My New July Routines

MY Daily Self-Care Routine | Life Is Now In Session

Happy July everyone! It’s a brand new month full of possibilities and promise. I always love the firsts. First day of the year, first day of the month, first day of the week even. It always feels like a fresh start, a clean slate. July is probably one of my favorite months of the year too, which makes today extra special for me. In just a few more days it’ll be my favorite holiday, Independence Day. There couldn’t possibly be a better time or headspace for me to start cultivating some new self-love routines. Today I wanted to share these new routines with you. Feel free to incorporate them into your day and/or tweak them to better suit your needs.

Morning Goals/Intention Setting:

The first new habit I’ve decided to add into my day starts first thing in the morning. Usually it’s really hard for me to wake up, but this morning I was actually so excited to start my new daily ritual that I woke up feeling great and ready to start a the day. After feeding my fur children, starting a pot of coffee, and brushing my teeth, I went out on my back porch in the warm, morning air. I sat down and listened to the sound of light rain surrounding me. I placed one hand on my heart, one hand on my belly and took five deep, mindful breaths. I wanted to take a moment to check in with my physical body and ground myself, as well as send myself some loving, gentle energy. Then I asked myself these three questions:

  • What do I want to focus on today?
  • What do I want to accomplish today?
  • How can I show myself love today?

I can’t even remember a morning where I took a moment to offer myself this sort of kindness. It took less than five minutes, and it was an absolutely wonderful way to begin the day.

Healthy, Mindful Eating:

Somehow during the pandemic, I acquired some pretty unhealthy eating habits. The main one I’ve still been unable to shake is not eating all day, then eating a day’s worth of food right before I go to bed. Obviously not ideal. Starting today, I am going back to eating regular meals throughout the day. I’ve read a lot of great things about mindful eating so I wanted to sprinkle that into my new eating routine as well. Just like with my new morning ritual, I am going to begin each meal by taking five deep, mindful breaths and really checking in with my body. How am I feeling? What does it feel like to be hungry, for my stomach to be empty? Then unlike what I’ve done practically my entire life, I am not going to watch anything or do anything else at all while I eat. I do put some lofi hip hop on, just to calm my nerves a bit. Then I have my meal while really focusing on the food as I eat it, chewing it slowly and intentionally. Finally, I finish my meals with a cup of my favorite tea (dandelion root). After my tea, once again I close my eyes and take five more mindful breaths.

Even though my lunch ended up getting pushed back quite a bit due to a very hectic and busy workday, I still managed to maintain my new routine. After a full day of eating this way, I already feel a huge difference. It was much easier than I expected to simply focus on my meal and be present instead of zoning out by watching some TV show. It definitely helped me stay connected to my body and feel more satisfied by my food.

Bedtime Routine:

Not only am I going to start my day with mindfulness and intention, but I want to make sure that after a day full of activity, I make time to wind down before bed. This routine will start at 9PM ideally (I usually go to bed by 10) and will consist of:

  • Brushing/flossing my teeth (I have yummy watermelon flavored kids toothpaste for my nighttime brushing.)
  • Washing my face and putting on a moisturizing night cream
  • More tea
  • Gentle self-massage (checking in with body to decide where it’s most needed of course)
  • Evening check-in

Tonight I added some gentle yoga in bed as well since I didn’t have time for my practice earlier in the day. It was such a wonderful end to a peaceful, nearly stress-free day.

Evening Check-In:

I plan to end my bedtime routine and my day with something similar to the way I started it. I want to start and end my days with intentional self love. Lately it’s felt like I’m just this floating mind, full of stress and nervous energy. It’s important to me to make an effort to reconnect with my physical body and make sure I am taking care of myself properly. Just as my morning ritual does, my evening check-in will also begin by taking five deep breaths. Then I’ll ask myself a few more questions:

  • How was your day?
  • What was the overall impression/vibe?
  • What went well?
  • What is something I am proud of/grateful for?
  • How might I use what I learned today to build myself a better day tomorrow?

