I always thought that my job in this life of mine was to burn it out and down before life could do it for me. I drank too much, didn’t sleep, ate little and then when I did eat it was poor quality. I smoked two packs a day, for years. There was nothing about my life that was caring. Not in the way I treated me, and certainly not in the way I treated you.
I was on a daily suicide mission that always woke me up with the disappointment that everyday I still rose, I was still here after all the effort to not be the night before. It was my own personal Groundhog Day. Same self flagellation and debauchery, same fucking hangover. Sincere pledges to change all of that followed almost immediately by the descent into the madness I just vowed to never engage in again. Repeatedly. For decades. To my own detriment. Again. Still.
Recovery allowed for their to be another conversation inside my mind. One where burning the candle at both ends and in the middle became obviously an impediment to any kind of sane life.
But regardless of whether I am burning my life to the ground in the extreme or doing it in much more socially acceptable ways, self care remains somewhat of a burden to me. I do the things: I don’t eat crap most of the time, I go to the gym 6 days a week, I walk the dog daily, I pray and meditate (although I have been totally slacking on both of those lately) and I attempt to get enough sleep. I say attempt because at least everyone I know who is over 50 struggles with that and I am no exception.
And while I do love my routine, I also really find it to be burdensome. Like taking care of myself in all the usual ways feels like too much for me. And it always has. I can remember being a kid and watching my parents wash their faces and brush their teeth every night and I thought “fuck that looks so boring and I don’t want to do that...” I mean I didn’t have anything else exciting going on, but I didn’t want to have to do the basics. Like somehow I was immune or over the basic things that were required of everyone else.
So my skin suffered as did my teeth. I had my share of cavities because I refused to do the bare minimum nightly. I was ok in the morning because I didn’t want to have the effects of my lack of self care evident to others, so I cleaned up well to present a fresh face to the world...but at night, when no one was looking, I allowed the burden of self care to become something I eschewed and avoided. Of course, to my own detriment.
I have spent a great number of hours, years really, thinking about why I seem to innately have this issue with self care feeling like a burden. I mean, especially now in my life, I am not doing all that much. My kids are almost raised. I work from home so I do not have to have the morning routine I used to. My life has never been simpler really and despite that fact, I still far too often have to argue with myself to wash my face before bed. I do it. Because I do not want to allow whatever it is that lives inside my head, that tells me it is ok to self destruct, to gain any purchase or ground.
Perhaps it might seem like a far stretch to call not washing your face self destruction...and maybe it is. However, I will tell you it is the same fucking voice that also says, “hey, let’s drink a vat of Whiskey and get this party started!” Every. Fucking. Time.
So I guess perhaps why self care feels like such a burden is that I still have to fight that asshole voice in my head that is still very much alive, present and often, VERY LOUD!
Perhaps other people just take care of themselves and it isn’t a battle. It isn’t hard. It isn’t a struggle every single day. They do not want to sit on the couch, do nothing all day and eat crap. And not doing that is perhaps not so hard for them. Perhaps the risk/reward benefit is easier for them to see and then fall into compliance with...I really don’t know since my only experience is my own and it seems like since I was, well we will just call it forever, I have a rather large part of my mind that wants to do me in.
I have gained a great deal of ground in this ongoing battle. Almost 29 years without at drink, 29 years without a cigarette. Haven’t eaten meat in almost two decades. I exercise and actually enjoy it. The gym has become a temple to me and for me. I love doing outdoorsy shit and would move to the middle of nowhere in a New York minute.
I have less delusion than before but I still struggle with the self care. Somehow I feel like not taking care of yourself makes you a better person. Self forgetting is the way you find, except I am pretty sure this was not what St. Thomas was talking about. You have to care enough about yourself so that you are available to show up for others. And with enough boundaries that you do not let the needs and wants and demands of others to overtake your life and push your life to the background. That is a different kind of self destruction...of which I am also familiar.
I guess, I am grateful I can see that my battles with self care are life long and have largely improved. Perhaps there will come a day when taking care of myself will not feel like such a fucking burden...or not. Perhaps this is just me, living my life and being resentful at the amount of effort and time it takes just to not blow myself up.
I know I have made great progress. I know that I am better than I have ever been. I know the battles I fight today pale in comparison to the battles waged months and years ago. I am freer than I have ever been and the most whole and complete version of myself I have ever known. Still imperfect (fuck if I haven’t tried, but alas perfection alludes me) but happier than I have ever been. I can see that my efforts to fight those inner demons that tell me that any kind of self care makes me weak and stupid.
I am grateful that the burden of self care is now really more of a threshold I have to cross multiple times a day and no longer feels insurmountable. My follies into complete self denigration are in the rear view so long as I continue to do all the simple, yet not always easy, things I have learned to do. Stay home when I am sick. Rest when I am tired. Brush my teeth, wash my face and go to bed instead of scrolling endlessly through Instagram.
It still feels like a burden, but I guess all living is burdensome. Only in death are we free to completely let go. And I am not ready for that yet. So I guess I am learning to shoulder the burdens of living, of caring for this mind, body and spirit I have been so blessed to get, a little better and a little more easily with each passing day. Again. Still.