Tending the Fires of Self-Care

Do you ever get lessons or metaphors from everyday actions? I get them quite often and wanted to share this one that popped up on a chilly, snowy day last winter.

Photo by andre govia on Unsplash

I am fortunate enough to have a fireplace. I am even more fortunate that I was able to have an insert put in, which is basically a wood-burning stove with a nice glass door so that I can still see the flames crackling away.  Don’t you feel warmer just reading that? I certainly do.


On this particular day, I started a fire and closed the door. At first, the cheery fire burned brightly. Then I went out of the room, and when I came back, the fire was almost out. I pretty much had to start from scratch to get the fire going again, which was the lesson. I needed to tend the fire. To check on it frequently, even when it was burning brightly. I needed to keep feeding it, to add wood in the right size pieces. The hotter the fire burned, the bigger log I could put on.  If I started the fire and as soon as a flame showed up, I put too big a log on so I didn’t have to tend it so frequently, I would smother the fire. If I kept putting kindling size sticks on an established fire, the would burn out quickly, and I would either have to keep putting more and more on more frequently, or the fire would burn itself out in short order.

What does this have to do with self-care? It’s a similar process to take care of one’s self on every level: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. We need to develop a regular habit, with frequent checking. It will be most beneficial to start with small, consistent actions. As we get more comfortable with these actions, as they become a part of what we do regularly, we can add more or bigger actions.

On the physical and mental levels, it could be starting yoga. You might take a yoga class once a week. When you are comfortable with that (and you might be surprised how quickly that can happen) you can add a second class, or start a practice at home. The better you feel, the more motivated you will be to continue the practice. That’s feeding the fire, the weekly class. The bigger log is adding another class. It becomes easy and regular practice to keep feeding your fire often enough with just the right log to keep it burning brightly.

On the emotional level, it might be finding a therapist to help you break through the blocks and barriers to feeling how you want to feel. I see that as finding the right size log at the right time to keep the fire burning, but not smothering it or having it burn out too quickly.  When you understand your feelings, and how feelings impact behaviors, you are on your way to a more mindful way of living. Not that you won’t feel the undesirable feelings, but that you learn that undesirable feelings pass, and don’t need to result in undesirable actions.

The spiritual level is very personal and could be a very long post. In essence, what is it that feeds your soul, that connects you to the bigger energy outside of yourself? What kind of community or practice fuels you? I wonder if this is less about the wood and more about the reaction with air, which is also necessary to keep a fire burning.

Self-care is an ongoing process of connecting all the elements that keep you burning brightly. It can be joyful, sometimes a little painful, sometimes a little difficult journey with bright rewards along the way.

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Your Script for Assertive and Effective Communication

This script is for talking with important people in your life; it is not necessary to talk to just anyone from a feelings place.  Eventually, you will be able to communicate this way without using the exact script and will find it not only to be effective, but a relief as well.

In therapy and in self-help book and meetings, people are encouraged to speak assertively and express their feelings. Sometimes, this message is misunderstood and misused. I have heard people in my office say awful things to a spouse or child and then say “I am just expressing my feelings.”  Well, ok, they are expressing their feelings, but not in a way that has the other person listening. In fact, they are often attacking and spewing pent up hurt and anger, which leave the receiver running and ducking for cover, or curled up in the fetal position on the floor trying to protect themselves. Sometimes, the recipient has emotionally checked out, or will physically leave the room. [Read more…]

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Don’t forget a gift for yourself!

This is the time of year when most of us are running around getting ready for the holiday season. We are thinking of everyone else, looking for the perfect gifts, baking the best cookies, attending parties, throwing parties and affected by the time of year, whether or not we celebrate. Some of us literally run ourselves ragged doing for others. Shoppers aren’t always at their best, and traffic patterns change.

What are you doing for yourself? What gifts are you giving yourself?

This is the time of year when doctor and therapy appointments get rescheduled until after New Year’s; when we skip the massage and yoga and other relaxing activities. Yet it really is just the time of year when we need these the most, to balance out the stress, running and anxiety of getting ready for the holidays.