It was really delightful to sit with myself regularly throughout the day at mealtimes and to start and end my day mindfully. Often times even though I begin a new routine filled with excitement and high hopes, I’ll eventually feel overwhelmed by it. That’s why my goal for these new routines is to treat it more like a little self-experiment. Can I do this for 30 days? How will I feel at the end of the month? How might I be different? What can I learn through this experience? I am so excited to keep the momentum going as long as I can and discover new things about myself along the way. Let me know if you decide to try any of these routines for yourself and what you thought of them.

Writing: A Brief History of Our Love Affair | by Gabrielle Finnen | Ascent  Publication

I Will Be Grateful for This Day

I will be grateful for this day.

I will be grateful for each day to come.

– Bright Eyes

After watching the devastating documentary, Seaspiracy, on Sunday, I feel as though I was given a death sentence. I imagine it feels similar to going to your doctor and being diagnosed with a terminal illness. In some ways it’s not that bad. I should at least have a few decades rather than only a few months or years. Additionally, I’ll hopefully be able to enjoy good health up until that point. However, in other ways it is worse. A terminal illness is merely a personal end. Whereas, this will result in the end of all life. Certainly all human life.

I actually cried on my drive to work this morning. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the trees and the grass on the side of the highway, the cows calmly grazing in the fields, the sun, the atmosphere, the air we breathe. How much longer do I have to bask in the absolutely majesty of these things? How much time have I spent allowing myself to be distracted by insignificant nonsense? Why have I continued to waste my time and energy on anything other than love?

It is really hard for me to fully wrap my mind around all the information I now have. I feel as though I need to start living each day as if it were my last. How exactly do I do that though? That has been my issue. Even with death hanging over my head, it is still surprisingly hard to let go of all of my ridiculous habits. It feels like I have been primed since childhood to plan for the future. We are all encouraged by our schools, by our families, to make decisions and go about our days in ways that will benefit us in the future. Being able to delay gratification is a coveted and admired character trait. Years of living each day with my mind in the distant future, has made it quite hard to be comfortable just living in the present moment.

I don’t want to waste any more of the limited time I have to love and be loved on this dying planet in the middle of the vacuum of space. I have been reminding myself to be grateful for every moment. I am even going to invest in some books about coping with death and mortality. I was actually somewhat excited and relieved when I realized that these types of resources might be able to help me. For years now I have been struggling with how to seek help for myself given that most people don’t take my concerns seriously. Viewing this as a terminal illness has really allowed me to open my eyes to the vast amount of self-help materials that are out there for me.

Yesterday, my mother, who is skeptical about all of this data, asked me what the point of people making these documentaries is if we are all doomed anyway? I’ve been taking some time to think about that myself. It seems like the people that make these films somehow still hold out hope that we will be able to come back from this. I personally think they are in denial. However, even though I believe we no longer have a chance to change things, I still feel the need to spread this information and share it with those around me. I didn’t really understand why I felt it was important to do that though.

After giving it a lot of thought, I’ve decided that it is still important to get this information out there even if nothing can be done. It is important because I think people have the right to know this information. Most won’t believe it, but that’s their choice. I just want to make sure that for those that are willing to accept this data, they are given the opportunity to know about this harsh reality. Perhaps this will give them the motivation to live these final years in a more meaningful way. Maybe others will have moments of simple joy and happy tears just from the sight of trees and grass like I did this morning. Either way, I believe that knowledge is important in its own right. Reality matters.

For me, I am going to use this grim information to inspire me to live what remains of my life in a way I can be proud of. I want to give away all the love I have within me before my time is up. I want to be helpful and make a difference in the lives of those around me, those I care about. I want to savor each sweet moment of experience on this beautiful Earth. I’m going to spend more time outside in the sun, feeling the cool soil beneath my feet. I’m going to spend more time with my loved ones. I may not be able to save the world, but I can save myself by being grateful for the time I have.

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Meditation for Kids

I’ve seen a few articles that discuss the benefits of replacing things like time out or detention with meditation whether in school or at home. Even since hearing about this idea, I’ve been a huge fan. It seems like a lot of the time parents and teachers can become so frustrated in the moment that they resort reflexively to age old punishments. Most people have used and/or been subjected to spanking or time outs. But how many of us have actually checked into the data behind whether or not these things are actually effective? Not only that, a lot of the time it seems like the intention behind these punishments seems to get lost somewhere along the way.

