There is a lot of talk of self-care lately — on blogs, in our communities, and in healing spaces — deservedly so; self-care is a radical and essential act. But what does it really mean to take care of ourselves?
I see a lot of self-care suggestions, and would imagine you've come across them as well, that involve things like manicures, bubble baths, a day at the spa, a homemade hair mask which guarantees your hair to gleam brighter than the north star, and so on. OK, cool. I take no issue with any of these activities. They sound lovely, in fact. But my experience with self-care is different. I have struggled to love and be kind to myself, and so my relationship with self-care practices is of the love-hate variety.
While I do enjoy a bath with epsom salts and lavender (I mean, an aura cleanse has never hurt anyone, right?), I also know that the extra time to just be quiet and think in the tub can be painful if I am mourning a break-up, for example, or in a worried thought-loop about that thing I might have said wrong in the very important conversation (you know, the thing worth endlessly ruminating over). Or maybe you don't have a bathtub? I don't have a bathtub. It is especially annoying to be told to take a bath, as if this one act will instantly save your life, when you do not have a bathtub. Maybe you, like me, moved cross-country in a hurry, in the wake of a devastating breakup, trading high ceilings for low ceilings in the one and only studio apartment you could (still barely) afford in the entire city, and moved into this shoebox-sized apartment with your 6-month old puppy and a couple boxes. And there is only a plastic shower stall, where even a small-ish person such as me barely fits. What then?
After making this move, and starting over, I spent some time "dating myself." I had been in a revolving door of romantic relationships since the seventh grade, pretty much, never out of relationship for more than a month or so. I'm 33-years old, so that's about two decades of non-stop dating. I'd always intended to take some time for myself in between partners, but before I even knew it, I'd suddenly be in love again and enmeshed with another person. It may not be a surprise to you that most of these entanglements didn't turn out so well (the most recent one, especially). I wanted to swear off romance altogether. I, like many humans, am tempted by extremes. But when I looked at myself through loving, affectionate, and unbiased eyes, I also saw clearly that romance-deprivation was not really the route for me. To say other people are important to me would be wildly understating things. Love and sex are my jam, so to speak.
So, I decided to fall madly in love with myself. I would date and romance and flirt with myself. I would make a lovely dinner, just for me, and wear my favorite dress, red lipstick, and dangly earrings, and think about how beautiful and charming and magnetic I am. I gazed into the mirror and told myself that I longed for me, that I loved me unconditionally, that I didn't have to wait any longer because I was here to love me, finally. (The first time I said that to myself in the mirror, I wept. I became my own rescuer that day.) Ocean swims, almond butter and dark chocolate, playing my very favorite weirdest musical selections, that not one of my exes had been able to stand, at full volume on Saturday night with no plans other than journaling and laundry — it was all a recipe for having a blast. I welcomed the time and space to perform lavish moon ceremonies in my home, or worship the goddesses one-by-one. Adorn my altar. Pray. Tap in.
And while I did all these exceptionally beautiful things, a reality set in: I felt really sad while doing most of them. I was lonely. As much as I longed to rely only on my own approval, I was hard-wired for want of an observer from years of love-and-attention-seeking. I was facing old wounds, dislike of myself, discomfort with the past, anxiety about the future.
I was deeply uncomfortable caring for myself, the cause of my discomfort being the very same reason I needed all of this care in the first place: I did not fully believe myself worthy of love. I was uncomfortable giving attention to myself, and I honestly felt like maybe it had come to this because I wasn't really worthy of anyone else loving me either. All that self-care sometimes feels boring, awkward, silly, or self-indulgent, especially when it's new and strange. So I wanted to write about it, to honor the reality that self-care doesn't always feel good, and that, actually, it often hurts really fucking bad. My loving challenge is to experiment with it anyway.
One thing I am learning now, really learning in a deep and divine place within my being, is that I have nowhere else to go but home. And home, for now, is this beautiful human body, with a complicated personality and bright beaming soul, and all the learning I have left to do in this life. If I don't take time to love myself now, where will I live tomorrow? Or this afternoon? Or when I am old one day? Or even right now. Where am I right now if I am jumping out of my skin with the discomfort of having to be myself?
Self-care tips I remind myself of:
- Each drop of love you can offer yourself is important
- The cumulative effect is far more powerful than each individual act
- You don't have to feel any certain way while you take positive action or think a new thought. (Sometimes you'll feel the opposite of the thing you're saying or doing. That's just fine. Do it anyway.)
- Sometimes self-care involves scary things like opening our bills or decluttering. These are genuine acts of self-care. Do them gently. Light a pink candle, burn some sage or rosemary, put on beautiful music while you do that stuff. You're being nice to yourself, remember?
- Look yourself in the eye in the mirror and say nice things to you. Even if your voice shakes. Even if it makes you cry. Especially if it makes you cry. Remind yourself it is safe to cry. You are there to take care of you. You are a safe and loving person.
You are worth loving, remember?