Soul Care

As humans, we are inherently triune beings – mind, body, and soul. Growing up in charismatic Christian circles, I saw people moved by what they called the holy spirit. Now I see that these people use[d] religion as a means to give their souls life. They spoke in tongues and danced around rooms, “moved with the spirit.” But I feel the same spirit when I listen to jazz or absorb great paintings; I pulse with that life when I dance in a club or write a story. I may not ascribe to any religion, but my soul is as alive as ever.

We are raised to go to school, to seek education – to read books and solve math problems in care of our minds. We’re taught to eat healthy foods and exercise to care for our bodies. But what about our souls? The spirituality of religion can get stuck in legalism and dogma, leaving the greater part of the population lost and, in many ways, dead.

“A little wisp of soul carrying a corpse.” – Epictetus.

 

Our souls are what bring us to life – they’re the animating factors that shine light behind our eyes and make our skin glow. Think of humans as double layer cakes – mind and body are the layers of cake, but without frosting, who wants to eat it? Dry and crumbly, maybe it tastes good for a few bites, but something’s missing. The glue, the moisture, the decadence – the icing on the cake – the soul.

All animals have bodies and minds. But what make us human, what have the potential to make us great and transcendent beings, are our souls. Our healthy souls can unite us, make us free, give us power, and lead us in paths of love and light. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sets physiological and safety as the lowest two – the only needs that are purely physical or mental. The top three are love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization – the needs of the soul. So, if you don’t believe me, believe an esteemed psychologist – 3/5 of our most basic human needs are those of the soul.

But in a society, a culture, a world that neglects the soul – how do we care for it? How can we bring it to life? This takes work, consciousness, dedicated practice; Rome was not built in a day. Maybe you follow religious teachings, maybe you let music and art spark your internal fire, maybe you practice meditation and yoga. Start by clearing out the cobwebs, dusting the corners, and opening the windows – the beginning is the hardest part. Just as muscles atrophy in the absence of strain and brain cells wither away with disuse, our neglected souls wilt like thirsty flowers in the shade. We need sunlight, we need water, and we need these things regularly. People use drugs to feel alive in this way – to skip the daily practice and enjoy the light of the soul for an evening. But this feeling of ecstasy is possible on a daily basis. With practice, with care, the soul becomes stronger and brighter, and your power becomes increasingly accessible.

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So, as Voltaire wrote, let us cultivate our gardens. Let us seek out beauty and love, surrounding ourselves with objects and images and sounds and foods that bring us joy, with people who radiate light – let us make our souls happy. When we do this, all other desires are met – a body and mind connected to a healthy soul with be beautiful and intelligent and strong. So yes, have your workout and your salad, and read your books and work your sudokus, but begin with the soul. Stoke your internal fire and all parts of you will burn as brightly. 

Let the light in.

 

Love, calm, & care –

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Enamored of Life

This series of choices and relationships and experiences that we’re all a part of, independently and symbiotically waking up and eating and moving and laughing and crying and feeling and loving and hating – let’s just take a moment to appreciate how incredible it is.

Don’t get me wrong, life is hard. I remember, in 10th grade, hearing a classmate of mine proclaim, in a tinny exclamation of joy – “I love my life.” She was happy with her boyfriend, enjoying her circle of friends, her close relationship with her sister, her academic success, and her important role on the swim team. In that moment, sitting alone, mocked for my intelligence, unhappy with my appearance, socially inept, virginal, in the throes of turbulent family life, depression, and an eating disorder, I hated her. I felt certain that she was lying, that it was impossible to love life when all I could think about was ending my own, clinging to the shreds of my religious beliefs as they disintegrated in my fingers. Joy felt impossible.

But I always promised myself it would get better. I held out hope for the day when I would dominate a court room with my litigious prowess or transplant a heart with my deft fingers, sustaining my hurting adolescent self on faint images of a future where I was accepted, respected, even celebrated – of a life where people liked me and maybe I even liked myself.

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Well I’m not a lawyer or a surgeon, but I do love myself. I am joyful. And I love my life. And I’m not lying. And sometimes it all feels too good to be true.

