Good morning, friends!
This post is long, but it has been a crucial life lesson. So I’m posting #4 on its own. Much love and enjoy.
4. Self love is not the same as self indulgence.
Chocolate chip cookies are my favorite food in the world. In the past, it was not uncommon for me to reward myself with cookies. Almost daily. It’s important to reward yourself when you do well, right? Or when you’ve had a stressful day, or when that guy in the parking lot yelled at you because you parked crooked in the space? Or when your card got declined in the checkout line?
Ice cream, cake, cookies, a bottle of wine, a whole bag of Doritos. The thing is, I used food to console myself in the name of self love. I would enter into this dialogue with myself that went a little something like this:
“I deserve these six Taco Supremes because I graded 165 essays this weekend. What? I’m hungry, and I’m too tired to cook, and there are a lot of worse ways I could reward myself. It’s not like I’m out here doing meth.”
Then Monday morning, I would wake up with preservative fatigue and wonder why I felt so crappy during my morning commute. Then, big surprise, I got cranky with my students, who fed into the narrative of me having a bad day, so that on the way home, I stopped by Whataburger for a Buffalo Chicken Ranch combo with a large sweet tea and an apple pie, because, “Today was hard. I deserve this.”
I repeated this pattern for years. I passed this behavior onto my child. Had a bad day at school? Nothing a little Cherry Garcia won’t fix…. Unfortunately, this was not a healthy relationship with food, and in the end, it hurt us more than it helped.
Took a long time and some heavy counseling for me to realize, you get out what you put in. If I feed myself crap, I’m going to feel like crap. Not just food, either, but negative social media and relationships, too.
My health tanked because of it. Ten years ago, at 35, I had a kidney infection that landed me in the hospital for three days, followed by eight weeks with a 15-inch stint in my ureter. I had massive kidney stones that a doctor had to zap with a laser. Like playing Asteroids in my kidney. I do not recommend it.
Even still, I struggled because I love to eat. Food was my primary consolation/reward system. It’s how I show love to others, too. You lost your great aunt Sally? I will bake you a pie. You did well on your test? Let’s make brownies! Your boyfriend of eleven years left for Burning Man and hasn’t returned? Entire bottles of Merlot.
Eventually, I had to face the truth. I was not being kind to myself. Self love is an investment of care as well as time. I had to disconnect from the narrative that “I deserve this pastry,” and shift to one of “I deserve to be healthy.” It’s a cumulative process that involves willpower and forgiveness, and at the end of the day, it means you more often choose what’s healthy over what’s indulgent.
It also meant I had to cut out a lot of unhealthy activities and people, too.
So I brainstormed new ways in which to reward myself, practical alternatives to alcohol, food, and negative influences: Books, and then rewarding myself with time for reading them; Art supplies; A nice, long bubble bath; Making playlists; Writing; Creating graphics; Playing in my patio garden; Visiting good friends; Looking at pretty pictures on my phone.
All these small rewards add up, and because I’m no longer indulging in things that hurt me, I feel better.
Also, cutting out all that sugar has helped me in hundreds of ways. I suffered from chronic insomnia for my whole life, and it’s finally (mostly) gone. I cannot tell you how immeasurably that one thing has improved my life. But I probably will try in a future blog post.
Finally at 45, I am in better physical shape than I have ever been. As a consequence, my mental health has improved as well. With every positive choice I make, I am actively practicing self love, every day, and it has made all the difference in the world.
So if you’re ever feeling like you’re overwhelmed, and that you’re not making any headway toward your goals, know that even your small choices matter. They accumulate. And YOU matter. So be good to you. You deserve it.
Here is my previous blog post, 10 Things I’ve Learned in the Last Decade, Part One and soon I will add the next one as well.