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Self-care is not a bubble bath.
I mean, it might be, if you’re the kind of person who feels like they’re committing a mortal sin by allowing themselves to wade in hot water with a candle or a book for 20 minutes alone. If that’s you, then yes. Please allow yourself a damn bubble bath. Regularly!
Same with a massage. Or scheduling time for exercise. Or buying yourself some new underwear. Or taking a nap.
If the idea of doing these things makes you feel squirmy and selfish and you “just can’t”—then that is probably a style of self-care that would work for you.
It doesn’t work for me though.
For the longest time, I waded in an ocean of cognitive dissonance. I didn’t feel like the kind of person who had a drinking problem, or who lied, or who didn’t follow through, or who was flaky—or God forbid, lazy. I mean, I had so much evidence to the contrary: I was accomplished, I got a lot of things done, I presented well, people still loved me, and I had such good intentions.
Except my behavior pointed squarely to those other things.
The disconnect ate at me. I knew I was tap dancing a whole lot. I knew my good intentions were an excuse for shitty behavior. I knew that I was skating by in a lot of scenarios at work, with friends, in my financial life, at home. I knew that most of what I had accomplished was done at 50 percent or less. I cut corners a lot.
I knew, even if I didn’t know, that much of my life was a house of cards.
So when I practiced the Instagram brand of #selfcare by pampering myself, I had this niggling sense that just maybe more pampering wasn’t what I actually needed.
Which brings me to discipline.
Discipline has begrudgingly become my brand of self-care. Discipline is what has actually created freedom in my life, contrary to what I long believed. I thought my free spirited ways were an act of rebellion against the monotony of life. That I was showing some kind of ballsy dissent toward the banality of adulthood—Carpe diem and all that.
Meanwhile, through my 20s and 30s, I trembled inside, unsure as to why everyone else seemed to do adult things so easily and automatically. I thought maturity was an automatic function of time, a passive effect of getting older. Somehow, it would just magically happen.
You see, I have never had a problem giving myself more treats. More me time. More pleasures. More whatever-I-feel-like-right-now. And treat yo-self wasn’t something I needed to be talked into—it was just public permission to do more of what I had always done.
By this definition of self-care, I was winning the Self-Care Olympics. But, why was it so hard for everyone else? I wondered, as I treated myself to another bath after my middle-of-the-day nap following by my weekly massage, while my taxes from three years ago went untouched for another day, the organic groceries in my refrigerator rotted in deference to another night of treat yo-self takeout, and a canceled therapy appointment because I just didn’t feel like going (again).
This one concept has made an enormous difference in my life: for me, self-care looks like discipline.
It looks like finishing things I start and pausing for a minute before I start another thing to consider the implications of starting said thing in the first place: financially, time-wise, energy-wise, and who I might be impacting negatively if I don’t follow through.
It means boundaries on screen time. Limiting the amount of sugar I put in my body.
It also means teaching my daughter to do things for herself instead of doing them for her because the latter is easier and causes less friction in the moment. It means following through on consequences I lay down for her, even though it makes my life temporarily more difficult.
It means waking at basically the same time every morning, so I have the practices that keep me steady before the rest of the world wakes up: morning pages, meditation, coffee, quiet.
It means abiding by commitments and being very exact about the commitments I make.
It means sticking to my word as much as possible, even when I don’t want to.
It means saying no to myself more than I say yes.
It means asking if my future self will thank me for what I’m about to do, versus my in-this-moment self, and actually listening when the answer is, “No, your future self will not appreciate this, Laura.”
It often means doing what’s necessary over what’s fun.
Self-care for me means discipline because that’s what is uncomfortable for me. That’s what I struggle to do. It goes against my default patterning, and going against our patterning is how we change.
And that’s the point of self-care, y’all.
It’s not squishy and soft and sweet (though it can be).
We learn to care for ourselves so that we don’t pass on pain and dysfunction.
We learn to care for ourselves because, in the trajectory of healing, we are the requisite first stop.