Maybe you, like me in 10th grade, hate me for writing this. Please don’t. Please understand that I know how much it can hurt and how awful the world can feel – I know. It can really fucking suck. But it doesn’t always suck. And so much of the suck is in your head. That doesn’t make it any less awful, I know, but it does give you power. It makes it within your ability to make the situation better. Just take a moment to be grateful. Relish in the way a berry bursts in your mouth or the way the sun feels on your skin or the way the person sitting next to you makes you smile. Let yourself get drunk on life – this is what we’re here for. We are alive and beautiful and capable of absolutely anything.

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No matter how binding or tragic your circumstances, you have the power to enjoy your life. We’re on this planet to live – for life. And after all, we only live once [as far as I know]. It’s so simple, yet so complex, and it is an honor and a pleasure to share it with all of you.

Love, calm, & care –

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Identity Formation

You can be whoever you want to be. Sound too good to be true? It isn’t.

First accept the basics, the things you can’t change – find your baseline. What are you working with? What do you like to do, what are you interested in? Get your bearings with yourself. Maybe you have no idea – so start trying things. What are you curious about? What are you drawn to? How do you want people to see you, how do you want to see yourself?

Want to be funny? Watch a bunch of funny movies, hang out with funny people, notice what makes people laugh, what makes you laugh. Want to be well-traveled? Find a way to go on a trip. Make a list of places you want to go, experiences you want to have. Seek them out. Want to be healthy? Start working out – try running, try yoga, try boxing. Go for a hike. Eat a salad, a handful of nuts. Practice. Want to write? Get a notebook and a pen, open a word document – start typing and find out what you have to say. Want to be a history buff? Go to school. Read a book – the library has a wealth of free options, anything you want to learn, you can learn.

The key is to see the possibilities – don’t limit yourself, don’t put yourself in a box. You have a mind, a body – you can build yourself, you can choose. All it takes is a little observation, a little practice, and – primarily – a belief that you can.

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I recently watched the Coen brothers’ movie A Serious Man. The main character is shoved around by his life, his wife, his job – by circumstances. He envies his wife’s lover – a man people called “serious.” And he tries to be a serious man. But he doesn’t seem to get it, doesn’t quite believe he could be serious, doesn’t really know where to begin. He confesses to a Rabbi – “I’ve tried to be a serious man.” But was he? Did he own that identity? I’m not sure he made it in the movie, but all it would have taken was confidence.

I always loved the movie Catch Me If You Can – Frank Abagnale, Jr, masterfully played by Leonardo DiCaprio, molds himself into a thousand men, plays a different part for every phase of his life. He acts as a pilot, assembling a crowd of flight attendants to breeze through the airport, works as a teacher, a doctor, a playboy. He was a conman. A confidence man. A man with enough confidence to believe that he was a doctor when he put on that white coat, and everybody else believed it, too. But if he hadn’t believed it, no one else would have.

I went to school for creative writing – had workshops with other students, swapping stories and offering critiques – writing. Ask most of them if they were writers, and they’d tell you they were trying to be. They wondered how to continue writing after graduation, how to make sure they kept at it. But it’s deceptively easy. All they had to do was write. Write a single sentence, and you’re a writer. All you have to do is believe it.

I also spent some time in business school, and a popular maxim there is – “Don’t dress for the job you have; dress for the job you want.” If you want a certain role, start by looking the part. Then act the part. Believe that you are capable of playing the part, and before long – you’ll get the part. Because other people notice confidence – they respect it, appreciate it, admire it, and generally, reward it.

Maybe this sounds deluded, silly, impossible. But you have more power than you think you do. You can always grow, teach yourself lessons about things you want to know, practice self-improvement until you love every bit of yourself. Begin by accepting where you’re at, and the possibilities are endless. You can build yourself into whoever you want to be – the only person in your way is you. The truth is, you’re limitless.

Love, calm, & care –

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Life Style

How do you see life? As a ride to be enjoyed? A game to be played and potentially beaten? A series of unfortunate events, or challenges to be hacked?

Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, survival is the threshold – once basic, physical needs are covered, our minds and selves are freed up for higher pursuits. But are we born into certain levels? Is his hierarchy a kind of psychological caste system?

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I’m currently reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and in one chapter he argues, through a character named Prince Andrew, that Russian serfs are meant to work hard, to have their days filled with demanding physical labor and that, if a landowner wanted to give them more freedom, he would be doing them more harm than good. A serf is a type of person that needs this labor to survive.  Without it, he’d be lost – feeling useless and not knowing how to fill his time productively. In the same breath, the prince posits that just as he would suffer in the serf’s life of manual labor, a serf would have no idea how to manage his time in the prince’s life of leisure. So each is born into a level, and that’s that – it’s for the best. The rare ones who transcend levels are meant to do so, but they are mere exceptions.

