Saturday, October 21, 2017

22. Weekend Wisdom






"When fear makes your choices for you, no security measures on earth will keep the things you dread from finding you. But if you can avoid avoidance—if you can choose to embrace experiences out of passion, enthusiasm, and a readiness to feel whatever arises—then nothing, nothing in all this dangerous world, can keep you from being safe."

- Martha Beck



21. Weekend Wisdom


-For DH-


"If you ever meet someone brave and powerful enough to walk with you directly through your most unconscious wounds and shadow caves--someone with the stupefying courage to see through the chinks of your armor and then help you take it off--love them because they have done something for you which is impossible to do alone. They will show you the treasure you've been seeking all your life--and they can do this because they aren't afraid of your fear."

Friday, October 20, 2017

20. Relinquished Allegiance to the All-Mighty To-do List

I come from a hearty stock of do-ers on both branches of the family tree. Strong, determined farmers on one side and miners and blue-collar folks on another. I have always been surrounded by people who have worked hard. List makers who were devoted to checking things off the list. I don't know any other way.

But any good thing can become an obstacle in too great a supply.

A few years ago as I could feel the tectonic plates of my internal geography shifting, I began questioning my busy-ness and how well it was serving me. I began exploring the role of rest and sabbath in one's life, and how it might nourish and enrich the work I did.

The first noticeable benefit of sabbath appeared in my writing life. For years I dogged myself in periods where I was only thinking about what needed to be written. I noticed it particularly at work. I felt bad for all the moments I wasn't hunched over the keyboard. In time, I began to notice that when I did finally sit down to write, the words flowed more freely. The resting produced overflowing supplies of words when they were ready. Because I am stubborn, it took me awhile to accept this as part of my writing rhythm, but once I did, I used it to my advantage.

Years later I read the book, The Gift of Rest – Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath by Senator Joseph Lieberman. I was struck by his dedication to observing the Sabbath through his Jewish faith in the midst of the life of a public servant. I kept thinking, "If this busy senator can slow down, press pause on his important responsibilities for one 24-hour period each week, surely so can I."

I do not observe Sabbath in the same way the Lieberman family does, but I have relinquished the guilt I used to feel if I wasn't "doing something" every moment of my waking hours. As time passed, I've come to know that it's not the rushing that gets things done. It's the rest and restored energy that does.

These days I write lists as a way to soothe a busy, chatter-y mind. There is some alchemy in unloading my mind of what's zipping and zooming across my grey matter. I no longer hold myself to the list as I once did. I trust that the important things will always get done. And the other stuff will either get done or will no longer matter.

I mother myself by doing those things that must be done and by letting go of the pressure to do all the things all the time. I feel more content, more pleasant to be around, and when the right moment strikes, more productive.

Martha Beck's words have been particularly helpful as I've come to appreciate the role sabbath observance plays in my well-being and self-care:

"During the times we think we’re being “unproductive,” the seeds of new worlds are germinating within us, and they need peace to grow."
I find myself less and less impressed by the busy lives other people and families are living. What's the rush? Where's all this busy-ness going to get us in the long run? Other than frazzled and grumpy?

Here are two more quotes that have resonated with me:

"What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?" - Greg McKeown

"If you don't want to burn out, stop living like you're on fire." - becoming minimalist

I mother myself by honoring the sabbath moments in my life--even if it's a few hours on a random Tuesday night--time away, no matter how long or on what day does my heart and mind and body a world of good.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

19. I ask for help.

In my early twenties, as I was learning how to be an adult, I asked for help a few times. Once I was really unhappy in a job and another opportunity came my way. I asked for help in pro'ing and con'ing my options. I had a sense that I should pass up the opportunity, but I wanted some guidance before making the decision. What I received instead was an unhelpful and protracted lecture over the phone about how this job change was a terrible idea. Old stuff that had nothing to do with me was drudged up. There was yelling. For minutes without end. I felt belittled and demeaned. I felt as though I wasn't to be trusted with my own decision making. I sobbed and finally stopped the tirade by saying I wouldn't take the job.

A few other times, I asked a particular friend for help and he was conveniently never available. I had allowed myself to be vulnerable with this friend. Each time he went out of his way to be unavailable, the story I was writing in my head about asking for help grew gloomier and more twisted. Asking for help was futile. It was a sign of weakness. It didn't get one anywhere. One might as well knock off the neediness and get to work sorting things out for oneself.