On airplanes, we are told to put our own oxygen masks on first so that we CAN help others.      What is you oxygen mask this time of year? What gift will you give yourself so that you can really enjoy the holidays, not just check off the list of what you give and do for others?  What will do for yourself so that you Thrive during the holidays, not just Survive them?

Here are some ideas:

  • Make and get to your therapy appointment. Talk about what is stressing you out, and make a plan to deal with the stressors.
  • Take a yoga or meditation class
  • Get a foot massage
  • Sleep late one day
  • Avoid or minimize alcohol consumption at parties
  • Learn a quick relaxation exercise such as TAT (Tapas AcupressureTechnique) or EFT
    (Emotional Freedom Technique)
  • Read a few chapters of a novel with a mug of hot chocolate

My secret treat? A green smoothie.

Celebrate you, your friends, your family!

I wish you a happy, stress-free, joyous holiday season.

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Vacations that heal

Summertime. Vacation time. Rest and relaxation? Sometimes.

I had the best vacation last August! It was short, budget and all, but it was so energizing and relaxing and healing, that I was just floating when I came back.  Little things didn’t bother me, I had energy, yet I slept well. I came back ready to face the things I had been avoiding and take action. I realized that I was more mindful. No multi-tasking, but one thing at a time, with my full energy and concentration. Amazing how much more I got done!

So what did I do? I went to the Newport Jazz Festival for the first time. OMG!  The music was amazing! I haven’t seen many superstars live, but on the stage were Dave Brubeck with Wynton Marsales; Herbie Hancock and Amal Jamar. I am totally enchanted with Jamie Cullum and Amina Figerova’s music spoke to me, I felt it in my body.

I was with a great friend, and got to meet two wonderful women I had only heard about for many years. I felt like I knew them, and meeting them face to face was so easy and natural, like we had been talking every day for years. I met some new folks too, and can’t wait to see them next year. Oh, wait, the magic of the internet will connect us, and we are in close enough proximity to keep the energy going with some visits in between.

I know I was stuck, I could feel it in my body before my vacation. After I got back, I made commitments and followed through on some nutritional changes, took care of the yearly medical appointments, cleared out some clutter, and noticed how differently my mind felt when my body felt better and vise-versa.

It reminded me and continues to remind me that balance is so important to creating a life worth living. Balance between work and play, making time for self-care, eating well, sleeping well, time with friends and time alone to create, renew and rejuvenate.

What kind of activities do you like?  What kind of vacations or get-aways are in your budget, and leave you refreshed when you get home.

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Running to distraction

Running too, running away, whatever. I feel a bit sheepish to admit that I would rather focus on something physical than the emotion roller-coaster I have been on this week.  Does that ever happen to you? Dang, and here I thought I was perfect, enlightened and cured! Process not event, process not event! Sometimes we trip over that wrinkle in the carpet, and get smacked back to reality and the next part of the personal journey.

So, the chimney on my fixer-upper house needs some serious attention. Waaaay serious. Way, way more serious than we originally thought. Fixable though. But one of those things that are easy to ignore, was easy to ignore til I saw that big hunk  missing. And admitted that the damp fiery smell was not normal.

Lou the chimney guy was up on the roof today, and got a good look at what you can’t see from the ground, even from a ladder.  The pitch of my roof is so steep that organic matter has been building up between the roof and the chimney so long that a little tree was growing there. There was actually some awesome compost up there, a few large flowerpots full. And there’s a fix for that, so it won’t happen after the chimney is repaired.

There is also a second flue that goes to nowhere, maybe a wood stove sometime in the long past, or the hopes of adding one downstairs that never got added. So we can seal that one up. And extend the chimney because it is way too short for the size of the fireplace. Since the chimney is at the back of the house isn’t a show piece anyhow, it can be done more economically with stainless steel. Yippee, something is going my way!

One of the things I did learn, if I allow myself to focus again, since the chimney is clearly well in the hands of the experts and on the mend, is that facing emotional issues is so unappealing.  But so necessary. I took out my coping tool bag, and started using the tools  I encourage my clients to use, the ones I teach them to fill their emotional emergency healing kits with.

