking, alcohol, or anything else. That means I’m always going to gravitate to it, and I’m always going to struggle with the impulse of the moment. That also means that identifying the addiction doesn’t remove the desire for it.
Basically: addiction sucks and self care is hard.
Although I’ve been through a lot of counseling, talk openly about my food and body image struggles, the truth is that I constantly struggle with what is actually my biggest ally: self care. Self care means I need to face ugly facts (like the 5 no bake cookies I ate after dinner in a moment of toddler-tantrums inspired passion). It means I need to stop the dopamine rush of achieving something at work in order to step back and breathe. It means I need to take time. And time is oh-so-precious.
Self care means lots of hard things.
But it also means lots of freedom.
My Favorite Self Care Options
Being in the moment is what dictates what I need.
For example, I just traveled with my two-year-old for a week, and the transition back home has been !#(*%)!*@#!. After the end of several long days, I just wanted a silent house and an opportunity to be creative without interruptions or the melodic voice of my son bellowing, “HONEY!”
So this week, self care looked like me asking husband for a two hour break on Saturday. I’m always tempted to feel guilty that I’m not spending #allthetime with them, but a little 1:1 daddy time is awesome for both of them. Plus, 2 hours in the scope of 24 is not a big deal.
Most of the time, self care looks like eating when I’m hungry, not when I’m sad, happy, frustrated, anxious, or stressed.
Self care means journaling out the way I feel instead of putting it off by working an extra hour.
My favorite form of self care? Hiking. Reading in the sunshine. Sitting on my porch swing with a cup of tea in the morning. Talking with a really good friend. Leaving the house by myself.
Most of my self care options are “selfish”, meaning that’s the time when I get to revolve around me. I don’t find it selfish at all. The rejuvenation that comes with it is strengthening. I’m a better human when I have self care.
The End All Be All
Despite the obvious advantages of self care (lack of binges, healthy self esteem, etc), I know that I’ll always struggle to take time out for myself. Not just because I’m a Mom. Not just because I’m a military wife that sometimes has to balance more than other times. Not because I’m addicted to food and work.
But because I’m human, and it’s so much easier to put off than go through.