There were benefits to this do-it-yourself approach. I learned that I was a resourceful and creative thinker. I found work-arounds that I wouldn't have found if I'd been working with others. I was proud of my self-sufficiency. But this approach was also isolating and lonely.

Then a new chapter of my story began. I found myself owning a home solo, and creative work-arounds go only so far.

Excessive rains the day after Christmas caused my basement to flood. The carpet and padding were ruined and had to be torn out and removed.

The ceiling fan and light in my bedroom stopped working. The switch needed to be replaced.

The wooden patio steps rotted and needed to be rebuilt.

You get the idea.

These broken things needing repair came at me in rapid succession. Sometimes I couldn't catch my breath between one problem and the next. The corrective tasks were above my skill levels. It was time to admit I needed the help of people with different expertise. I mothered myself by insisting and encouraging the idea that asking for help was not the sign of weakness or failure I once believed it was. In time, I regarded my requests for help as signs of maturity, growth, and strength.

I also realized that in the give-and-take equation of life there must be people willing to take or the equation can't work. I'd spent so much time being the giver. By insisting on going it alone so much, I wasn't contributing to the equation by giving people who care about me an opportunity to help.

Recently, I received a letter in the mail saying that the peeling paint on the trim framing my garage was in violation of some city ordinance. I was caught off guard and super annoyed. I did not have time, energy, or money for this. I let the initial feelings of frustration and embarrassment pass, and then I texted my neighbor for help. He made recommendations for next steps. My parents were in town during this time. My fix-it dad pulled out the ladder and the supplies he needed and got to work.

I thanked him profusely and let him do his thing. I didn't feel any of the old feelings of weakness or being incapable. I simply felt gratitude. I know that asking for help is an important element of self-care.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

18. Kinder Self-Talk

Removing negative self-talk from my inner chatter has been another of the most nurturing things I have done to improve my life. Negative messages recorded themselves on my mental tape from an early age, so I believed that the conversations I was having with myself were accurate reflections of who I was.

I repeated terrible things to myself and believed every word. I convinced myself that sometimes I wasn't enough and other times I was way too much. I heard the voice that told me I talked too much, and so I was always self-conscious about the things I had to say. I heard another voice tell me that I was terrible in the kitchen. So I proved myself right every time I tried to cook or bake something. The hurtful things I believed about myself ran even deeper.

A few years ago, I began choosing a word of the year to guide my thoughts throughout the coming twelve months. One year the phrase "let go of outcome" came to me. Each time I felt anxious about how something would turn out, I would recite those four words, and noticed that I breathed easier and interrupted the flow of sludge mucking up my mind.

Since then I have mothered myself into kinder self-talk with the words Gentle, Trust, and Quiet. Gentle was the word that got me through my 40th year when I was scared, in brand-new emotional territory, and working my way through the 40/40 list. That year revealed what exacting standards I had for myself. Gentle was the right word to soften those hard edges.

Last year, I meditated on the word Trust. I needed to re-engage with the idea that I could trust again. Trust myself, trust men, trust my gut. Each time I had a decision to make alone, I would conjure up the word. I could feel myself relax as I recognized I was capable of whatever was before me.

As the calendar page turned into the new year, I had one word, but then another better-suited word landed on my mind. I decided it was time to be Quiet. To listen more than I spoke. To be attuned to what my gut wanted for me to hear. As the months have passed, sometimes the world around me gets too noisy, and I'm grateful for my word. It's the prompt I need to re-energize and re-calibrate.

All of these words have taught me about the importance of learning how to soothe myself. They have helped to turn down the volume on the loud, obnoxious voices that do me harm. With practice, those voices do not pipe up as much, and when they do they are quickly silenced by kinder, gentler talk. I have no idea what the next word will be, but I will get quiet and trust that the right one will come at the right time, and that it will carry the message I need for the coming year.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

17. Therapy

One of the most nurturing things I have done for myself is to seek the guidance of a counselor. Under this woman's patient, kind, and professional care, I have peeled back the layers to discover the origins of my pain and confusion and what caused periods of depression and anxiety. She also helped me see the role I played in the suffering I have experienced. She has bolstered my confidence to face it head on and to not be licked by it.