  • I cried
  • I cried on my friends and my sister’s shoulders and got hugs and pats and encouraging words
  • I admitted I was human
  • I admitted that I needed help
  • I walked the dog
  • I talked
  • I journaled
  • I did something I loved: I sat down at my loom and wove, which leaves me peaceful
  • Every time the hurt started welling up into anger, I stopped and got quiet
  • I focused on doing something that was not self-destructive
  • I made myself eat, and sleep and took special care dressing
  •  I talked some more
  • I used Reiki on myself, and some visioning and hypnosis
  • I did allow myself to get angry, to admit it. Not rageful, but angry, ouch, it hurt. And I thought the anger wouldn’t go away, and I’ll be darned if it didn’t start ebbing away when I admitted it, gave it voice, honored it. I did not need to act out in a vicious way. Ok, maybe a few snarky remarks to the offenders, but even that has melted away.
  • I had to do many of those things over and over again, when I really wanted to do one and be cured. One time walking the dog, one journal entry and magically gone. Nope, reality is I sometimes had to use a tool only 15 minutes after getting some relief from that tool or another.

It worked, it does work, and I am humbler and stronger for it. As someone who means a great deal to me once said: “Another f-king opportunity for growth.”

I wish you gift of knowing that if you use the tools when you need to, then you will grow.

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Are You Codependent?

I sure am! Ouch! Here I thought I had mastered my codependency years ago. What a rude surprise, it’s a lifelong process not an event.

So, in listening to this spiritual message, in my continuing quest for balance in my life, I am using the tool of Mindfulness to observe my behaviors. Without judgement, without expectation, without needing to change it in a knee jerk response. Yes, it’s a tall order, but I know what’s on the other side of that: healthy behaviors, no built up resentments for not being noticed or appreciated, no unrealistic expectations of myself and others, and gradual changes that are more likely to last. Did I mention boundaries, not walls? Did I mention a reminder that life is a process, not an event; that not all “nice” behaviors are codependent.

What makes a “nice” behavior into a codependent behavior? Holding on to an expectation that you will get something back for being nice. Love, appreciation, changes in someone else’s behavior, martyrdom…get the picture?

So does that mean I cut everyone off and become angry and closed and never do anything for anyone ever again. No, just that I observe my behaviors, not every moment, but trigger behaviors. When I start to do something for someone without first asking would they like me to do it. That’s one of my weaknesses, fixing, doing magic if I see someone in pain or imagine they are in pain.  That I take on some else’s issue, like not asking for money that is owed to me, or overpaying my 1/3 of the office bills, since I don’t have the same expenses as the other 2.

And number one, to remember that I don’t have to do this alone. Yes, I need to take the action, but I can talk about the process, I can ask for feedback, I can let some support me, cheer me on and celebrate my progress and successes with me.

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Breaking out and opening up

Yes, it’s been a while, a time of transition (therapist use of self as model for healing).  Lots has been happening to my mindset as I learn about good business practices, marketing (gasp), and creating a business plan and direction for my therapy and coaching practice. And haven’t I just been thrilled with all the warts I’ve noticed about myself during the process (NOT!).  It has been necessary, and in the end, empowering.

Often ,we get signs and signals from Great Spirit, or Higher Power or the Cosmos, whomever you conceptualize. Today I got a message that really sums up the past 6 months: Breaking out and opening up.

The message itself was a little amusing and a little frustrating. It’s Sunday, and I had to go to the grocery store. Of course, there are long lines, and some flaring tempers.  The cashier picked up my plastic container of organic eggs, and the container popped open and launched an egg. She looked up at the line queuing at her register, and asked if I wanted her to get me another container of eggs.  I offered to run for the eggs while she bagged the rest of my order. 

I came back and put my prize in a bag and checked out. By the time I got to the car, this container had popped open, but the bag caught the eggs, and none were lost. Instead of grumbling, since I already had a bad enough day with an earlier migraine, I stopped, saw the eggs weren’t broken, but them back into the container and took a breath.

Now I could wonder why they were in plastic rather than a paper carton, since there were, after all organic eggs; I could notice that it looks like the container might have been previously opened and not closed correctly, although you can see all that all the eggs are intact without opening plastic container, as opposed to a paper carton (hmmmmmm!).  I chose, instead to stop, take a breath, and wonder what the message might be in two egg containers opening:  Breaking out and opening up. Which is exactly what I have been preparing to do for the past 6 months, personally and professionally. And here I thought I was just stuck.

