Self Care Monday with Heather Stringer

Self-care has been a buzz word for awhile now. The origins are rooted in the rise of the women’s and civil rights movements. Originally, seeking good care for your body was a declaration of freedom and autonomy. To care for your underpaid, undermined, often misused body required women and people of color to turn towards certain difficult truths about oppressive systems and then deciding to not collude with them, but to tend to their body and soul.

Yet, over the years self-care has been diluted into luxurious treatments (many of us cannot afford) that relieve us of the reality of our lives, rather than turning us towards them. Turning towards our life allows us to discover the kind of care we need. A kind of care that invites us to freedom and goodness, not distraction and temporarily relief. I want to invite you to reconsider self-care and how you could offer yourself something substantive and lasting.

Here are my 10 reflections for us:

1. When you notice your need for self-care, are you moving away or towards your life? Sometimes culture uses self-care as a distraction, rather than an invitation to know yourself more deeply. This kind of self-care leaves you momentarily satiated, but eventually soul hungry and still burnt out.

2. I’ll assume we long for more than a quick fix. So, let’s take a moment to check in. What have you been facing that leaves you drained or weary? Agitated or uneasy? Despairing or depressed? Take a moment to journal or make a list of what’s impacting you.

3. Often we’re giving so much and we end up depriving ourselves because we’re mothering, working, managing logistics, navigating tricky relationships, or pursuing our passion. The swing, after we’re exhausted from giving, is to “self-care” binge – whether on tv, food, alcohol, or social media – which relieves us of the intensity we feel, yet leaves us feeling empty. Take inventory on your swings. Why might deprivation be more comfortable or familiar for you than offering good nourishment along the way?

4. It’s painful to look at what’s driving our deprivation. Maybe you feel like our relationships at home or at work won’t change. Or maybe if you don’t handle everything, no one will step in to help you. Or you have unresolved trauma that keeps popping up in the form of anxiety or depression and it’s asking for engagement, yet you feel inept at addressing it. It’s easier to move into pseudo self-care via dissociation, but what we need is self-care that is re-associating ourselves with our life. Our despair, unmet desires, confusion, frustration, immobility are the very spaces aching for our eyes to turn towards them. Acknowledging what’s real and hard without having “to do” something about it allows us to feel. We’re accustomed to running from hard feelings. Running away makes them scarier though. Rarely are we invited to step into them, yet stepping into our feelings offers us honesty. When we’re honest about what’s impacting us without having to do anything other than honor what we’re experiencing, we can learn what we might need. No longer do we do have to outrun or power through things causing us more exhaustion. No longer do we need to distract ourselves from our feelings.

5. Self-care = With self.

6. Self-care ≠ Leaving self.

7. So how do we offer ourselves what we need? Well, a massage, a yoga class, a movie can offer us good care, but what if “being with” ourselves first is the path towards knowing how to really care for ourselves? What if we name what’s true about our life? It might mean engaging some of these invitations and questions.

8. Take time acknowledging where you have control and where you don’t.
– Consider how much or little you ask for help.
– Reflecting on what’s driving your work life, are you having to prove yourself or are you unhappily participating in an unhealthy environment?
– Examine your (un)willingness to inconvenience your family or friends if you pursue goodness for yourself.
– Take inventory on how you’re treating your body, heart, and soul, is it with harsh words or judgment or are you’re numb and distant?
– Lastly, God sees us as beloved, but so often it’s difficult for us to believe this truth. Can you wonder why it has been difficult for you to treat your body and soul with love?

9. Where do you find yourself after reflecting? What area is needing self-care? Self-care might take the form of grief after noticing how harsh you’ve been with your good body. Self-care might take the form of asking a friend or partner for help after a long day. Self- care might take the form of speaking to your manager at work about the unhealthy environment. Or it’s slowing down and reading a novel, rather than a self-help book. It might be offering your traumatized body good touch, so a massage is your form of self- care. All of these possibilities are about attunement to your life, which means the massage, for example, will behold you, fulfill you, rather than helping you exit your life. Each touch you receive or request for help you make or every word you speak to your manager will draw you closer to your life. As you draw closer to your life, you will feel some discomfort and will need to take some risks, but you get to discover who you are. When we know who we are, we can offer ourselves sustainable and meaningful care.

10. Lastly, self care is a blessing. Blessing reminds us of how our life is sacred. When we face our lives and discover what we need, we open ourselves to love. Love invites us to receive blessing and blessing covers us with these truths: we are beloved, we are made of love, we are made to love. Through blessing we learn, not how to survive, but how to truly live.

So, beloveds, will you join me in the radical, honest act of self-care?

Heather Stringer is an artist, licensed mental health therapist and ritual maker. She uses her art and therapeutic background to create and guide people into rituals. She believes rituals help people become more present and attuned to their lives. She lives in New York with her lovely husband Jay and their wild sweet kids, Amos and Iona.