This might seem cruel and unequal and classist – but does it matter? Are the concerns of one class really so different from another? I love the show Sex and the City, and I’m currently watching Girls. The former chronicles the lives of four women living in New York – they have well-paying jobs, are in their thirties, and the show explores their relationships, the ups and downs of their personal, everyday lives. Girls follows four twenty-something girls, also living in New York – they run in circles of entitled young people, all being supported by their parents, not really having a clue about how to handle life, and struggling just to pay rent. But the show explores the same themes as Sex and the City – relationships, everyday life – their humanity. So does it matter how much money they’re making? Maybe Carrie is worried about spending too much on shoes while Hannah can barely make rent, but won’t the same types of problems always exist? Won’t the real issue, the one we remember, not be our financial stability or the weird job we worked, but the relationship with the guy who wouldn’t commit, or the ex-boyfriend who’s now gay, or the moments of warm friendship in the midst of all this? Does class even matter?

Now I know that, in this comparison, I’ve looked at two sets of white women from middle class families. I know, it’s a biased perspective. But I think it could apply to more circles than you’d expect, and I think that what ultimately makes the difference is not the class you are in, but the way you approach life. If Carrie Bradshaw suddenly decided to dedicate her life to philanthropy and making the world a better place, I think she could find a way to do it just as well as Hannah Horvath could. Sure, they have different connections and talents, but that’s the point – they’re different people. The differences they could make in the world are equally valid.

If you’re born into the ghetto, raised in a gang, always looking over your shoulder, selling drugs just to survive – you could find ways to enjoy this. You could coast through it, accepting it as your lot in life, hardly thinking about moving up or down in the world, just letting yourself live the life you were born into, having relationships and making deals and simply living. Or, if you see life as challenges to be surmounted, maybe you’re driven to do well in school, to get a scholarship to college, to rise out of the class you were born into. You’re an exception.

But that’s on an individual basis. They don’t teach life strategy in school. I never took a class on figuring out your passion or your purpose in this world. So maybe you’re compelled, internally, to figure this out for yourself, or maybe you’re not. And, more than whatever situation you’re born into, I think this is what decides your fate. You can practice, you can study, you can move yourself up in the world – but it’s entirely your prerogative to do so.

What do you think – am I being unfair? How do you approach life?

Love, calm, & care –

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Losing Steam

We celebrate the new year fresh, bold, with bright eyes and dewy faces. And we wake up hungover.

It feels easy to lose momentum before you even catch it – letting the crusty eyes overtake your vision, lying in bed and eating pizza instead of doing that workout you swore you’d do so you can lose those ten pounds of yourself that you hate.

It can get depressing. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves this time of year. Pressure to become our best self, to make sweeping changes to our lifestyles, to improve in all the ways we didn’t know we needed to. If you don’t achieve every single one of your goals within a week, the idea of continuing for a year may feel daunting, to say the least.

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So do something ballsy – accept that this is overwhelming. It’s hard to hear about your coworkers’ diets and your neighbor’s workout plan, the whole time wishing you hadn’t had those pancakes for breakfast or wondering if you should have spent 20 more minutes on the elliptical, but it doesn’t have to be like that.

Change doesn’t happen in a day. Your clothes, your mind, sure, but not true, lasting change. You can decide to make a change, but even then – what’s driving you? You need a foundation, strong reasons for doing something, a profound sense that this is what’s right. Whims won’t stick.

Change takes careful study – honest assessment of the ground situation, visions and goals for the future, and a plan for how to get from point A to point B, along with a commitment to enjoy each and every step of it.

You won’t wake up with the “perfect beach body,” whatever the hell that is, but you can wake up and decide to accept what your body looks like today. To accept your housing, your career, your relationships, your self as they are. And then show up.

On January 1st or September 23rd or any other arbitrary date, the best thing you can do is show up for yourself. It’s not a piece of cake from there, but if you’re present, it does get easier. With practice.