This woman introduced me to the idea that certain behaviors I was putting up with are unacceptable—no matter what my relationship is to the person doing them. She taught me a new vocabulary. She helped me connect dots. She told me she was proud of the hard work I was doing to heal. She even set before me a vision of who I could become as I healed.

I found the person in my corner who told me, “This stuff you've been through, the things you are describing, are not right. They never should have happened to you, but since they did, here are the tools to climb your way out.”

My life is better. It's easier to navigate with her encouragement echoing in my mind. I go with the flow better. I don't shutdown as quickly—if at all. Life feels good and navigable and worth the effort and heartache. I feel confident about who I am and how I choose to express myself. This is a new feeling, and it is wonderful.

My pain has not been in vain. I am now in a position to share what I know about setting boundaries and caring for myself. I have empathy for the pain of others because I have experienced my own. I'm not afraid of my pain anymore. And I know that sharing my experiences gives other people hope that they can heal from their own circumstances.

I mother myself by seeking the objective perspective of a counselor. I love myself enough to insist that I do not stay where I am. I push myself to challenge hard things, and and continue to grow into the person I'm meant to be.

“The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.”

- Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer

Monday, October 16, 2017

16. Welcoming the Liminal

"All the buried seeds

crack open in the dark

the instant they surrender

to a process they can't see."

                                                 - The Book of Awakening                                        
                      Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have 
                                                           by Mark Nepo

When I first wrote about liminal time last summer, it was a brand-new concept to me. It's definition—the time in-between—brought immediate relief. It's a transition, the space between when an ending occurs and before something new begins. I could feel my body relax when I heard an explanation of what it is and the importance of leaning into the time. Having a name for the strange place I found myself in brought comfort and made it easier to drop my resistance to not knowing what the future held.

It's a scary, uncomfortable space, but when one surrenders to its possibility, it can nourish, restore, and be a time of preparation for the next season. When one abides this time, it has a protective feature too. It prevents leaping into something before one is ready. It also requires discipline—a letting go of plans, a sense of control, and the need to be assured of what's to come. It also requires a lot of faith.

Now as I write a year later, I feel the benefit, wisdom, and peace that comes with having relaxed into the in-between. I am far better at not knowing what's around the bend. I'm not surrendered to the unknown 100% of the time, of course, but I'm much more settled about waiting to see how the future unfolds than I have ever been.

I mother myself by letting go of the need to know what "the plan" is. I rest easier in the unknown and see it as adventure now. Acceptance of liminal time is one of the harder forms of self-care to practice, but it also reaps more powerful results. It is worth all of the effort, and definitely gets easier with time.

Friday, October 13, 2017

15. Weekend Wisdom





"She is both, hellfire and holy water. 

And the flavor you taste depends on how you treat her." 

- Sneha Pal







14. Weekend Wisdom





"She's a searcher of her own soul; a seeker of her own joy; a discoverer of her own light; finally a friend to her own heart."
- S. C. Lourie  



13. Set Goals. Don't reach all of them.

2015 was the year of the massive goal-setting. I created my 40/40 list in celebration of my milestone birthday. A friend told me later that I approached the list "like a military operation." She's right. I had never been so goal oriented in my life. I leaned on that list for stability when everything else in my life made me feel wobbly, uncertain, and scared. Then I completed the list, and wasn't sure what to do with the free time and mental space that had been absorbed by the task completion of the year before. I rested the following year and reflected on my goal setting. I set an outline for the year. They provided some shape for my days: read more, work on my book, and rest. There were no deadlines, no absolutes. They were guidelines rather than goals to be met. They were exactly what I needed at the time.

The pendulum has been swinging in big long swipes—far to one side with excessive goals, back the other way with barely any. This year I've felt my goal setting finding its way to the middle of these extremes.

I am also coming to terms with the idea and inevitability that I will not reach every goal I set or at least not in the time frame that I imagined. This seemed problematic when I was working my way through the birthday celebration. Now I understand it is an important element of goal setting. If I am managing to hit every goal I set, I am likely not setting my sights high enough.

