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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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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They can’t do it alone

OK, if you have someone in your life who is addicted to “Oxy” here’s a sad truth: They cannot stop on their own!  The addict will tell you they will just stop when you confront them/him/her.  I’m not saying s/he can’t, but I haven’t seen anyone yet in my practice who has been able to just stop, or wean him/herself off. That’s why it’s called an addiction, and that’s why there are detoxes to help.

Addicts, if they will accept the help, not only need to clean their systems of the drug, but need to break the cycle of using and all the associations to/with it.  Especially if they accept help under duress. Even if they accept help gratefully, they have been hoping for some time that someone would notice and care enough to ignore the wheedling and pleading and manipulation and present them with an option to get help, to stop, to have another chance.

So while you are trying to figure out how to help the loved one in your life, do the most important thing first: take care of you. Get support for you; get help for you.  Get enough sleep; eat right, and talk. Talk to someone who can help you work out the plan to confront, with love and compassion, and cope whether your loved one accepts help right away, or later, or never.

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Addiction is like Poison Ivy

You may know that you are allergic to poison ivy, and avoid it. Yet, you still end up with the telltale uncomfortable rash that let’s you know you were not as successfully avoiding it as you thought.

Or you may not know you are sensitive to poison ivy, and suddenly, after a lifetime of recklessly dancing through poison ivy patches that have your friends and family cringing, you end up with a wicked case of itchy, painful poison ivy and didn’t even remember coming in contact with it. (OK, yes, that was me)

Addiction is a lot like that; other people’s addictions: those of your family members, close friends or loved ones. Ouch, ouch, ouch!

The person in your life may have an addiction that is obvious and the toll it takes on everyone around them is obvious. If all of you are lucky, then the addicted person gets treatment and into recovery. They bloom, grow and change.  And if all of you are very lucky, then those affected by the addict bloom and grow and change as well.

If no one educates the family on what to expect, sometimes they get left behind. They remain confused, hurt, angry, stuck. There’s a lot of support out there for addicts who want help; not so much for the family and friends.

Sometimes the family and friends think they have not been affected by the addict’s behaviors. The addiction is not so obvious, or the family and friends have found support groups or therapy. The addict may have found abstinence but not “recovery.”  Or the addict relapses. Or…well, the list goes on.  They notice this little itch, so they scratch it. Then they look, and see that it’s not just an irritation or a bug bite, but a blistered, spreading rash. YIKES! Where the heck did that come from? I didn’t see any poison ivy..I don’t think I did anyhow. What does poison ivy look like again?

The solution is simple, although the process may not be: Family and friends of addicts must learn to take care of themselves FIRST. When they are emotionally and physically healthy, they can learn what to do next to keep their own balance and deal with the addicted person in their lives, whether the person is using or not.

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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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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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It’s a family dis-ease

I have seen some examples recently that remind me how much families are affected by mental illness and addiction.  The family intentionally or unintentionally does a dance around the mental illness sufferer or addict.  This is often labeled as enabling, but I have found it to be exacerbated by the lack of education, intervention, support and resources for the family members.

In some cases, the “identified patient” (IP) , the addict or severely mentally ill person has declined treatment, or will not comply with treatment recommendation such as AA, abstinence, therapy and/or medications.  Many families do not know what to do that this point, where to turn, who to ask. Families of addicts are told to attend Al-anon or Nar-anon and “work on themselves.” This is a very good recommendation, but they often need more: education, options, resources, coaching. Sometimes, they just want to ask questions like what can the addicted person expect in treatment? In AA or NA? What will change for them and us if our “IP”  takes medication, or gets sober or whatever.  A professional if better prepared to answer these questions more objectively and help the family develop a game plan, goals and initiate self-care whether or not the IP is getting treatment.

Even when the “IP” is getting treatment, family members feel left out or that they are walking on eggshells. They do not know if they can ask questions, let alone what questions to ask and how to ask them. They are reluctant to express their own concern and feelings, even optimism.  This is especially true of families with young adults who still live at home. They may understandably want to limit the family’s ability to “butt” in by not signing releases of information. At the very time the family can help, the young adult, addict or mentally ill, will decide to exert their independence.  I’m not talking about crashing boundaries here, but understanding how to communicate and realizing how all family members are affected. In fact, it is often a time to establish or reestablish boundaries, and redefine private vs. secret. It’s a time to visualize mental illness into mental wellness.

Yes, family members do need to do things to take care of themselves, but they often desperately want to know how to help the IP, and don’t want to be told to” butt out, it’s their problem. ” If they can learn healthy ways to help and support the IP while taking care of themselves, the process is less painful.

In response to this need, I will be launching my Recovery Coaching products and services over the next few months. In short, the goal is to teach families how to recover from the impact of addiction or mental illness in their family. How to return to or create equilibrium. How to set goals as a family and as individuals that promote health and a peaceful spirit.

Additionally,  many recovering addicts/alcoholics get to a point in their recovery when they no longer need therapy, but need help to envision the next step in their life journey. They may need to work on certain areas within their recovery that do not get addressed in 12-step meetings, such as mindfulness, nutrition, “secondary” addictive behaviors such as food or love.

So what can you do today? Well, you just did something by reading this post.

What else? Talk to the “IP” in your family, and simply remind them “I love you and I care about you.”

How about telling yourself: “I love you and I care about you.”

Start to learn about mindfulness: Take a few moments to sit quietly and focus on where you are in the moment. Notice where you are sitting, what is around you. Observe or witness your thoughts: who are you thinking about and how does that change when you sit quietly and simply breathe. Close your eyes, count 5-4-3-2-1 slowly, then open your eyes.  You may be surprised and delighted how centering and refreshing a mini-mind-vacation can be.

To your mental wellness!

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accomplishments

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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Committment

Or sticking with it.  What holds you back from blogging, or writing or other goals?  Can you identify the obstacles? Once you identify the obstacles, do you feel free to move forward? Who can support you in your committment to change?

Whoops, I’m back. distractibility is one of my obstacles. When I sat down to write, I decided that I just had to try the hempseed milk I had made earlier and put in the fridge to chill.  For you addicts who are reading, no you can’t get high from it. Says right on the package, non-viable hulled hempseed. Oh yes, distractibility.

Perfectionism is another. Does that resonate for any of you? If the words don’t come perfectly in order, spelled, grammatically correct in the appropriate syntax, why bother? IRRATIONAL THOUGHT! Devil be gone! The great thing about writing is you can start by just putting down your ideas, then weaving them into a story. The final product can be edited and even redone. The trick is to know when it is edited enough, as a perfectionist can always find something the change to make it better. Balance, that is one way of dealing with perfectionism. Take risks, don’t take yourself so seriously. Know what need to be done perfectly, and what can be done to the best of your ability. Keep a sense of humor, being careful not to slip into sarcasm, which is thinly disguised anger. Be gentle. Be kind. Be firm but not harsh. Nourish yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

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