I had a client, let’s call her Clara. Clara was a beautiful woman in her mid-thirties. She was kind, generous, well-spoken and funny. She lived with her husband and 3 children in a lovely home in a community of like-minded people. She had friends that became family. There were parties, and early morning walks with girlfriends. The kids had sleepovers, played sports and had friends over after school. Clara was happy. And then hell broke loose.
During what was likely a typical wonderful ladies-who-lunch afternoon, Clara’s husband came home and informed her that in order for him to keep his job they would have to move, to a state that neither Clara nor the rest of her family wanted to go to. She stayed strong, mostly for her children’s sake. She did what she had to; she said the right things; she promised that life in, let’s call it Blinko, would be wonderful and that the people would be amazing. They packed up, said good-bye and moved. But Blinko was not wonderful. In fact, Blinko sucked. The people were not nice. Instead they were unwelcoming, kind of strange, and always put Clara and her family at a distance. The children were miserable, which made her husband miserable. Everything that Clara had worked so hard to put together was falling apart. They had no community.
The first day I met Clara she was on the couch. She was ill, had gained 50lbs., and in chronic pain which made just sitting difficult. She had been sick for a while. She first thought that it was depression, but doctors (many many doctors over many years) confirmed that it was autoimmune. “A dramatic change in lifestyle can trigger autoimmune diseases,” one of them told her. “Ya, no shit’” she thought. Her life had shifted. She was lost. She was hiding out, in her house, on the couch. She surrounded herself with things that she thought were comforting to her. Magazines, TV, candy, Pinot Grigio. “I don’t feel well. I am trying to take care of myself,” she said.
I’ll be the first to tell you that a good nap can take the sting out of many a bad day. We are a sleep deprived culture of humans walking around as zombies. We dress up our lack of sleep as something that should be revered, because after all the fewer hours we sleep the more productive we are. In reality, we are setting ourselves up for a myriad of physical and mental illnesses. And then there are those of us who rest too much. Life passes us by. We are bored. We are stuck and sad.
This is not self-care. This is self-sabotage, disguised as self-care. Many of us fall into this trap of self-care vs. self-sabotage. It’s easy to do. When we are stuck in our routine; when we feel like crap for a long period of time what do we do? We grab the chocolate or the cocktail before we even consider grabbing the dog-leash. We take to the couch, and stay there for hours. Maybe we watch countless hours of television or play video games while the rest of the world LIVES. And then there’s the guilt. Oh the guilt!
Here’s the difference though; self-care will always SERVE you. It will feed your body and your soul in a positive and meaningful way. It will gently nudge you towards goals and will nurture and honor your creativity. Self-sabotage will not serve you. It’s a temporary feel-good state for the moment. It doesn’t provide solution. In fact, self-sabotage will eventually jeopardize any progress that you’ve made toward goals. This is particularly notable when we over-indulge in things like drugs, alcohol, sugar, or sex to make us feel better. Self-care will never give you a hangover; self-indulgence may.
In Clara’s case, she was indeed sick and in pain. Years of stress and unhappiness can do this to a body. She was trying to care for herself with rest, yet quickly slipped into hiding out, eating candy, and watching TV. She wasn’t noticing the difference. She was not practicing loving-kindness toward herself. This self-indulgence, masquerading as self-care, was not serving her soul. It was, in fact, sucking her soul.
At the end of my first session with Clara I asked her if she thought we could meet at a park for her next session. I suggested that we just meet there, stay and chat for 15 minutes, and then continue our session back at her house. She agreed that some time outside would be nice. We stayed at the park for a full hour, and when I left I congratulated her on taking the first step toward a new, loving and kind relationship with the person she is meant to be. Now you may roll your eyes and say that meeting in a park is not a big deal. However, this small change allowed Clara to feel a shift in her daily dynamic. This tiny turtle step was the first in a series of many that permitted Clara to change her life. It may seem small, but it was surely mighty!
Clara has had many more disruptions in her life over the years; along with many joyful occasions (just like all of us). She and her husband have moved again, to a place they love. Clara has learned the difference between self-care and self-indulgence. She has a job she loves and surrounds herself with like-minded people. And if self-sabotage come knocking at her door again, she has the tools to beat it back with a stick!