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I wrote this in my journal today, and I think it’s universally applicable –

…You are capable of continuing, of carrying on in this way. Even when you fall – which you will – trust yourself to fall gracefully. To pick yourself back up with kindness. Don’t be afraid of letting people see that – there is strength in your vulnerability, and a wealth to be learned from the falling and the getting back up. It’s okay to be crazy. It’s okay for people to look up to you. Keep going, and you won’t disappoint anyone. It’s only when you stay down that you truly fail.

I believe in you.

You are capable.

Let’s be present this year. Every day of it. Let’s show up for ourselves, and see where it takes us.

Love, calm, & care –

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Caring for Your Self

Establishing self-care practices can be difficult. Maybe you’ve moved and have to change your habits, or maybe you’re taking the beginning of a new year as a chance to start being kind to yourself – whatever your reason, you’re onto something great. Caring for yourself is always a good idea, so congrats on making such a wise choice. Now – where to begin?

In a society that shuffles us around from one thing to the next, always telling us – women especially – how to care for other people instead of for ourselves, it can be hard to know what self-care would even be. Think of times in your life that you’ve felt most calm. What were you doing? Where were you? Chances are your cell phone was nowhere near you, maybe you were at a spa or on a beach, maybe you were curled up with a good book or going for a drive. Flip through your rolodex of good memories, and grab onto as many as you can. Now, how can you recreate those as a part of your regular life?

You don’t have to go on vacay or be miles away from your real life to feel relaxed. It can happen in the comfort of your own home, on a yoga mat, in a bath tub – anywhere. It’s an internal thing. Here’s a list of my go-tos:

  1. Take a bath – any time I get to lay down, I feel relaxed. And there’s something about getting clean, really taking the time to lay out and scrub your body, appreciating every little finger and freckle. When I had a bathtub I would always use bath tea – a blend of herbs that you steep yourself in. It’s great for your muscles and the aroma is oh-so-relaxing. Try chamomile, peppermint, marshmallow leaf, rose hip, lavender – really any blend you fancy. I don’t have a bathtub anymore here in China, so I’m scrambling for alternatives – I’m looking for a good masseuse.
  2. Draw/paint a picture. I love to put on some music, take a paintbrush or a pen, and just go for it. It’s a blissful state of flow when you’re not even thinking about what you’re doing but, at the same time, it’s all consuming. It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself an artist or not, just making shapes and seeing what comes out is freeing and therapeutic – what it looks like doesn’t matter, what matters is that you’re doing it.abstract lyric drawing
  3. Drink a cup of tea. The ritual of boiling water, spooning out your tea leaves, letting them steep, and then holding a warm cup is so cozy and comforting. It forces you to slow down and move in tea time, and the health benefits of tea are myriad. As my former employer, tea from Ku Cha is my favorite – their Ginger Puerh is great for detoxing the body, Vanilla Rooibos is like a warm, creamy hug, and all the herbal blends are A1.
  4. My mind is sometimes too active, and writing helps me untangle all my thoughts, sorting through feelings and realizations so I can make sense of it all. Journaling is the first step and then, who knows, once you’ve sorted through the first level you might try other forms.marble writer's notebook and pen
  5. Buy yourself some flowers. Yesterday on my way home from work I passed a beautiful flower shop and could not stop myself from going in. I was thrilled to leave with two gorgeous flowers for the equivalent of a single American dollar. I know flowers aren’t this cheap everywhere, but, if you can get your hands on even one, it’s like bringing a ray of sunshine into your home. And every time you look at it, you smile, remembering that you bought it for yourself – it’s like a little love note, a little celebration of who you are.vase of flowers
  6. Take a deep breath. One is never enough for me, so I like to meditate or do yoga. These things keep me calm, intentional, and in touch – with my body, my life, the world, with everything.
  7. Read a book. A nice little escape from reality.
  8. Take a walk. Getting the body moving is always a good way to go, and if you let yourself take your time, just wander around, you never know what you’ll stumble on.
  9. Smile. Instant gratification.
  10. Look in the mirror and say, “I love you. You’re beautiful.” It might feel silly at first, but, I swear, it works wonders.
  11. Take yourself out to dinner. Notice it’s not the eating that is the self-care here, it’s the act of taking yourself out. Maybe you go see a play or a concert – whatever. It’s fun to get dressed up, leave the house, and enjoy something nice.
  12. Play a musical instrument. I go for the piano, and every time I sit down I feel so calmly empty after I play. Like I just left all my emotions in the music. It’s a beautiful thing. Here I don’t have a piano, but there’s a street of music stores behind my apartment, and I stop in and play their pianos when I have a craving.
  13. Cook or bake. Maybe it’s from working in a kitchen or baking a lot growing up, but I find these so relaxing. Something about chopping vegetables or stirring up some batter calms me down.