I would hope that most parents and teachers enact punishments in an attempt to correct and change negative, disruptive, or dangerous behaviors. While I’m not sure if the data supports the time out strategy in this regard, I know for a fact that spanking has been proven to be not only ineffective, but harmful to the child. Among other things, it leads to even more negative behaviors rather than preventing them. Unfortunately I’ve seen many parents dig their heels in on corporal punishment even after being confronted with this information.

Another thing that I’ve noticed while watching the way parents and other adults interact with children is that not many people seem to place any value in finding the time to actually explain things to kids. I don’t know why that is. I’m sure it could be many things from demanding unquestioning submission to their authority, to impatience, to modeling their parents’ behavior, to thinking the child wouldn’t be able to comprehend anyway.

One of the things I’ll never stop giving my mom credit for is always being willing to explain things to me. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve realized just how incredible the amount of patience that woman has. She never seemed to get frustrated by my endless questions, even about the reasons why I wasn’t allowed to do something or had to do something else. She was even patient with me when after discovering the reason, I continued to debate with her and push the issue. This level of openness and respect allowed me to become the intelligent, thoughtful person I am today. It taught me to value knowledge and the importance of good communication and mutual understanding. Not only that, I feel it helped my mom as well. I think people underestimate kids. They seem to forget that they are just little humans with wills, wants, and desires of their own. Wouldn’t you be more likely to follow a rule if you understood why it was a rule in the first place? Isn’t it frustrating to be forced to do something just because you are told to?

With all of this in mind, I want to come back to the idea of meditation as a punishment replacement. When you think about it, a time out is already somewhat of the same thing. However, meditation gives this period of quite and stillness an important, clear intention. To me it seems like swapping out meditation for time out has almost unlimited potential for parents, families, teachers, and children alike. I can only image what a different world we would all live in if we started raising our kids this way. Think how much more receptive a child would be to this form of “punishment.”

When a kid is acting out, especially a little one, it doesn’t really make sense to expect a reprimand such as time out, taking something away, or especially striking them to make them calm down. So in the end you need to step back and remind yourself what the goal of these things is supposed to be. If it is simply to get revenge on the child for what they’ve done, then by all means, go ahead. You’re sure to upset them at the very least. But if the goal is to help the child find new, more appropriate behaviors and understand why their current behavior is unacceptable, then it seems like a pretty lousy strategy.

I think it would be a much more helpful and pleasant experience for everyone involved if in response to a negative behavior, someone would explain to the child: 1. Why this is unacceptable behavior. (How it negatively effects, not only others, but the child themselves.) 2. Why meditation is the response to this behavior. (How it can help the child not only behave, but feel better.) No one wants to feel like they are being punished for what they’ve done, even if they know it was wrong. However, we are all hardwired to act with our own self-interest in mind. Wouldn’t you be more likely to participate in something (even if you didn’t necessarily like it) if you thought it would ultimately benefit you?

I only wish someone had been around to teach me meditation as a child. For the most part when a child acts out, it is because they are upset or dealing with emotions they aren’t able to handle appropriately. And it really isn’t their fault, they’ve yet to develop the skills and areas of their brains necessary to properly regulate and process different emotions. Even so, kids know that it doesn’t feel good to be upset or to let your emotions overwhelm you. The majority of my life was spent thinking that these things were just out of my control. What a relief it was to me to discover that I actually have the power to regulate my own emotions and to strengthen this skill like a muscle. I’m sure I’d be much better at doing so if I’d started when I was younger too.

I believe children would really respond well to being taught these new, useful tools. It could simply be explained to them that the purpose behind these “time-outs” is for their benefit. It isn’t just to be mean or make them unhappy because they acted in a way we didn’t like. It is just a time for them to practice using these new tools so that they can have a happier, more peaceful life now and in the future. From what I’ve seen, kids are usually eager to please. Many may be quick to comply if they were told all of these things. It all comes down to treating kids with the patience and respect they deserve and remembering what we want the purpose of punishment to be.

