I was taught that a "good person" always put other people ahead of him/herself. Of course, I was also taught that this was supposed to be even more true for women. That putting yourself first, loving yourself, and self-care were bad - selfish attitudes that made you a bad person.
Those lessons led me to a place where I never got enough sleep, enough nutritious food, dental and medical care. Funny thing - living like that created chronic anger without my really being aware of why I was so angry (and sad and fearful and totally overwhelmed). I had nothing to give to anybody. All I really wanted was a day off!
I mistakenly thought that the solution was for other people to take better care of me. Then I landed in a recovery program because I was truly at the end of my rope. They told me that well-intentioned people had simply taught me things that weren't true. And that I was the one who was supposed to be taking care of myself.
Since then I've been on a long, long, journey of learning how to take care of myself. I began by doing the obvious things - food, rest, medical and dental care etc.
Then I realized that I had developed a disdain for fun - that I believed that in deadly serious world with problems galore to be solved, taking any time for fun was just plain evil. So I tentatively started to explore what I thought might be fun. I discovered that as an adult I still liked to swing. It's kind of embarrassing to go to the park and wait your turn with all the kids, but it was totally worth it.
So, now years later, I'm still practicing. I'm not an expert at this yet. But I can say that I continue to discover what, for me, a life centered around self-love and self-caring looks like.
The basics of food, rest, exercise and medical and dental care continue to get better and better as I learn more. I see the dentist four times a year and by so doing, my gum disease has been arrested. I go for my annual check ups. I get a flu shot. I've studied nutrition tailored to a woman of my age with the health issues I have and I work at creating food that I love and that meets my needs. With research and expert help, I have an exercise program that also meets my particular needs - a little bit of seated aerobics, modified yoga, strength training, and a lot of exercises to keep my core muscles strong.
I've learned that treating other people the way I want to be treated usually causes other people to treat me well. Even when it doesn't turn out that way, I'm okay because I've learned that people treat other people the way they treat themselves. If they treat me badly, it's usually because their own self-care isn't good. I've learned to listen better although I still need a lot of work in that area. I've stopped trying to change people (usually) and just ask for what I want. If they don't want to, I work on acceptance. If people treat me badly, I ask them not to. If they don't change, I put distance between us.
I realized too that part of a life centered around self-care and self-love is to use my talents. That's been a lot harder because I ran right up against my fear of being judged. So now I'm working on growing a thicker skin. I've taken classes and try to do something with my talents every day.
There was a little piece of the truth in what I was taught about giving to others. It turns out that sharing with other people is also a way for me to take care of myself. The thing is, it's important for me to give from a place of plenty - which I can do when I've taken care of my own needs first.
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