I could go on for days, but these are some of my favorites. They’re all pretty easy, don’t require much equipment, and are a great treat for your soul. Because you deserve it. Really. And you can’t give much to others if you’re running on empty yourself. These are all also great alternatives to any addictive behaviors you might be trying to cut out, from smoking a cigarette to eating too much pizza.

What are some of your self-care rituals? Please comment down below; I’d love some new ideas!

Love, calm, & care –

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Saying Goodbye with Grace

2016 is ending, and with it, a phase in all our lives. Years neatly section off time so that we can all have an ending and a new beginning together, but endings come around more often than every 365 days.  Whether it’s January 1st or May 24th or August 8th or whenever –

A phase in your life is over.

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Maybe you’re moving to a new city, a new country even. Maybe you’re leaving a job, or maybe you’re ending a relationship. Little endings happen every day as we walk out of buildings, get out of cars or buses, leave movies, check out at stores, finish essays or books or tv shows, but these don’t get much attention. Maybe you think about what you just did for a moment or two, make a comment about something you noticed to a person you’re with, but leaving the grocery store doesn’t typically make the news feed. But big things – these take quite a bit of our attention. And they’re often quite painful.

Whether you’re happy to go or your heart’s breaking, grief happens. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to walk around a town wondering when you’ll ever be in it again, it’s okay to cry yourself to sleep replaying memories of you and someone who’s no longer in your life.

You’re allowed to celebrate, too. Even if you’re going through a nasty breakup or ending something awful – there were good parts about it, right? You treated yourself to a fancy coffee once a week at a certain coffee shop, say, or he made you laugh til you peed your pants – just because it’s over doesn’t mean the good things go away, and it doesn’t mean you have to be sad.

Endings are bittersweet, and forgetting to balance the bitter with the sweet tips us off kilter, sets us up to begin in a strange, unhealthy way. To get closure, even from the sharpest pains, you’ve got to hold the sadness with the joy. When something’s over, you get a bit of distance from it – you’re no longer in the midst of it, so you can see clearly – without the bias you held while you were living that reality. Now you get a chance to see the whole experience as a montage, to view yourself acting in situations that already happened. You can think about it. Maybe you like how you acted or maybe you don’t, but see it. Understand it without judgment. Since the phase is over, you are no longer that person. Yes, it’s you, it looks like you and said all the things you said, but now – now you’re not in that situation. You’re no longer impacted by its stresses or joys. The part of you that actively does that thing is gone – dead. So really when you’re grieving a phase in your life, you’re grieving a former version of your self.

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I’ll use myself as an example here – I just recently moved from the town where I graduated college, where my family lives, where I fell in love twice, where I learned to be kind to myself. This was also the town where I felt more depressed than I ever have, worked through conflicts with my parents, ended a destructive relationship, and had moments of truly hating myself. In leaving it, I had to see it for what it was. I had to recognize the sadness of some of the times I went through, and feel joy to be leaving, but, at the same damn time, I saw all the beautiful moments, the wonderful job I had, the community I relished – and I had to feel sad. I had to grieve that I couldn’t be there any more, that I was leaving, and that those joyous moments were gone.

Flipping through my rolodex of memories before I left, I saw some clear images – beautiful evenings with people I love, moments alone in my favorite places – and I realized that the girl I saw in those moments, while Bethany, was no longer me. I saw myself being happy in the past, and at the same time I knew – I’m not her anymore. She’s a part of me, of course, and all my past experiences – positive and negative – inform who I am now. But, looking back, I saw a girl who hadn’t learned lessons that I’ve since learned, who hadn’t endured trials I’ve since endured, and who didn’t know she would be living in China right now, typing this out in her very own apartment. And for a few moments, I felt sad. I loved her. I felt true joy in those moments, and now they’re gone, never to be lived again. And that can be difficult to let go of. But what good would living in the past do me? Seeing her, that version of myself that I was truly happy being, I know that she is a part of me. And I trust her to build an incredible future for herself, to move forward into new upgrades of herself and to never let yesterday or last week or last month be her prime. Even if it was really fucking great – tomorrow always holds potential to be better.

stylish girl says goodbye peace out 2016

Endings are hard. There’s no way around that. But beginnings are beautiful. And the purity and freshness of a new beginning can be tainted if the past hangs around too closely. For now – it’s over. Cry about it, laugh about it, comfort yourself with the memories you’ll always have, and turn forward – hold your head high and carry on.