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Doing Things Differently

I follow very strict daily routines. There was never any real reason that I began doing things in this particular order. It just kind of fell together that way. Now it’s become a pattern that, although has its variations depending on what I may have to do that day, has become very domineering. It has started to concern me as it’s begun to strongly resemble OCD. This all day ritual that I must perform or else I won’t be able to feel okay. Not that I feel no anxiety even when I’ve completed everything perfectly.

I know that the obvious solution is to stop letting myself do things in this order every day. Then I will see that everything is still fine when I divert from my normal routine. But like any form of addiction, I usually tell myself, “But I don’t want to stop.” This feels like only a half-truth at best. Regardless I need to stop so that it doesn’t continue to escalate and become an even more overpowering compulsion. I’ve already seen it slowly expanding to consume every waking hour. Once upon a time, it was merely my mornings that were off limits. I’ve left lovers in bed so that I could start my reading and study Spanish. At that point it still just felt like being efficient and productive. Come afternoon I would be free once again to do anything I’d like.

But now that morning routine has bled out into the afternoon, the evening. It sounds crazy even to me, but yesterday it was a great internal struggle to allow my best friend to come over and hangout for a few hours. I dearly love her and don’t get to see her often enough, partly due to this madness of mine. Still I was so tempted to make up an excuse not to see her so I could make sure my day was an exact photocopy of the day before. I’m not sure if anyone in my life right now is even aware of this issue to be honest. If anything they just admire my “commitment” and “productivity.” Little do they know it’s more like an illness than a virtue.

Nevertheless, I am going to try to change, if even just a little bit. Yesterday I had my friend over. This morning I accidentally slept in, so since things were already going to be slightly off, I managed to do my yoga and meditation first thing. It was very interesting. I want to encourage myself to make small changes to my rigid routine every day. Just to prove to myself that I can. Maybe eventually I’ll even set aside a day to make totally different.

All of this sounds completely insane to me as I write it. I can’t imagine what it sounds like to someone who’s never experienced anything like this. I wouldn’t even know what a normal person’s days look like at this point. It seems like most people just sit around all day. Whereas I feel compelled to fill every single moment with something, even if it’s something silly. Now that I think of it, although I always have something playing on YouTube or Netflix, I can’t remember the last time simply watching it was all I was doing. It is usually just on for background noise as I work on something else.

It may sound like this isn’t a huge issue and that I must be accomplishing a lot, but sadly that isn’t always the case. A lot of the time, there are other things I actually need to be working on, but I never get around to doing them because I’ve already filled up every second of my day with other projects. It is becoming impossible for me to shift my priorities and focus on the things that need my attention, but aren’t every day activities. I feel like this leads to me appearing lazy or letting people down. It’s something I’m unable to explain or even justify to anyone else. So far I’ve been able to manage it, barely. But I fear that if I don’t actively work on dismantling this toxic, overbearing routine I won’t be able to manage it forever.

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Denying Myself

Last night I was able to manifest an enlightening moment of expansive loving kindness. Just the moment before that, I felt like I was on the precipice of a panic attack. I felt held together by just static and stitching. I was afraid I was going to pieces. But I managed to blossom instead. I decided to stop fixating on trying desperately to hold myself together. Instead I chose to reminisce, to remember what it feels like to feel in love with this life. To find a seat of gratitude within my soul. To shift my vantage point.

I so rarely remember that I am capable of doing this. It seems so impossible, yet so easy. I forget to even stop and consider trying. So often we feel like merely the passengers on this journey, or like we are lost at sea, at the mercy of the ocean waves far from the shoreline. We are fighting so hard to keep our head above the water, that it doesn’t even occur to us that we can choose to breathe below the surface.

Life is very similar to dreaming in a lot of ways. Maybe that’s why I am always looking for messages and lessons from my sleeping mind. Last night felt like a dream in which you realize you are dreaming. Suddenly you remember that you are in control. In waking life we may not be able to completely alter the world around us, but we can completely alter our inner world whenever we want. We are the artists of the landscapes inside of ourselves.

If this is true, why is it so hard to believe it some days? I know very well there are times when fluffy thoughts like these cannot reach me. I mentioned in my post yesterday that this loving awareness, this simple bliss, these are my natural state. These feelings are the true expression of my soul. All I have to do is allow them to flow from me, to let my heart remain open. How quickly I’ve forgotten all the profound wisdom I read in The Untethered Soul.

