A few months back I went through a difficult experience. Actually, difficult only scratches the surface. The tragedy in my life was of a personal and largely self-created nature. It involved a breakup, depression, and a crises of identity. I was exhausted by the cumulative consequences of a lifetime of hasty choices and chaotic passions. Clearly, I needed help and I found it in a session with a recommended counselor. My dear friend gave me his phone number and it was the best gift anyone could have ever given me. Truly, there are times in our lives when we are unable to stand unsupported. And on this journey to recover my lost sanity and dignity, I simply needed the strength of others to get through it.
The counselor, as it turned out, was a stout and pleasant older gentleman with white hair that is longer than you’d expect on a professional, who wears more jewelry than I do, and who somewhat makes me think he was a hippie in the 70’s. He refers to himself as a Human Potentialist, and is refreshingly unlike any therapist I’ve ever met. His name is Randy and seeing him was one of the wisest choices I ever made.
After scheduling my first appointment, I thought for days of what to share with him about my situation. How much of my personal life do I open up? There were of course specific and immediate things I needed to discuss that I won’t divulge here; but even these sensitive topics weren’t touching what I believed to be deeper issues. All of my emotions were raw and sizzling on the surface. To make things worse, I felt like a child wanting everything I was going through to be fixed on the spot. When he asked me what I wanted from our sessions, I just spoke the truest words I could. “I want help making better choices because I am doubting every choice I ever made,” I told him. “Sometimes I feel like my perspective is so a skewed that I don’t know what is true anymore. I want to learn how to trust my feelings again. And somewhere along the way, I’ve lost my balance. I need your help in restoring it. But more than anything…I want to be grounded. I want my feet grounded firmly on the earth so I can stay feeling solid even if the ground is shaking under my feet.”
Randy looked at me and asked, “What do you do to comfort yourself during stressful situations?” And I surprised myself because I didn’t know how to answer. I was so caught up with the distractions in my life that I stopped paying attention to my needs. Although I was driven by tender emotions, over time I had built a solid wall around them. Somewhere along the way, I had stopped honoring my feelings. Author Marianne Williamson says that “A woman who cannot honor her own feelings will not find them honored by anyone else.” I found this to be very true. It was a revelation to discover that I wasn’t taking care of my emotional needs at all. And dissociating myself from my feelings came with a high price. I was an emotional mess.
Actually, this isn’t all that uncommon amongst women. We intuitively long to take better care of our bodies, our emotions, our feelings, our spirits, ourselves. But we don’t because our lives are so full. Too full. We’re busy. Busy with work. Busy with family. Busy with other peoples lives. As women, we’ve been trained by generations before us to put ourselves last after we’ve taken care of everyone else. We push ourselves to meet the deadline, send the last email, run the errand, bring the ailing parent to the doctor, make the meal, get the kids to hockey practice, wash the last dish, help with homework, grocery shop, toss in the laundry, pay the bill, and tuck the child into bed. These are good things; they’re noble and divine things. But after we’re finished, we’re just too damn tired to nurture ourselves. And we fall like a brick into our beds and pray that our minds shut off so we can sleep through the night.
Why do we do this? We run our tanks on empty fueled only by fumes. Williamson writes of this Amazon neurosis explaining that women achieve at the expense of their tender places. “From the time she was a little girl, she was slowly but surely led to believe that her emotions were less important than her achievements.” We give and give of ourselves to the point of exhaustion, slowly forgetting the necessary rituals of self comfort and nurturance that restore our energy and our spirits.
So how do we reclaim these rituals that ground us? Where do we carve out the time to replenish our souls? Randy suggests we begin by asking ourselves two questions. How do I feel? What do I need at this moment? It’s the first step in becoming centered again.
By paying attention to our needs, we begin to honor ourselves again and soon develop what Williamson calls our “internal power.” It’s that beautiful part of being a woman that encompasses emotional expansiveness, spirituality, and a more conscious living. It’s that divine piece that makes us feel more grounded and less reactive. And carving time out of our day to take care of our own needs is essential to developing this internal power. How do you feel right now? Do you need rest? Do you need to talk to someone? Do you need to eat something to fill your hunger and balance your emotions? A warm embrace? A walk to clear your head? Do you need to pray? Perhaps some time alone?
Replenishing your power is essential. For myself, I’ve discovered that there are times when all it takes to restore my spirit is twenty minutes alone and a hot cup of tea. A nap or a long hug have also been known to do the trick. And on occasion, I’ve come to appreciate the healing effects of a glass of wine coupled with good conversation. I’ve been finding a great deal of comfort lately in being more conscious of my needs.
There is much about our day that we cannot control, but other things do fall under our jurisdiction. We can choose to honor the feelings we have and do what is necessary to keep us feeling safe and grounded. This is self-love. And by doing this, we take better care of those who are closest to us. We give fully because we ourselves are full.