Love, calm, & care –

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How to Have Feelings

I don’t know about you, but America’s education system did not prepare me for real life. Emotions? Those aren’t mentioned in physical education or Spanish I. I spent my adolescence with a brick wall between my mind and my heart – I was emotionally ignorant. While I did just earn a college degree, what I actually learned during the past four years was how to feel. And I didn’t learn this in school.

You know how when you’re really happy, you physically go a little nuts? Whether you shout or dance or grab someone near you and shake them with joy, you move. Emotional energy has to move out of the body. Negative energy is no different from positive in this way. My reflex is to shut down and isolate myself, only to find that I’m more upset than ever and am burning with angst or something, but I have no clue what it is or why it’s happening.

I used to be so embarrassed that I had feelings. I saw it as a weakness, something to get rid of quietly. Movies show people acting out of raw emotions without thinking things through, without taking the time to feel before making decisions. Feeling and movement go hand in hand for me – they both clear my head. Whether it’s a run or boxing or lifting weights or yoga – when my body is busy, my heart can feel and my mind can think.

A good cry is scientifically proven to be the most efficient way to move the emotional energy out, but that doesn’t always come easy. Often, it comes on the heels of exercise. When I have something pent up inside, I find myself shedding tears as I’m punching a bag or breathing on my yoga mat. Then I finish my yoga, and I turn on the shower and let hot water run over me while I sob in the fetal position. It’s so cathartic, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I began with boxing. I’d been hurt by a lot of people [including myself] and didn’t know what to do with that, so I punched out my aggression. It’s okay to be pissed off, as long as you’re taking it out in a healthy way, a way that doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Yoga, in many ways, saves me every day. Breathing air into all parts of the body, letting it circulate, it’s the freshness of spring cleaning every time you practice. It’s entirely free because it’s all over Youtube, and you can do it in the privacy of your own home, so no one cares if you look funny or if you fart, because you will. And the acceptance, the calm that comes with it makes you okay with that.

Movement, getting in touch with my body, has served as one of the most effective tools of recovery for me. Finally feeling all the emotions that I’d pushed down with food or alcohol or whatever else has been purifying. It’s helped me dig out all the skeletons in my closet, and now they are all happily cremated and serving as fertilizer to the new growth in my soul. And, really, I don’t think any of that would have been possible without physically getting my feelings out of my body. Once they’re out, they lose their power, and you’re able to analyze them with a clear mind, to work through the causes instead of acting out of the effects. And, like every other form of self-care, it’s so worth it.

What do you think? How do you get your feels out?

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Turning Trauma into Beauty

Have you ever looked in the mirror and been displeased? Do you say mean things to yourself? Apologize for taking up space? Constantly berate yourself for the slightest faux pas? These are signs of self-loathing, and maybe that sounds extreme, but the prevalence of these symptoms leads me to ask – why do we hate ourselves?

In writing about the journey of self-love, I’ve been thinking about what the root causes of self-hatred are. Personally, it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of traumatic events and words that all shaped themselves into an ugly mass of depression. As I speak with other people about this, the same rings true. The culprit: trauma.

What is trauma? Trauma is something beyond your control that happens to you. Be it rape, an abusive relationship, or the death of a loved one, it creates a victim – you. This can be hard to accept, and it can also be easy to get stuck in. While recognizing your own victimization is a necessary part of healing, living in the victim mentality is not healthy. That mentality has no movement, no growth – it keeps you stuck, stuck in the mindset that things happen to you, that you are powerless.

And we hate ourselves because we become consumed with this thing that happened to us – the ugliness of it – and we take it on. Internalizing that hideous thing occurs when you allow it to define you, and, naturally, you hate the trauma, so you start to hate yourself. But you are not your trauma. Maybe someone raped you, but you are so much more than the girl or guy who got raped. Maybe someone verbally abused you, constantly looking over your shoulder, criticizing every move, but you and I are so much more than the girls and guys who were in abusive relationships. We are survivors – strong women [or men – humans]. And our lives are not defined by the bad things that have happened to us.