So often I stifle and block my own love, my own happiness, my own peace. I block off that flowing spout of energy from my heart space. I begin working with brick and mortar from the moment I awake. I am an expert at denying myself. When my thoughts begin racing with everything that is “wrong” what it’s really doing is tallying up all the reasons that I’m not allowed to feel okay, to be happy. I’ve been telling myself “no” for so long that I started to forget I had the power to say yes. I am the one who has written these arbitrary rules on love and happiness.

I don’t have to wait for everything to be perfect before I let myself be happy. In fact, I have the power to decide that everything is already perfect right now. Today is an excellent, magnificent day to be happy. Nothing can take that happiness away from me, except me. It’s always easy to be in love, to be blissful, because this is how we are meant to be. The suffering and exhaustion that accompany depression, anxiety, anger, fear, hatred, are created from the immense effort of acting and feeling so contrary to our soul’s essence. It’s always harder to be something you’re not.

I think somewhere along the line this ever-present mindset of scarcity and limited resources, led us to believe that we have to ration our love, our joy. But that well has no bottom. We never have to fear we will run out of these things, because they are us, we are one and the same. I’ve learned to let the thinking mind limit my potential. I give myself “rational” reasons not to be happy. I tell myself I don’t deserve to feel good because of (x) or after doing (y). I’ve been feeling like I have to choose between denying myself or denying reality. But that isn’t true. I can be flawed and imperfect and still happy. Love and happiness have never hurt a situation.

No matter what I am faced with in this life, no matter what mistakes I’ve made or continue to make, I still deserve to be happy. It’s not silly or selfish or wrong. Because by sharing this energy with the world, I am doing what I have always been meant to do. What we are all meant to do. What everyone has been telling us to do since we were children. Just be yourself. That timeless, limitless, ever-present, powerful self that lies at the seat of every soul, the manifestation of love, of joy, of light, of hope. All we have to do is remember. Remember who you are.

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Nothing to Fear

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I find myself wondering about my anxiety a lot. It seems like it never leaves me. But at the same time, aren’t I always looking for it? Checking around my inner corners even in calm moments, hoping not to find it lurking there. Sometimes I wonder if me and my anxiety have become somewhat codependent. Who would I even be without this constant nervous, fearful energy inside? It feels like a core part of my existence. To be alive is to be anxious. At least that’s what it feels like for me.

Anxiety has started to feel like just another part of my rigid routine. Wake up, make coffee, start worrying about everything and nothing at the same time. I’m so used to feeling this way that often it helps to just try to pinpoint exactly what I’m anxious about. Normally it’s nothing specific, just a vague cloud shaped ball of static inside me, flashing at intervals that seem to spell out in morse code: DANGER. But when I search my heart and mind for the monsters and find none are really there, for a moment that cloud dissipates.

It’s exhausting and time consuming to keep going through that check list in my head though. That list of what I’m worried about and why it’s actually okay. It’s almost like OCD actually. I feel like I need to keep checking that I’m not forgetting anything, that my life is in order, before I can relax for even a moment. It’s starting to feel more and more like the reason I’m anxious a lot of the time is simply because I was anxious at this time yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. My brain no longer searches for something to trigger anxiety, it just has itself set that way by default.

It always comes back down to trust. Can I trust myself? That I’m doing everything I need to do? Can I trust the universe when some things are out of my hands? I’m wary of that trust. I’m always afraid that if I allow myself to just trust, I will have been foolish to do so. I’m worried that when things fall apart again one day, I will blame myself. I’ll say if only I had paid more attention. If only I hadn’t let myself relax, and trust that I was doing enough.

I guess that’s just an excuse though. I’ll always find a way to blame myself when things go wrong. I think in some ways it helps to blame ourselves. It gives us the illusion that we are in control, that we have complete power over every situation. But in the end we know that isn’t true. That’s why we need to be able to trust. So that we can find the strength, the courage to keep going despite that uncertainty, that lack of control.