Do you ever feel stuck? Like you are paralyzed, or spinning your wheels?  Here are a few helpful tips to deal with it:

1. Stop, take a breath

2. Be gentle with yourself; beating yourself up will only paralyze you further

3. Ask for help! Find a therapist or a coach who can help you identify what is keeping you stuck. Then help you develop a plan. Sometimes, therapy will help you get to the bottom of the obstacle and no amount of coaching will. Sometimes, a good coach and a good plan will get you in the flow.

Here’s to moving forward and creating a life worth living!

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Time to calm down

And enjoy! It was a lovely day today, started a little chilly, but warmed beautifully as the day progressed. I live in NJ, and things have been more than a little damp here. Of course I forgot about that when I flew off to the office today, and had to detour around my usual route, which floods readily and easily. On a hot summer day, the water, well, swamp I guess, is on both sides of that road, and the water is always nearly at the road anyhow, so it doesn’t take too much rain to allow it to flow over the road.  More rain leaves it impassable to cars. 

Then there’s the cresting rivers a few days after the rain, which leaves some roads that had been passable suddenly closed.  My office is surprisingly close to a river, I believe a part of the Passaic (note to self to check on that one).  Today, the road was open, but I wonder if it will still be by Saturday. Two rains ago, the flooding was worse after the rain stopped; hence my quick education on cresting rivers. You’d think I’d have known that by now; oh well.

Although my home was not in an area that was under water, it is built into a hill. The ground became so saturated over the past few weeks, that some water did seep into the basement. I felt very grateful that I could manage it with towels, lots of towels, a mop and 2 dehumidifiers.  It was more like a huge puddle, and didn’t flow onto anything that wasn’t safely living in plastic tubs already.

This is, of course, to the hypnotherapist, a wonderful bounty of metaphor opportunities.  Emotions, especially anger, can just keep building up, hiding underground so that you don’t see them, don’t realize they are there until they leak in, eventually even flooding in.  Self-care is so important at these times.  Addiction treatment talks about HALT, being hungry, angry, lonely and tired as a trigger to relapse. That is so true, and being mindful helps one take the actions when they recognize any or all of these symptoms. The actions of talking to others; meditation; nutrition and watching caffeine and sugar intake; taking your medication if indicated; exercise or yoga are only a few of the options.

What if, however, you haven’t recognized the anger yet? Your ground is saturated, but you don’t see/feel it yet.  Do you need to wait until it leaks in? Floods over your road? Do you need to wait until you become angry, rageful, hopeless, self-destructive?  Absolutely not!  As you learn to live mindfully, some other thoughts may begin to occur to you; you notice what is going on around you. You notice your emotional rain, from the very first drop. You remember that the ground, your ground, can only hold so much before it becomes saturated. You remember that the rivers get full, flood even, then a few days later, when it seems they should be receding, they crest and may flood again.  Unlike the weather, we can intervene when we feel the first emotional drops of rain. We can prevent the ground from getting oversaturated, the river from cresting.  Or, we can wait with an armload of towels and a head full of every alternate route to get where we want to go.  How will you choose to live your life?

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Whew, what a great day!  I got a lot accomplished, some of which I wasn’t expecting to have time to do. It helped balance out the unexpected changes in the day’s schedule.

Although I don’t consider myself a teacher, in many ways it seems to come naturally to me. I am used to the role of therapist/teacher/counselor/coach on a small scale, usually 1 to 1. I haven’t been working with groups often since I stopped working in intensive outpatient programs, which I miss very much.  (grist for later posts on the groups and seminars coming in January 2010 at my office and via teleseminar). Anyhow, I taught a technique to the members of one of my weaving guilds, and we all had a grand time. After I got over my dry mouth and forgetting my great ice-breaker jokes and fabulous self-introduction, I found my rhythm and totally forgot that I was nervous.  Should have done my self-hypnosis before rather than after the anxiety bit, but it worked itself out.

I have to do that again sometimes, the teaching. Yes, and the self-hypnosis. It is nice to have the hypnotherapist guild you through a healing trance, but it is also very empowering to elicit change in yourself.  The self-hypnosis in between the sessions with the hypnotherapist really support the continued change and growth, especially with issues like anxiety, weight management and smoking cessation.