Yes, those things happened, and we’ll always carry the things that happened with us. But what will you do with it? Will you let it be a burden, weighing you down with every step, every look, constantly defining your perspective and yourself? Or will you turn it into an asset? Because that is possible. Turn that weakness into strength. Journal, talk to a therapist, explore the roots of your trauma, dig up all the dirt and clean it out.

We reflect what we see in the world and in ourselves. If, when you look at yourself, all you see is the trauma – the ugly thing that happened to you that you have no control over – you will believe that you are ugly. But this is not true. What about your ambition, your strength, your wit, your cute fingers, your bright eyes, your thick hair? Look in the mirror. Smile. Look outside, look at other people, look at yourself and find the beauty in these things. Think of it as a treasure hunt at first, and then, as you practice, the colors of the world get brighter and you’re like Alice in Wonderland, constantly looking around in awe and even checking yourself out in the mirror. Because we live in a beautiful world, and there is beauty in every single one of us. You just have to find it.

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Do you like yourself?

If not, here’s how. I certainly have my moments. It’s not always easy to feel beautiful and amazing when we live in an entertainment, image saturated world. With so much to compare ourselves to, it can get confusing if you take all the images as advice – as the way you’re supposed to look. The truth is, you’re not supposed to look like anyone but yourself. How could you? Changing your perspective may take some time, but this should help.

Headscarf from Goodwill. Dress from Arc. It was once long sleeves and floor length - I tore it up.

Headscarf from Goodwill. Dress from Arc. It was once long sleeves and floor length – I tore it up.

 

  1. Objectify yourself. It sounds ridiculous, even cruel, doesn’t it? But really, find a way to distance yourself from yourself – not forever, just long enough to analyze who you are really and find the objective truth that can stand above the lies that your mind might be telling you. It’s true that you are your own worst critic. So if you can please yourself, you can please anyone, right? It might not be pleasing now, but be honest. Talk to a therapist or a friend if it helps – someone who can help you see the truth. There will be things you don’t like, even things that are objectively awful. It sucks sometimes, but no one is perfect. Not me, not you – we are imperfect humans. And it’s better to see that for what it is than to deceive yourself.
  2. Accept yourself. As you are, misaligned morals, traumatic past, ten extra pounds, unibrow and all – or whatever it might be. Nothing will change until you honestly accept what you’re working with. Living in a delusion about yourself won’t help matters. Learn who you are at this moment. How do you spend your time? What makes you excited, what puts you to sleep? What do you cling to? Regardless of how you feel about your findings, accept them. Accept that you are a human being on this planet and you are worthwhile.
  3. Find your values. There are assessments you can take online, providing you with dozens of traits like adventure, creativity, and self-awareness, and you choose which ones are important to you, narrowing down your set until you’ve selected a top ten and then a top five. And then you can refer back to these and evaluate your actions and lifestyle by them. These serve as a guiding light, a sort of north star for personal growth. Any time you lose your way, you can reference these. They’ll grow and change with you, and your life should follow them. If it doesn’t, and if the values are truly important to you, maybe it’s time to make some changes.
  4. Figure out who you want to be. What do you look like in your daydreams? What are you doing? What would it take to get there? Dream. Don’t stop yourself, just let your mind roam freely in fantasy land and then find ways to make those things happen.
  5. Become who you want to be. Maybe this sounds silly or daunting, but trust me, it is possible. The way out of this mess is self-love, and it happens when you can be happy with yourself. With your values and your newfound self-worth, there’s nothing you can’t do. Want to be kind to yourself? Practice. Remind yourself daily that you deserve kindness and love. Start to see your world through these new lenses, and everything will begin to change. Painfully, slowly, then all at once, and one day you look in the mirror and love what you see, one day you gain five pounds and you still love yourself, one day you do things that make you happy every day. It just takes practice. And you’re as capable as anyone else.
It was windy. Those shoes are broken now, but they were beautiful.

It was windy. Those shoes are broken now, but they were beautiful.

It’s not easy every day. But it gets better. It always gets better. Life is filled with growing and changing and it’s an endless wave that you get to ride. But first – pick up your board and learn how to surf. You’ll fall a lot, but you’ll pick yourself back up because it’s important and because you’re strong. And before you know it you’ll be swimming farther out, riding bigger waves. Before you know it you’ll be yourself. And no one can do that better than you.

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