Anxiety is a signal. It tells us that something is wrong. It promises to go away once we are safe again, once we fix whatever problem there is. The issue is that anxiety never tells us what the problem actually is. In nature, it would be obvious, whatever is threatening your very life at that moment. But in modern society, it is much harder to tell where the danger is. If it’s even there at all. It makes me feel like a wild animal. On edge, looking around wildly, searching for the threat, searching for a way to escape. There is nothing more difficult that overriding your bodies natural impulses. But that’s what I’m asking myself to do every day. I have to keep telling this frightened animal inside not to run, when everything it knows is pleading, begging it to run. It’s a constant wrestling match between my body’s wisdom and the thinking mind. It’s no wonder I am always so tired. Sometimes it seems like all I can do is keep telling myself: It’s okay to feel anxious.

It’s okay to feel anxious.

It’s okay to feel anxious.

It’s okay to feel anxious…

The Monotony of Life

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Some days I start to feel really overwhelmed by the way it seems like I am living nearly the same day over and over again. I wake up, I let my dog out, I feed my cat, I make coffee, I pick up clumps of white cat fur from every room, I collect up several lady bugs from the windowsills, etc. I start to feel weighed down by these mundane maintenance activities. The idea of doing something you’ll just have to do again tomorrow or at the end of the day or even an hour from now has always frustrated me.

Maybe it’s just that same idea of feeling forced to do something over and over that I don’t want to do. It’s hard to accept in the moment, but in reality I do want to do those things. Maybe not directly, but I want the results. I want my pets to be comfortable and happy. I want my house to look clean and orderly. I definitely want to drink that morning coffee. Focusing on the giving myself the result rather than being burdened by the process might be helpful. Instead of thinking: Ugh, here I am filling this dog bowl for the hundredth time, I can think about the love I have for my sweet dog daughter and how grateful I am to have her in my life to care for. But even that takes mindful awareness and lots of practice.

I’ve been experiencing mild physical pain the last few days. Although it’s quite aggravating, it has also been helping me understand something bigger. I’m very fortunate in the sense that I don’t experience pain or illness very frequently. However, in the times I do, especially thinking back to being sick more often as a child, it almost feels like my whole body is in a panicked revolt against the area that is experiencing distress. I so desperately want to isolate and separate from that area of my body, to numb it, to detach it. I’ve even heard other people express this idea by wishing they could just remove their head when they have a migraine or head cold. It seems counterintuitive to actually embrace that troubled part of our bodies instead. Yet that is exactly what we need to do.

It only increases our suffering to try to avoid pain, physical or otherwise. Last night as I was trying to fall asleep, I remembered this tidbit of yogic wisdom. I allowed my awareness to caress that painful place. I sent my breath there. I sent loving kindness there. It must have worked well because the next thing I knew I was waking up to a bright new morning. I think this principle can also work in the other difficult parts of life.

Instead of resisting my monotonous morning routine, I’ll practice embracing it. Sure, maybe I’ve done these things a million times before and will probably do them another million in the future, but what does it feel like to do them today? And I don’t have to lie to myself and pretend it’s fun. Maybe it does feel frustrating. What does frustration feel like? Can I allow myself to experience that?What does my body feel like? Can I move mindfully? Can I find something new even in these repetitive tasks, just like I do in my yoga practice? Does my body feel stiff and achy from hours of sleep? Am I feeling sleepy or awake? What does it feel like to be experiencing these things? Can I practice gratitude and mindfulness even in the dullest moments? Can I remember to breathe deeply in discomfort? Can I experiment and find new ways to be kind to myself with my thoughts and movements?

All of these things are obviously easier said than done. Usually when we are feeling tired and irritated, the last thing we want to do is pause and be mindful or grateful. But I think just taking a few moments now and then to set these intentions for my everyday life helps me to remember to at least try. Even though I may not “succeed” I’ll know that today I can at least give myself some credit for trying. And those small moments of practice add up.

On Using Drugs

Recently I met yet another person who told me they have never drank alcohol or tried any drugs. It is always so fascinating to me when I am reminded that these people exist. There is just some part of me that cannot understand them. I simply can’t imagine how someone can go their entire life without even trying any of these mind-altering substances. Especially the legal ones. I, myself, can think of at least two very compelling reasons to do so.

