“How wonderful and feminine, the listening to our bodies when they whisper no.”
Her words resonate in a place that still feels new. A chamber of my heart that I until recently I didn’t realize existed. The place from which I am able to sit silently and hear the gentle whisper of my being.
A few days before I was curled up with Hope on a couch in Connecticut. The holiday travel had caught up with me even before what would become a twelve-hour solo return drive to Virginia. My body was aching and I knew I was fighting something off. As I scrolled through my calendar and the details of the next two weeks my stomach twisted. I would return home for four days before boarding a plane to Sedona – a 48-hour trip capped off with a red-eye flight back to Virginia, where I would stay for 36 hours before boarding a train to New York City for three days to speak at a conference.
A travel schedule that seemed manageable four months ago suddenly seemed not only undesirable, but unhealthy.
So with little more than 5 minutes’ consideration, I did something I’ve never done before.
I canceled my flight to Sedona. I canceled my hotel reservation.
I decided my health was worth more than whatever the resulting financial hit might be.
For the first time in my life, I listened to my body’s whispering before it needed to scream.
* * *
At my law firm, our billable year ends on November 30. With the holidays coming on its heels, this usually makes for a slow start to the new year. When I was a baby associate, this caused me such strife – I hated the feeling of starting the year “behind”. But in more recent years I’ve come to cherish the ability to end the calendar year with space to take stock and consider the year ahead.
I’ve been feeling the pull of this period for the last week or so. It’s coming and I am more than ready for a slow-down. Maybe it’s the double-digit hours in the car with Hope, but I’ve found myself getting an early start on this reflecting – considering changes I’ve made in 2017 and changes still to come. Upon this consideration, one of the greatest changes I’ve noticed is the change in my understanding of what self-care means.
Going into 2017 – and for years prior – my definition of self-care involved bubble baths and pedicures and hot cocoa in front of crappy television. And sometimes it still is. Buts it’s become much more than that too. My definition of self-care has morphed away from decadent self-indulgence and toward listening to my body and giving it what it needs.
What it needs. Not necessarily what it wants.
Those are two different things.
* * *
For so long, I used self-care as an excuse to let myself do whatever I felt like – consequences (more-or-less) be damned. The result was usually tired eyes, a bloated belly, and an ever-growing to-do list.
Something unidentifiable happened in 2017, and this slowly stopped feeling appealing. Like the months after I stopped drinking and noticed how amazing a hangover-free (and blackout free and “what the hell did I write in that text message that I deleted so I could try to forget it” free) world could be, I started to notice the difference in my life when I made the decisions that I knew were best for my body. Even when they weren’t necessarily the most fun choice between the available options. And that’s when I started to learn a bit more about what self-care means for me.
* * *
So what is it?
Self-care is getting enough sleep. Some times that means not putting in an extra two hours of work. But sometimes it also means not hanging out with friends for two extra hours or not watching two more episodes of a show I’m actually enjoying. I understand that rest is necessary, and I give myself that.
Self-care is eating what my body is asking for. Some days, my body is asking for fish or meat because I’m exercising again and I really need the protein. And when that happens, I take care to ensure I’m giving my body the cleanest meat possible – even if that means spending more money on food than on more fun items. Some days its asking for something sweet. And in those moments, yes, sometimes I pick the ice cream. But I’ve learned that real self-care for me means hot cinnamon tea and some fruit, because processed sugar makes me nauseated and groggy. I may think I want that huge piece of cake, but I know I’ll feel terrible afterwards. And self-care is giving myself what makes my body feel well.
Self-care is moving my body in ways that I enjoy and that make me feel good. I’ve finally relinquished my need to show up the next guy by running further or biking harder. Some days, I want to ride my bike to the spin studio and kill it in class and ride home and arrive back in my yard with jelly quads and sweaty clothes. Other days, I want to take a long stroll with Hope. Some days I need a long easy yin practice. On others, I crave a more strenuous heated class. And some days, it just wants to be still. None of this is better than anything else. Self-care is not beating my body up just to prove a point to society. Or to myself.
* * *
I've also learned the self-care has to do with more than just my physical body. They say that we are the average of the five people we spent the most time around. That these people influence us in a way that impacts our own behavior greatly. In 2017 I’ve also discovered that self-care means selecting my company carefully.
This is new for me. I spent my life picking up scraps of attention from whoever threw them my way. I couldn’t see my value as a friend and for that reason felt I had no right to choose the company I kept. This has changed, and with that change I have permitted myself to cultivate a circle of girlfriends who support and challenge and teach me constantly.
I’m not physically in the presence of these women daily. Or weekly. Monthly even. Most don’t like in Virginia, and not even all of them are in the States. I have come to appreciate the connection achieved through a Skype date. How much a texted note of encouragement can mean. That you can love someone and allow them space to grow at the same time. That sometimes surprise snail mail can mean just as much as five hours spent catching up over tea.
I find that I still sometimes struggle with wondering why they choose me. Of all the women in the world they could call their friend, why they allow me in their circle. Sometimes when we come together, I look around and wonder when they will figure me out and cast me aside. But it hasn’t happened yet. And I finally have come to realize that it’s not likely to.
Self-care is accepting the love of these women without questioning why they choose to give it.
This year hasn’t only brought amazing women into my world, but warrior men as well. A special breed of men who haven’t been afraid to step into the fray of my topsy-turvy world and accept me as I am. Each of these guys – while nothing other than dear friends – have helped me take small baby-steps back into the world of trusting men again and allowing them to see me fully. Most of them have never known me with more than a few centimeters of hair – if any at all. They’ve never known me not to profusely sweat in the middle of an air-conditioned theatre or to not have the most restricted diet of all time. They are brilliantly strong, funny, curious men who have changed my world in amazing ways. And who love me in their own strong, steadfast ways.
Self-care is accepting their love for me too.
* * *
“Did you ever notice that God tries to whisper to you – to give you a heads up – but you never seem to get it until he bludgeons you over the head?”
I don’t remember the incident that triggered his asking me this question, but I do remember chuckling in acknowledgment of its truth. I have never been one to take the hint. I could make excuse after excuse to avoid what it was that I was being steered toward if it didn’t align with what I had already decided to do. And then finally, after He had tried all the subtle options, I’d leave God with no choice but to drive home the point with a dramatic gesture.
Finally, it seems, I am learning to listen to the whisper.