Learning the Art of Self-Care
When your inner voice screams your unworthiness
I’ll never forget the look on Sarah’s face, the store manager at my local Lush store. I was a regular, often spending a small fortune on their indulgent products. I made, what I now realize, was a rather odd statement.
I told her that Lush products made me feel, for just a few moments, like I have value, like I matter.
That was about ten years ago. I was living in the midst of rapidly escalating turmoil, intense confusion and a desperate desire to escape, even if escaping meant a ten minute shower.
I was in a long term abusive marriage, raising a severely disabled child and hiding all my pain, so I thought, from my family and my colleagues at the office.
I hated my life, a life I seriously contemplated ending, more than once.
He stole my life
It’s hard to explain, but gradually, over many years, he took my young life, with all its potential and made it his own. In a healthy relationship, as I have now learnt, things that are important to both parties matter. Time is made for each person to explore and indulge in their own dreams and interests. If something is important to one, it’s important to both.
In a healthy relationship, it is okay to spend time apart, to peruse different interests.
An abusive relationship is different. The controlling party has a vested interest in gradually chipping away at the individuality of the victim. He gradually erodes her unique personality until there is little left.
By the time I was 40 I was an empty shell. I had no idea what mattered to me, what I believed, or who I was.
But even more devastating was that I had come to deeply believe that I had no value, that I was not worth investing in.
Despite these crippling narratives that became truths in my life, I was maintaining the image of a happy family and my career as a lawyer was flourishing.
I was the lead actress in my own facade.
My life was a lie and I wanted out.
I escaped, but the scars remain
I did eventually get away. It wasn’t easy, it never is. Trauma bonds hold strong and it takes enormous courage to leave, and even then most return.
It took three attempts for me to get away, the average is seven. Never judge a victim who returns.
Now that I am free, and married to a wonderful, kind man, I am starting to rebuild my life. Recently I have started working with a nutritionist to help with my weight struggles.
I am learning that stress is one of my biggest challenges. I’m being encouraged by my counselor, my doctor and my nutritionist to make activities that relieve stress an essential part of my daily routine.
But that is easier said than done when you’ve been programmed to believe that anything you do for yourself is selfish.
That you simply are not worth the time and resources that self-care takes.
Struggling with the ‘selfish narrative’
I now know, thanks to much reading and counselling, that my ex-husband’s treatment of me, was not about me or anything that I had done. He is a man who harbors a deeply held fear that a woman will hurt and abandon him.
It likely stems from his childhood and watching his domineering mother lord it over his father.
He was angered when he heard phrases such as ‘empowerment of women’ or ‘self-care’. His view was that these were practices for the weak, the self-involved, the selfish.
Ironically, and I didn’t fully appreciate this until I left, but I was so far from selfish it was ridiculous. I’m astounded that I never saw it.
He was the selfish one, so willing to let me sacrifice my dreams, ideas and mental health, almost my life itself, on the altar of his self-importance.
I now understand, at least intellectually, that caring for myself is my job, it’s one of my primary responsibilities. Nobody can do it for me. I’m doing my best to allow that ‘head knowledge’ to sink down into my heart, to allow it to become a part of who I am.
It isn’t easy, especially with an ex-husband who, together with his flying monkeys, does his best to fan the flames of my agony any chance he gets.
But I’m working on it, every day. I’m getting better at prioritizing my mental, physical and spiritual well-being.
Despite the unfailing support of my husband and others, it takes huge discipline for me to follow through with my daily commitment to proactively relieve stress. I have found it helpful to make a list of options and commit to doing at least one every day.
Some take a short time and involve no planning. Others need organisation and time management to achieve.
Here are a few that are helping me:
Knitting for at least ten minutes (I’m astounded by the power of kniting).
Reading and journaling.
A relaxing bath with the lights low and candles.
A walk alone in nature.
Allowing enough time in the morning to savor my coffee.
An afternoon nap on the weekend.
That’s just a start, but a start is all I need.
It’s never too late to change poor narratives
It takes perseverance to undo the lies that have embedded themselves in your thinking patterns. I’m still on the journey myself. But I believe it’s worth the effort.
One day at a time.
Matilda is a writer from Australia. Find more of her work at https://medium.com/@matildafairholm