Practicing self-care is harder than it looks in this messy life.
The bathroom is my special place. When I sit on the toilet and read articles about 100 ways to change my life, I feel empowered and ready to shake my world upside down.
Then I lock my iPhone and leave the bathroom … and I fall right back into wishing I could just sulk in a corner.
Especially as the adult child of an alcoholic, a lot of people advise me to figure out how to put myself first. Family, friends, and professionals want me to learn to love myself in ways that I didn’t learn during all the years when caring for an addict took precedence.
"Close your eyes in the steam of hot lemon water. Sink into your warrior pose while reflecting on the ocean’s tide. Just take deeper breaths and count to 10 to conquer the world’s pain."
I know the authors of these articles mean well, but sometimes I don’t think they understand how hard it is to make self-care a priority. Most days, grabbing hold of my "self" feels like trying to grab fistfuls of air, not breathing as calmly as an ocean tide.
Instead of drawing a bubble bath or lighting a candle or writing down my thoughts and dreams in a journal, I’m more focused on making baby steps in caring for myself. Here are a few:
1. Getting up on the right side of the bed is a big deal.
Most days, I don’t want to cuddle a kitten. On the days when it’s easier to smile, it’s a really good day. Sometimes my self-care is cherishing those days.
2. Instead of dreaming of all the things I'll get around to in my next life, I have to pick one small thing a day.
Waiting for the next cymbal to crash wipes me out. In my next life, I’ll color 50 shades of happiness in my adult coloring book. And then I’ll hang it on my fridge to show off to all my cheerful dinner guests.
But in this life, faking Pinterest-style perfection is exhausting. Instead, I’ve started getting to know my personal energy levels and choosing my daily activities based on how much "gas" is in my tank. I want to be a hustler and say yes to everything, but I have to know if today is a day where taking care of myself also means taking a nap.
3. I'm great at telling someone else, "Go love yourself." Now I need to take my own advice.
I could have written those articles about 100 ways to change your life. I might even inspire you to learn to love yourself because I’m a champ at doling out expert advice. But taking my own advice is an entirely different game.
Whenever I feel like stuffing my emotions away with dozens of Oreos, I remind myself that I’m committed to living out what I write.
I want you to read who I am on the screen and then meet the same person in real life.
4. I'm addicted to someone else’s addiction. I probably need to implement my own recovery plan.
Honest moment: I’m afraid of what my life would look like without the rush of implementing great recovery plans for someone else, like my dad who struggles with addiction.
But truthfully, I know that self-care starts with putting my whole self first. I’m learning how to make my own recovery plans, including a rush of adrenaline while working out to the perfect pump-up playlist.
5. "It is what it is" helps me move forward.
I picked up on this phrase as a little girl, and for me, it became one of those sayings your kid repeats in the backseat so many times you wish they'd never heard it.
Believing in change requires a huge shift in my stale and stubborn mind, but remembering that "it is what it is" allows me to recognize what I can’t control and then focus on what I can.
6. I will learn to trust that good things can actually stick.
This is kind of the idea that every good book comes to an end. I always wonder: Why should I fall in love with these characters when they’re going to leave me on the last page anyways? I think this has a lot to do with my dad’s story and growing up with an alcoholic parent.
Instead, I have to work on trusting in chapters of goodness, like when joining a book club is fulfilling and reading a book gives me happiness in the moment — it’s not just a countdown until our relaxing times together end.
7. I’ll figure out how I like my eggs or other little things about my identity.
In the movie "Runaway Bride," Julia Roberts’ character has a father who drinks too much. She lost her identity in the process of trying to save him, so she always just likes whatever kind of eggs her boyfriend at the time liked.
Self-care requires knowing what would help me. I can’t love myself if I’ve never taken the time to figure out who I am. It turns out I like my eggs over easy. Like my grandma always said, "Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it."
8. Life doesn’t have to feel so serious.
I picked up a briefcase around the age of 10, and the weight of the world felt comfortable in my little hands. I made myself grow up too quickly, mostly so I could stay out of the way and not make any more waves.
But I think I missed the step where you roll down the hill and get grass stains, so sometimes it’s hard as an adult to kick back and get a good belly laugh. I forget that life is more than filing my taxes while sitting up straight in my leather chair. When I know I need a deep laugh, I go out to dinner with a friend who knows me to my core and can pull out a memory that leaves me sculpting those six-pack abs.
9. I've made it a habit to expect the worst. And, you know what they say: Old habits die hard.
I’ve come to expect disappointment to walk through the door. Hearts have this crazy power to shape habits. And broken hearts have this bad habit of wanting to stay broken.
Sometimes I think that stories about miracles and people overcoming adversities are only written about other people, and quotes that tell me to OVERCOME just annoy me. That’s just not me. Making it a habit to expect good things to happen will start with believing with my whole heart that I actually deserve good things. For me, I go for a walk and listen to audiobooks that encourage me and keep my mind from wandering to self-destructing places.
10. I’ll stop waiting for someone else to bring me flowers.
This past year, I had a roommate who nurtured her plants every day. This felt completely foreign to me. But when someone told me to go buy flowers for myself and make it a habit to care for those flowers, I started thinking about it differently.
In fact, this is one of those cliches that actually kind of works for me. I never realized how much I was sitting back and waiting for someone to knock on my door and deliver beauty on a silver platter. Inviting beauty into my daily life takes effort and patience and persistence. But one day at a time, I’m learning how to water these flowers and watch them grow.
11. Learning to love myself will require repetition over time to make it a new daily habit.
Over time, I’ve caught this heart bug where I tell myself I’m not worthy of a life where I love myself and love my life. I want to check off every single item on the list of 101 ways to change my life instead of trying to make one new self-care habit that I can actually stick to.
So my advice? Just do one thing. Because one small thing — not 100 — can help change one day. And one day at a time, that’s enough.
I want to learn to love myself and make self-care a priority.
I want to be addicted to love, like the good kind of habits and the real kinds of love.
For today, though, I’ll reflect on taking one little step at a time while reading on the toilet. Realistically, that one step for me is probably dancing to a new Katy Perry song: "I won’t just survive. Oh, you will see me thrive."
Don’t judge :)