The first reason that always comes to mind is plain curiosity. I don’t know how anyone could be told that there was a drink or a plant or a powder that can make you think and feel totally different and not be intrigued. I have always considered myself a very curious person and look for that same curious nature in others. I am especially curious when it comes to the mind. Anything that can completely alter the mind is just too interesting to avoid. I’ve tried basically every drug besides heroin, cocaine, crack, and meth. I’d probably be willing to try cocaine, I’ve just never had the opportunity. Besides from what I’ve heard, it’s not that great anyway. The only reason I wouldn’t try meth, crack, or heroin is because I’d be too afraid to become addicted. On my deathbed, I may give them a go just to see what it’s like. At that point, why not?

Knowing that many of these substances are illegal could be an understandable deterrent for some people. But alcohol, and even marijuana in some places, are legal. How could you not be curious enough to try them at least once? They are obviously very popular habits for a lot of people. Wouldn’t you want to know why that is? There are few experiences in life that are so distinct and unique. How could you not want to know what other states your mind is capable of experiencing?

If sheer curiosity isn’t enough to get you interested, I can think of another reason: suffering. I always knew I would try drugs even when I was fairly young, just so I could know what they were like. However, I didn’t actually venture down that road until I was in high school. A time rife with turmoil, when emotions are running high, high school seems to be the time when a lot of people begin to experiment with drugs and alcohol. While for the most part, drugs have been a fun, social experience, there have been times when I’ve used them as a crutch.

I’d imagine there are times in everyone’s life when they feel so terribly that they would do anything to feel better, or even to feel nothing at all. If I hadn’t already tried drugs at these points in my life, I certainly would have then. When someone tells me that they have never even had a drink, it makes me question if they have ever truly suffered. Maybe this is an awful thing to say, but it’s what I wonder about. There are certainly people I’ve met in my life that seem to have somehow escaped any encounters with that deep sadness that so many of us know well. Nothing seems to touch them. They have never been broken. In some ways I envy these people. Yet, in other ways, I almost pity them. Although it’s been painful to feel things as deeply as I have in the past, to suffer within the prison of my own mind, it has made me a fuller person. It has given me a bitter-sweet depth to life that I would not have found otherwise.

So I may be a jerk, totally misjudging people and creating false perceptions, but these are the things I can’t help but ponder when I meet someone who has managed to stay inside the bubble of sobriety all of their life. Naturally it makes me reflect on the reasons that hasn’t been the case for me. I am too curious. I have also at times been too desperate to try to relieve my suffering at any cost. Therefore, I end up questioning if these other people somehow lack those qualities/experiences. Or perhaps I am just lacking something. Maybe they simply have a stronger will, better coping mechanisms, a strong social supports. I’ll probably never know. Regardless of the reasons behind it, I do know that I will never be able to feel fully understood by these types of people. Whatever it may be, we have a fundamental difference that divides our worlds.

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Self-talk

This morning when I began to feel anxious like I always do, I became aware of the things I say to myself as this is happening. Usually I try to talk myself down. I’ll repeat to myself that I am okay, that everything is okay, that I don’t have to feel anxious right now. Sometimes I’ll try to reason with my anxiety, going over in my head all the reasons that I should be happy or why there is no cause for distress. As you might imagine if you’ve read some of my other posts on here, this rarely helps.

However, today for some reason, I thought of a different way I might go about talking to myself when this happens. I recalled hearing about the different ways different people prefer to be comforted when they go to someone else for support. Some people do like to be reasoned with. It is reassuring to be given some answers, options, or direction from someone outside the situation. Some people prefer to be cheered up. Others just want to be heard and acknowledged. I would most likely group myself with the latter.

Oftentimes I will even get frustrated or angry when someone tries to cheer me up or tell me how to solve my problems. It sounds silly, but when someone tries to give me solutions I feel insulted. Do they think I wasn’t smart enough to think of that myself? The problem isn’t that I haven’t figured out what to do, rather simply that nothing works. I know the other person is just trying to help, to somehow fix things. I, myself, am usually one to try to offer advice when someone comes to me for comfort, even though I don’t like that response when I am the one upset.