I have not reached most of the goals I set for myself in 2015--outside of the 40/40 list and 80,000 word count for the novel--seen in the photo below. But the exercise was invaluable. It forced me to take a broader view of my writing life. What did I want to accomplish in the next few years? What steps could I line out to work toward that? This year I have honored the spirit of the goals by writing for submission and setting my sights on specific publications where I want my work to land. Most importantly, the goals pointed me in the direction of sitting my butt in the chair and doing the work. Whether I've crossed off all the items or not, my butt has been in the chair much more than in the past.

I mother myself by giving myself goals to pursue while also extending grace when I don't hit them all. What's that saying? Shoot for the moon and you'll land among the stars.


"Glory lies in the attempt to reach one's goal, and not in reaching it."

~Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, October 12, 2017

12. I am not my blemishes.

I did not have flawless skin in my teens and early twenties. Who am I kidding? Some days, I still don't have clear skin in my forties. In the years when I was under the care of a dermatologist, it seemed bad skin swallowed my entire identity. It didn't matter that I was funny or kind or smart. I was invisible behind the blemishes. Once in high school, my wanting to avoid dealing with the issue caused a really big fight in my home. My need to be seen for more than my blemishes outweighed my desire to find a prescriptive solution to the bad skin. This upset the order of things within the family. The offended parties left the house, took a walk, and subjected me to the silent treatment. This was a reminder that I was on the wrong side of the issue. It also underscored that my feelings were valid only when they aligned with the others'.

Another time, in my early twenties, I was on a long car ride to my cousin's wedding where I was going to be a candle lighter. I was asked if I'd been to the dermatologist lately. When I sheepishly answered no, I was reminded that "no 25-year-old man would want to date a girl with bad skin."

These were the days when a date was hard to come by. When my younger cousin was getting married, and my younger sister was engaged. These words cut more than skin deep.

These days, I take a gentler approach at how I characterize my appearance. I look in the mirror, and notice the high points. My light blue eyes, my gently sloped brows. I appreciate the lines around my eyes and mouth—the ones carved in by a lot of laughter. I see my imperfections too. The bridge of the family nose that others have suspected was once broken. The faint spots and scars leftover from hormonal surges of the past. I tell myself that I am more than my shortcomings.

I worry less about the opinions of others, particularly those who think it's acceptable to say unkind things. Who deliver opinions as facts.

I mother myself by accepting the light and dark that make up who I am.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

11. Yoga

My sister was a sophomore, and I was a senior. Posters hung in our high school hallways about joining each grade's Powder Puff football teams. The guys were going to coach and also cheer lead. I wasn't a fan of football, but I was interested in being part of the hoop-la. The Powder Puff experience looked fun. I also thought that maybe if I was on the field and being given a position, it might finally click how this dang game is played. Powder Puff might help my spectating later.

There must have been a conversation about it over dinner. My sister was going to play for her class. And I was going to sit in the stands and cheer. My parents were firm. Julie would not be playing Powder Puff football. She could get hurt. There was no discussion, and I don't remember fighting the decision. Inside my head, some message was received though:

My skinny body wasn't up to the job.

I labored long and hard to bring my daughter into the world. I was induced, which meant that unnaturally powerful contractions built quickly and did not relent for hours. I met those pains without medication for hours. When it finally came time to push, I machined my way past counts of ten for two hours. This little human wasn't budging. She finally emerged by c-section. I was grateful for modern medicine. I was grateful for her safe delivery. I was also grateful labor was over.

In the weeks that followed, I was met with a variety of comments confirming the need for a c-section.

"You're so little. We knew you couldn't do it naturally."

Again, it appeared my skinny body wasn't up to the job.

I entered a yoga studio weeks before I lost my job. It was yoga that kept my head straight through the fog of grief and fear and extra hours that had once been employed behind a desk. My teacher later told me, "It was an advanced class. I wasn't sure you'd return." And here I was showing up. Me and my skinny body were doing the hard work. And not crumbling as a result.

Over the past six years, yoga has helped me show up not only on the mat, but in the present, often in extraordinarily difficult moments of my life. Yoga has taught me how to breathe and be still in the tricky positions. Yoga has reflected back to me the strength of my body. It has shown me powerful results with hard work.

Yoga unlocked a part of me that had been shut tight. I've lived so much of my life in my head and my heart. I've been shut down and cut off from my body. Yoga gave my body back to me.

I mother myself by moving on my mat, challenging my beliefs about my physical limitations, and taking that new found trust and wisdom in my body into real life. Yoga is squashing the messages that trained me not to trust my body.