So riding on the high from the workshop (yes, for you addicts reading this, there are things you can do to have a good time without drinking and drugging!), I came home and set a few goals to make the best use of that cheerful, positive energy. My poor old Yorkie isn’t so happy with that; the old guy is almost 16, suffering from chronic kidney disease and is mostly blind. He may be going deaf also, but it is hard to know if it selective or real….he’s always been pretty independent and commands like “come” and “stop” have never meant much to him. I’ve been promising him a bath for a few weeks, and finally got him in the tub today. I feel wonderful that I accomplished that; he’s still wrapped in a towel and blanket, shivering and looking at me with a glare somewhere between pity and loathing. But he smells good and he’s nice and clean, and he’s really going to be in an uproar when I get the nail clippers out in a few minutes. Good, check another thing off the list!

Some cooking is on the agenda for tonight also. One of the biggest helps in creating a healthy body and weight is avoiding processed foods with additives, lots of salt and sugar in their many disguised forms, and “bad” fats. Just by cooking my whole grains and veggies myself, I can avoid those additives. I can add in good fats, like avocados and olive oil. I can also cook ahead for a few days, and prepare a few meals myself to keep in the fridge. We all like convenience, and the time I spend cooking and making more than one meal at a time gives me the convenience of reaching into the fridge without the consequence of processed foods.

I must also mention that I cook for the Yorkie. I read the label on the prescription dog food that is recommended, and shivered. Yuk! So I did some research, and came up with natural diet recommendations for canine kidney disease. So I cook for all of us at once. I can cook 2 batches of yummy beef /rice and sweet potato/egg/veggies for him and it lasts a week.  And except for the beef  or chicken and raw eggs, we pretty much eat the same thing. I won’t digress today on why our pets seem to be developing illnesses like obesity, kidney disease and cancer. Yes, environment and genetics are  factors for animals as well as people, but we can certainly impact our health and the health of our pets by what we feed all of us.

To end the day, a little zen knitting. Ahhhhhhhh!

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What to expect in therapy

After the question how much, the question how long is often asked. How long will this take, how long do I have to come?  It’s a fair question, but not always easy to answer. If you enter a program, such as an addiction treatment program, you are usually given an expected length of stay, such as 5 days, 3 weeks, 2-5 months. This should be based on accomplishing the goals of treatment, or your treatment plan.

In individual therapy, the length of treatment is not as clear. It depends on what issues you wish to resolve, and how long it takes to resolve them. It is based on the definition of “resolve” that you and your therapist work out.  Does resolve mean the issue is completely gone from you life? Does resolve mean you can function relatively well on a daily basis, but still have some occasional, lingering emotional distress.

It can also depend on the type of therapy and therapeutic process just a few of which are: cognitive therapy, brief therapy, solution focused, psychodynamic, hypnosis, DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy).

Most of the time, I see clients between 6 months to two years.  Again, that depends on what your goals are, and what the problems you want to resolve are. After the acute stage, the crisis or final straw that brings you to therapy is managed,  the next stages of healing can be the focus.  Maintainance and ongoing support continue as long as it is beneficial to the you.  This is evaluated and discussed as therapy continues.  It is optimal that you and I, client and therapist agree when it is time to close, and set the goal to complete the treatment.

Sometimes, a “refresher” helps someone get through a tough time, or as my therapist used to say tripping over a wrinkle in the carpet.   Sometimes, you, a client, needs a break to process information, to practice living life with new ideas, coping skills and emotional clarity. I have client who came for therapy for about a year. She felt that she had gotten what she needed. She returned to treatment about 8 months later, ready to deal with the next “layer” of healing.  She commented that she feels that she is making progress so much faster now than during the first year. Indeed, she seems to be taking quantum leaps in emotional healing.  What a joy to be along on her journey!

Some clients may find that psychotherapy, or even addictions treatment is not what they need. They need support and feedback on another level, a level that has to do with personal growth and little to do with a “diagnosis”.  For these clients, coaching, or life coaching is a good fit.  More about coaching in future posts. Maybe it’s for you!

To your well-being!

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