February 20, 2022

The Grunt Work of Self-Care: We have to be Active Participants in our Healing.


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I am a sucker for the cute.

This past holiday season was no different.

I fell prey to a small fern in a planter, all because it had a tiny Styrofoam snowman accompanying it. Cute black hat. Cute black eyes. Cute carrot nose. Cute red scarf around its wee neck. Impulse purchase because of the cute snowman. Guilty. Done.

Even though I have killed every chia pet I have ever owned, I bought the small fern. Done.

But what got my attention later, after my snowman giddiness subsided a bit, was the image on the fern’s planter: a heart made from the shape of hands. It’s like that pop culture gesture used amongst celebrities like Justin Bieber.

“Guard your heart with all diligence. For out of it flow the issues of life.” ~ Proverbs 4:23

Ah, a picture’s worth a thousand words. And I saw just how often self-care was uttered on the side of that planter.

Heart in Our Own Hands: the Decision to Self-Care

This is the first, and maybe, the hardest, step in the self-care process: we need to decide we are worth it.

What’s that I hear? The sound of low self-esteem clichés, marching to the tune of “Seventy-Six Trombones,” in our daily lives? Tedious. Annoying. Intimidating. Inconvenient.

Each of us needs to decide we are worth the self-care and the messiness and the hassle involved. To illustrate this issue, please allow me to pimp out our Calico cat, Glory. Spicy, unruly, veterinarian-hating, Glory.

When we got her as a kitten, we had no idea how intense and strong her will and temperament would be. And, of course, this education came front and center as we discovered she was flea-ridden, incubating ringworm, and was rescued from a traumatic foster situation.

Dosing her several times daily quickly educated us on her “challenging” nature.

She was a wild creature, two pounds of writhing, infuriated, uncooperative wild creature.

But, right from the start, Hubby and I decided she was worth it. She was worth the chasing and the alligator wrestling. She was worth the scheduled dosing of medication. She was worth potentially getting bitten and scratched, as we tried to improve her health and her well-being.

We made the decision to surround the heart issue with commitment.

We made the decision to self-care, on her behalf, since she had no thumbs, and could not open her tube of medication.

We made the decision to put our hands of love around her fast-beating, scared heart.

How many of us wouldn’t think twice about practicing self-care, on the behalf of our pets, yet agonize and procrastinate in deciding our own inherent value, committing to ourselves, to protect our own hearts with our hands of nurturing and healthy choices?

Heart in Our Own Hands: the Decision to Mold Our Actions with Boundaries

Beyond the cute, Styrofoam snowman that made me buy that small fern last holiday season, I, again, noticed the heart made by hands image on that planter.

And it occurred to me. Self-care 101: a decision to protect our hearts doesn’t just happen automatically…and it doesn’t happen without healthy boundaries.

It’s not instantaneous—the good and the bad news here. Boundaries are an exercise, repetitious, tedious, imperfectly achieved, and lifelong. Like that of physical exercise. It’s not just one push-up and then we’re fit and healthy for the rest of our lives. There is no “one and done” here.

Again, there is the ongoing commitment to realize our hearts, with all of their pesky issues, are worth paying attention to. But there’s more to it than just that. Boundaries are the action word that must be applied daily.

No easy feat for some of us out there.

Let’s face it, many of us have entrusted someone or something else to do the job of our own boundary-and-heart-protecting hands. Many of us want someone or something else around our own hearts.

External validation, I guess, is what they call it.

But designating someone or something else to make us feel okay, safe, loved, valued, and protected can have the best of us truly sliding across the mental health slippery floor, just like the famous Tom Cruise scene in “Risky Business.” Yes, indeedy, it truly is risky business if we continue to insist on that practice being the answer.

By doing this, we’re opening ourselves up, potentially, to a world of hurt. In all of our sliding, entrusting someone or something else besides our own guardianship, we can break something, like our hearts. For spiritually, emotionally, mentally, or physically, we have no tread on the bottoms of our stocking feet. We have made the decision to be at the mercy of “other” instead of dealing with “self.”

And there is no fun pop culture reference for that stark and painful reality.

Boundaries are guard rails. Without them, there is collision and crash. We need to decide for ourselves we are worth sparing ourselves of needless catastrophe.

What will we choose?

Heart in Our Own Hands: the Decision to Allow Light In/Through the Issues

Years ago, as part of my therapy, I read a book illustrating our counterproductive approach to the personal “healing and dealing” of our issues. There was the parable of a person, besieged by a threatening monster in his own backyard. And so, at night, he went outside, armed with a flashlight, looking in a particular area for “the boogie man.” A personal friend of this individual, knowing “the scene of the crime,” knowing exactly where this monster had pursued his friend before, asked why his friend had insisted on shining the flashlight in the exact opposite part of the backyard.

The person responded, to his friend’s question, “Because the light is better here.”

And that’s what it can come down to for us concerning this element of self-care. When we decide we are worth it, have value, deserve boundaries, and start to get all gung ho about our healing, it can be tempting to skate around the ugly truth. It’s safer, easier, less painful to place most, if not all, of our focus on one or two specific issues, to the exclusion of five other, more intimidating ones.

“The light is better here.”

Is it? Or is it just illuminating the comfort zone, the status quo, the familiar? Healing often exists outside of those things.

When I first sought therapy for my eating disorders, I assumed it was about the food and about being thin. Wrong! That was the surface issue. Deeper layers of the onion, however, had me facing family of origin, intergenerational histories, and then, later on, my role in the dysfunction.

That has been the least favorite “lit place” to look at, not surprisingly.

Ah, if only you and I could simply blame others for what happened to us and never address our part in the mess. The light is a lot better “over here,” when someone else is to blame. And, let’s be honest, most of us would prefer if the personal responsibility taking that’s required of us would be left hidden, murky, and unknown.

But, if we really start looking at ourselves, our lives, and our issues, eventually, something is going to crop up. We reach a point where we cannot un-see it. We cannot un-hear it. We cannot un-know it.

We have knowledge now. We have illumination now. We have light now.

What do we do with that? How do we feel about that?

Do we let that harsh, glaring light in and through ourselves and our lives?

Do we allow truth to pierce the lie or the image, even if it’s been comforting or beautiful to reside in that lie or image?

Where will we point the flashlight?

Heart in Hands: We Create

Many of us believe we are completely powerless. That is a lie. Many of us believe we are responsible for everything and everyone; we are all-powerful. That is a lie.

What is the truth then?

We have power.

Some power, not all, power.

We have ability and it starts from within each of us. An inside-out job.

And that includes our own healing and well-being.

Other people and things can help supplement that. But buyer beware: they can also be toxic influences, steering us off course.

We must recognize we are the bodyguards of our own hearts. Issues, self-esteem, personal growth, and better choices all stem from a heart that is actively, not passively, respected and protected.

Unlike my holiday fern, the heart-in-hands image and principle are evergreen. Daily. Lifelong.

So, show me your hands.


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