This spring when I bought a new bed, friends came to help me move out the old mattress and to assemble the bed frame. My friend bore the weight of the old mattress by guiding it down the steps first. I stabilized it from the top of the stairs. We eased the mattress down the flight of stairs and out the front door. We maneuvered it down my front steps and into the garage. When we set it down in the garage, my friend said, "Girl, you have a strength I'm not sure you knew you had. Wow. I'm impressed. You really pulled your weight."

It was a proud moment. I was glad to have this strong, kind man notice and confirm what I already knew.

She began to measure herself in contentment and laughter rather than in inches and pounds. 
- Unknown

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

10. Being Good versus Being Whole

It was autumn. My first semester of college. My friends and I were hanging out in the guys' dorm. At least six, but probably more like eight or ten of us were packed in this tiny corner dorm room on the fourth floor. Somebody stood at the mini-fridge and offered cans of soda. He tossed one my way. I dropped the soda and then blurted out my first swear word. The room fell silent and then erupted with laughter. No one expected Julie, including Julie herself, to say something like that.

It was a shocking, exhilarating, authentic moment.

Over time my good girl status became a self-inflicted burden. I really was a good girl—it wasn't in my nature to do things most of my peers did, to step outside prescribed boundaries. The problem was my motivation. I was so intent on being good to make other people happy and to not disappoint that I wasn't making decisions for myself. There is nuance here that I hope I'm able to convey. At 42, I am making decisions solely based on what's best for my heart and soul and while on the surface those decisions may not look much different from decisions I've made in the past, they FEEL COMPLETELY DIFFERENT because I'm no longer looking for approval.

This is what I wish I could have known at 22. I came to a crossroads a few times where I had to choose one direction over another and in those early adulthood years, I always chose the "approved" route. I am certain I missed out on adventures that would have been really good for my younger self to have experienced.

All of this is topical for me now as I carve out a solo life for myself and also contemplate how to guide my pre-teen daughter as she enters her teenage years. I want her to be safe and smart, but I also want her to experience life. I want her to know that she's going to make mistakes, and I will be there for her when she needs to debrief and figure out where she made a wrong turn.

While every parent wants their kids to be "good," at this stage of life my interest is focused on my child being whole. I want her to practice making decisions that honor herself, that keep her safe, but also that make for a rich, "extraordinary-in-its-ordinariness" life.

I am mothering us both toward wholeness.

Monday, October 9, 2017

9. I lose my cool. Then I accept responsibility and apologize.

The early toddler months of my daughter's life were hard ones for me as a mother. I remember vividly saying out loud, "Why are you acting like a 13 (and 14, 15...) month old?" The question would start in frustration and then the absurdity of it would make me laugh. It gave me a moment to collect myself and to chill out. I'd pick her up and cuddle her. It was a reset button—those ridiculous out loud questions.

The truth behind my outbursts was that I was no longer coping well with the status quo. In those early months of toddlerhood she was asserting herself, but didn't have the language to help me understand what she needed. This natural frustration was coupled with my own exhaustion and feelings of isolation, and created tantrums for both spirited mother and daughter.

When she was about 18 months, I read the book Raising Children with Character by Elizabeth Berger. My flashes of explosive frustration with this precious little human startled me and wracked me with guilt. They also frightened me because I was certain I was continuing a generational loop that started long before me. That was the last thing I wanted to bring into the present.

It was within the pages of that book that I learned one of the most important parenting lessons: frustration and losing one's cool comes with the parenting territory. As adults, it's important to remain in the driver's seat, but these flashes of anger and irritation are going to happen. We best serve our children by acknowledging our shortcomings and apologizing for our mistakes. In doing so, we teach our children that even adults make mistakes. Being accountable for our actions and apologizing for our missteps role model to our children how to correct these mistakes. Children grow up learning how to acknowledge their own mistakes and missteps. They also grow up with a more realistic view of adulthood. That adulthood is not some magical state where all goes well all the time.

I felt a tidal wave of relief, and began putting this new information into practice. I acknowledge my moments of weakness, short tempers, and impatience with my daughter. Every time I do it, (and thankfully now that I'm in a healthier mental and heart space it happens less frequently) it creates space for really nourishing conversations about personal responsibility, mutual respect, and being kind.

