The first secret of really great self care is that you have to be honest withyourself about what self care isn’t. For me, I’ve figured out that self care is NOT emotional eating, which for me is any time I’m not truly hungry.
I grew up in a family with parents who didn’t really know how to take care of themselves. Both of my parents struggled with their own issues which affected their marriage and our family. As a child, I saw how they turned to food or a glass of wine when life got difficult. By watching their actions, I learned that when you felt out of whack, the answer was to use something to numb the pain.
When I was five, my parents got divorced, and of course, I was so sad and scared about what would happen to our family. That’s when I started using food to comfort myself. I would come home from school and sneak Klondike bars and Doritos. I found that if I ate enough, I could get myself to a place where the pain dulled, but it definitely wasn’t happiness, either. It felt like the only way to take care of myself and handle all the emotion I was feeling. I gained weight and saw this upset my mom, so I started to hide it even more. I would try not to eat, but when my willpower ran out I would binge on forbidden foods. This started a really guilt based relationship with food that continued for years.
Then I discovered dieting. I went on my first diet when I was 10 years old--my mom was always going on them to lose 5-10lbs. The allure was so great! If I could just manage enough willpower, I could be this brand new person who was magically free of all the big, uncomfortable body and the baggage from my family situation. I would count Weight Watchers points and lose a little weight but as soon as I went through a rough emotional patch, I would turn to food to numb the pain. I would feel like a failure. I would eat more, gain extra weight and feel even worse. It's now obvious to me that dieting wasn’t the right way to take care of myself, but that lesson took years to learn.
Now think about what your self care isn't. Diets? Food? Glasses of wine? Dramatic relationships? Shopping binges? Which of your habits are wolves in sheep's clothing? They may feel like self care sometimes--and that big bowl of ice cream at the end of your day can be really convincing! I know. But when you are really honest with yourself, you know what your self care isn’t. I’m inviting you to be really honest here. It’s only when we get honest with ourselves about what ISN’T working that we can discover what does work.
Which of your habits are really just numbing your pain? What numbing habits did you learn in your family? Which habits are you passing on to your kids? I think that one of the hardest things about having bad habits is seeing them affect the people around us.
Take a few deep breaths as you take the inventory, and be kind to yourself. It’s really important that when we look at our self care history to remember that it’s not really personal. It's cause and effect. My parents couldn't model good self care for me, so I couldn't practice real self care until I understood what was happening and that there could be a different way.
Without awareness we just keep repeating the same patterns and passing them on. By asking ourselves these questions, we are shining a little flashlight of consciousness so we can take the next step forward. Real self care exists, and you can create it for yourself.
Now that we've figured out what our self care isn't, we can start building the real foundation of our own care. Hint, it's not a diet, not even a rule and once you understand it, you absolutely cannot fail.
Next week I'll share my second secret to really great self care here. It will explain why your big efforts to change your health have failed in the past (diets! giving up coffee! going to the gym everyday!) I'll also share how to make real change, no matter how little discipline you think you have.