Today when I was feeling extremely stressed, I stopped my usual habit of telling myself I’m okay, and asked myself: how would I want a loved one to speak to me right now? I certainly wouldn’t feel much better if all they said was that I was fine, everything was fine, and I had no reason to be anxious. I know all of that already. Yet it doesn’t change the fact that I am anxious. Rather than try to convince me I’m okay, or give me advice on how I could lessen my anxiety by practicing breathing exercises, for example, I would just want them to be there for me.

So that is exactly what I did. I was there for myself. My inner voice shifted. It stopped repeating the mantra: You are okay. You are okay. Instead it said: I know that you are feeling anxious right now. It’s alright to feel anxious. I still love you. I am here for you. You are still worthy. You are still loved. Always. I wrapped my arms around myself in a self-hug, as I sometimes do. Cooing to myself softly, swaying gently in my own arms. In the past I’ve also found it helpful to hold my own hand, giving it a squeeze of reassurance. Even just imagining some form of physical comfort is beneficial.

It actually made me feel a lot better. I think it is because it’s harder to negate a feeling (going from anxious to not anxious) than it is to shift your focus, to replace that feeling with a different feeling (focusing on feeling anxious, to focusing on feeling love.) Trying to stop being anxious is like trying not to think about a zebra. Now it’s all you can do.

From now on I am going to try to remember today’s little lesson. Don’t try to reason with your anxiety. Just be there for yourself. Just remind yourself that you are loved. You are enough. You aren’t alone. You will always, always have yourself. And that is an incredible, beautiful, comforting thing.

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Self Sabotage (Anxiety Edition)

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Have you ever only started to notice something after it’s pointed out to you? At my last social work job, one of the therapists advised a client with an anxiety disorder to stop smoking. This client was a mess and also coincidentally a chain smoker. The therapist told her that smoking cigarettes increases anxiety despite her insistence that they calmed her down. At this point in my life I was not smoking, but I had in the past. I tried to think back to the way I felt after having a cigarette. I couldn’t particularly remember them making me feel anxious. But it made sense, and I wondered why this client would continue smoking if it did indeed make her feel worse.

Fast forward a few years to the present day, and here I am, smoking again, more anxious than ever. Except this time, I do notice the connection. Even before I’m done with the cigarette, I can feel my anxiety going through the roof. I spend the minutes before I light up looking forward to smoking, then spend the time during and after asking myself why on earth I am doing/just did that to myself. It is perplexing to say the least.

Addiction is a fascinating beast. The way it can make you want something even when it makes you feel bad immediately. Somehow your body still craves it. It’s not just cigarettes of course. I also have this problem with coffee. Although I don’t worry about that one as much. As far as I know coffee won’t give me and those around me cancer. However, the caffeine does make me feel like I’m jumping out of my skin. It doesn’t really give me energy the way it used to. Maybe the first cup or two does a little, but I generally drink at least a pot a day when I’m at work.

The craziest part about these destructive habits is that I am using them as coping mechanisms, as a crutch. I don’t really know how that can be. I’ll feel anxious, so I smoke a cigarette. That only makes me 10x as anxious! I feel anxious because I’ve been drinking coffee all day long. So what do I want to do to treat myself and relax? Have some coffee of course! It never ceases to amaze me what a mystery my own mind is.

Now rather than looking at my client in confusion, I find myself looking at my own reflection instead. Even though I have big plans to stop smoking again next month and probably switch to decaf or tea too, I know it’s easier to make plans than to follow through with them when the time comes. Nothing is preventing me from stopping today, but yet here I sit, looking forward to another cigarette, another delicious cup of coffee.

I don’t know why I sabotage myself in these ways. But I’m sure they aren’t the only ways I do so. Perhaps at the very least I can learn something from this realization. Maybe I can start to recognize other manners of self-sabotage. Maybe a therapist can help me discover the reason I am making things so hard for myself while simultaneously pretending I’m giving myself a treat. For now, I’ll just keep reminding myself where to place my focus. I am not changing these behaviors because they are “bad” or because I am “bad” or “stupid.” I am changing these behaviors because I love myself. I want happiness and tranquility for myself. This is not a punishment or a reprimand. It is a tender act of love. And that feeling of warmth and compassion, that is what I need to truly change for the better.

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