I am mothering myself as I mother my daughter with new emotional tools.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

8. Weekend Wisdom



"And as she fell apart her shattered pieces began to bloom-- blossoming until she became herself exactly as she was meant to be..." 
-Becca Lee

Saturday, October 7, 2017

7. Weekend Wisdom



"Sometimes the journey has to be traveled alone in order to appreciate the strengths that lie deep inside of us."



- Steve Atchison

Friday, October 6, 2017

6. Buying Flowers

As I write, there's a vase of lemon yellow and electric pink roses sitting on my dresser. When I stand in line at ALDI's I survey the day's inventory of cut flowers. When the roses are looking good, I choose a bouquet or two. The dozen roses in my room cost me $8. A small price to pay for a spark of beauty in my home.

I mother myself by allowing this frivolity to balance out the overarching and overwhelming bents toward pragmatism and practicality that generally rule my choices and my spending.

During courtship, I was showered with flowers (on one particular occasion, two dozen red roses were delivered to work). Once married, the floral parade abruptly stopped. I was scolded for not watering the flowers I'd been gifted. I was punished for my perceived lack of appreciation.

Buying myself flowers is an act of healing, but it's also a subversive act. It's tripping a wire in my brain. It's disrupting the message that for a long time reinforced that I didn't deserve to have this splash of beauty. That I wasn't worth the effort.

The frugal part of me also delights in the fact that I am accomplishing this with so few dollars.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

5. Generosity

The morning I graduated from college I was doing final dorm room move-out cleaning. My parents stood by as I moved the vacuum around the square of space I'd called home for the past nine months.

A friend came to my open doorway. "Julie, could I borrow your vacuum when you're done?" she asked.

"Sure, I'm finished. Here, you can have it now," I offered the vacuum without thinking.

She pushed the vacuum down the hallway to her room.

"That is an expensive vacuum," my mom said in hushed tones. "We don't share things like that. I've loaned things and had them returned broken." A lecture ensued. (The vacuum was returned without incident.)

The impulses I've had to be generous in adulthood have had to first run through the filter of that encounter years ago. I have questioned my desire to be generous and whether I should act. Twenty years later, and maybe precisely because of that moment, I hold my possessions lightly. I know the risks of sharing material goods—they might not be returned or might be returned a bit more used—and yet, I choose to share anyway. I've decided to take the risk with sharing my heart too.

I mother myself by honoring this generous impulse. It feels GOOD to share what I have. That dorm room scene set the parameters for my own philanthropy: Give what you can. Give when you can. Give without an expectation of return.

I am gratified to see how another generation is moved by an impulse of generosity. I took my daughter shopping at IKEA to spend a birthday gift card. In the shopping cart she placed three polar fleece throws to give to homeless people who are cold this winter; a surprise for me (pack of three journals, a spiral notebook, and a pack of three pens); and two glasses to fill with candy to give to my co-workers. I cannot remember what, if anything, she bought for herself. I was struck by the need to remind her that it was okay to shop for herself with her birthday money.

"It makes me happy to buy gifts for my friends," my daughter answered. If I recall, there was also a mention of random acts of kindness in her explanation.

I recognize the feelings she described. It's what makes being generous feel so good.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

4. A Hand to Hold

This is the strangest form of comfort I have found. Some nights when sleep didn't descend on me immediately, I felt loneliness the most acutely. The future seemed vast and uncertainty loomed so large that it stamped out my imagination's ability to consider the possibilities (things seem bigger and more worrisome when I'm tired). The bed was too big, and I was swallowed up in it's emptiness. On those nights, I really wanted a hand to hold. This thought comforted me. And then I got sadder because there wasn't one to hold. Then I got a really strange notion: what if I held my own hand?

Could that be a comfort?

I felt silly and glad I was trying this in the privacy of my own room. My right hand clasped my left. I closed my eyes. I sighed deeply. I scanned my mind and body to detect a reaction. Was this helping? Did holding my hand make me feel less lonely?

The answer was yes.

This small act of mothering myself lifted the weight of feeling so alone. It eased the burden that made this loneliness feel like a permanent condition.

I held my hand a lot, and in doing so, I learned about the importance and steadfastness of being my own best friend. In an unexpected way, holding my own hand taught me about the wholeness I could muster from within.

And in time, I've found that this practice has soothed that particular ache for another's hand to hold.  I'll hold my own hand forever, but it feels like progress that it's no longer such a deep need anymore. Mothering myself in this small way has led to great healing.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

3. Massage

This alone time reinforced the fact that hugs are few and far between. Hugs were hard to come by long before my divorce, so touch deprivation is not a new thing for me. While I am grateful to have an affectionate, snuggly child, a mama needs more than the embrace of a school-ager sometimes. I have a great friends at church who hug me every Sunday. But I need more healthy touch than even that provides, so I enrolled in a monthly massage membership.

I read an article recently that outlined four things that neuroscience has determined helps people feel happy. Hugs are one of them. (You'll hear more about the article later in the series.) I was pleased to learn that according to neuroscience, if hugs are in short supply, massages are a good substitute.

Once a month I spend an hour (sometimes more) in the expert care of a massage therapist who helps ease the tension of too much desk sitting, migraines, worries over money, and whatever creeps into the muscle and fascia of my body.

I am grateful to both therapists (depending on their schedules) who make that hour's oasis a safe, nurturing, and restorative time. I float out of the room after they have worked out the kinks and tight spots that inevitably make their way to my neck, back, arms, and legs day-to-day and week-by-week. I breathe easier and am more conscientious about how I move and lift my always-heavy bag for a day or two after every massage. 

These massage appointments help me take stock of my physical and emotional health. I am genuinely happy. Instead of fixating on what I don't have in great supply (hugs), I have learned to concentrate on what I do have (massages and the embraces of my daughter and my amazing friends.)

Monday, October 2, 2017

2. Books

I was the lone reader in my family growing up. Reading made me feel isolated because there wasn't anyone who loved to read with whom I could share what I was learning and experiencing. At the same time, reading gave me a sense of belonging and expanded my network as the characters became cherished friends.

On occasion I would ask to be read to. Reading snuggled up together wouldn't happen, but the details from that time are fuzzy. In adulthood I was asked, “Remember when you asked me to read to you when you were little? I just couldn't. Reading to you reminded me that I was never read to as a child and it made me so sad.”

It was a missed opportunity for both parent and child. Reading together could have healed those hurt places in one, and fortified the bond for both.

I kept reading solo in those years, and the more I read, the more I loved the pastime.

I mother myself now through reading in two ways: I allow myself long stretches of reading on weekends when I'm alone, and I snuggle with my daughter and read to her when we are together—I've even read to her when we're apart via Skype. 

In a funny twist of fate, my daughter is also not a reader—yet. But she likes to be read to. She appreciates the closeness that reading together induces. So do I.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

1. Sleep

A mama puts her child down for a nap or tucks her in early when the day has been extra full or the child is especially frazzled. In the early months after my divorce, I felt frazzled a lot. I had an abundance of spare time alone. For so many years, I had been occupied with my own daughter's schedule and needs that this free time felt heavy, empty, unstructured, and endless. Some days I couldn't figure out what to do with myself. I was restless and didn't know how to fill the last few hours of an evening without feeling sad or despondent. I was nervous about my sad moods plunging  into depression. 

On those nights, I tucked myself in much earlier than ever before. One Friday evening while the SUN WAS STILL SHINING, I pulled back the sheets of my too-big bed and fell asleep. I fought thoughts of being a loser for going to bed at 7:30 at the start of a weekend. I slept nearly 12 hours. Proof, indeed, that my body and spirit needed the rest. I wasn't a loser. I was a mama who made sleep a priority. This rest formed a new self-care habit that would help me feel better and grow stronger.

Now I relish early bed times. I haven't gone to bed at 7:30 in months, but a new rhythm developed, and my sleep schedule is in better balance. More and better sleep helped repair the frayed edges of my heart and mind.


"The juiciest action step for you at any given moment may be to rest. I can’t emphasize this enough. Everything in nature ebbs and flows, and trying to flow without ebbing is a stressful, anxiety-based strategy. Wayfinding magic often needs you to literally fall asleep so it can proceed. The final step in joining up with a horse is to walk away from it. The final step in connecting with anything you’re trying to bring from Imagination into Form is to let go, surrender, totally detach. Napping is one of the most powerful steps in many a Forming. If the impulse to rest or sleep arises, cancel everything and crash."


- Martha Beck