Sunday, June 25, 2017

Self-Care Sunday: How To Love Yourself Through A Bad Day

A few days ago, I had one of those "Murphy's Law" kinds of days. Deadlines were building up, a blog post I'd planned to write (and written half of in preparation) fell through, a thing didn't work out, I messed up and fed Eden too much red food dye and she went a little psycho for two days, I was overwhelmed and underhelped, depressed and sensitive and sad ... and tired. And ... well, as the saying goes, "If it could go wrong, it would." And it did. All day long.

I was so frustrated I was in tears by noon, and again by three, and again by six. And all I wanted in those moments was for someone to come along beside me and sit there in it with me for a minute, to hold my hand and remind me that these days come, to give me a place to fall, to reassure me that while these days do come, they go as well.

I leaned on my friends, the people who are - through the connective magic of the internet - willing and able to sit there in the dark with me, even if they aren't able to wrap me in a sorely needed bear hug.

But in the end, no one else could fix what went wrong, and no one else could put me back together. There was no hero riding in on a white horse, no swift rescuer to arrive at the last moment, hit me with a sexy smolder, and award me unresentfully with the solitude I was so desperate for.

So I had to become my own hero, take a break from the pressure I put on myself, and create the moment of solitude that I needed. Now, I'd like to share some of my favorite ways to create that moment - so that when you need one and there is none to be found, you'll have an easy list of ways to DIY it. 

Step one in creating that magical moment of relaxing bliss is easier said than done, but no less necessary: exercise a little self-compassion, and recognize that if you're feeling pressured it's probably because of your own expectations, and give yourself permission to turn that pressure down a notch. 

I talk a lot here about the importance of self-love and how much treating yourself well (mentally, too!) can really make a difference in your life, but the truth is, sometimes life gets in the way and I forget all of that. I start hearing the echoes of past hurts, and I start falling into old habits. Kicking myself mentally for all the things I'm not doing - all the things I can't do. All the things I haven't done. Every mistake I've ever made - and how those mistakes all brought me to whatever "here" is in that moment. How wherever "here" is ... it's of my own making. My own fault.

"I brought it on myself. I should have known better. I should have done better."

But that's how the pressure turns up, right?

"Better late than never. I can do it now, if I push hard enough. I can make it happen, if I work hard enough. I can fix this."

And the pressure goes up a little more.

And that's when I know I need to break down and give myself a break, because I'm no good to anyone when I'm cracking apart at the seams.

The thing is, I don't tend to give myself a lot of rest.

It's not because I'm super productive or because I'm totally driven or because I'm one of those people that's just destined to be a star. Maybe I am, maybe I'm not, I don't know. But I don't rest because I can't. I don't stop because the second I'm not striving, I become LAZY. WORTHLESS. UNMOTIVATED. When I'm not striving desperately for the next goal, the next achievement, the next milestone, the next ... something ... then that's when I am every negative thing I've ever been called. That's when I deserve every negative thing that's ever happened to me.

I spend every moment of my life in service as a mother - between my two girls, I keep track of the names, numbers, and appointment times for one pediatrician, one endocrinologist, one cardiologist, one otorhinolaryngologist, one dentist, one optometrist, one ophthalmologist, one podiatrist, one neurologist, and a few others. I make every meal, I clean every wound, I break up every fight. I soothe every hurt, I answer every cry, and I coach or counsel every situation. There is no partner, no village, and no back-up plan. When I'm not doing that, I'm letting the dog in and out, making sure he's fed, and babysitting his dietary needs because he's got food allergies, skin sensitivities, and a luxating patella that has to be coddled in order to hopefully prevent a need for a surgery I can't afford.

Writing is the only thing I have in my life that's mine, and because I have such an inherent dream to succeed at doing this thing that I love so dearly, I live my life by a schedule of writing deadlines, thinking that when I reach the next one, that's when it'll all work out, that's when it'll all shift, it's when the universe will open the door I've been beating on all my life. It's when I'll finally switch from praying, "God, either give me the reality, or take away the dream," and I'll move to, "Thank you for this life and all that fills it."

That's not to say that I'm not thankful, or that I don't take the time to count my blessings. Believe me, I do - right on down to the simplest, smallest sources of joy in my life. I make it a point to tell the people I love that I love them, that I'm thankful for them, that they matter to me - because I know what it is to be unappreciated. I know exactly how amazing it is to have two fairly healthy and generally well-adjusted children - because I have suffered the loss of a child, and because I have held weeping women in my arms as they sobbed over their inability to have children. I know the roof over my head is a blessing, that the food I give to my children is a blessing, that the clothing that shields our nakedness is a blessing.

But writing? It's my dream, and because it matters so much, sometimes it just gets too heavy to carry for a while. Sometimes I just need to take a step back, turn down the pressure, and let myself live in - and celebrate - the moment that I'm in. Sometimes I need to offer myself the compassion I'm longing for, to tell myself that it's okay if I'm not where I want to be just yet.

That it's okay for me to be a project half-finished, ever-growing, always changing.

That it's okay to take time out from serving and loving my family and friends. That it's okay to give something special to me. And that I don't always have to EARN it or DESERVE it or kill myself in the fight for it.

Sometimes I have a lot of time to devote to myself. Sometimes I can carve out a whole hour - a blissful sixty minutes of soaking in a bathtub filled with bubbles, flickering in candlelight, filled with the wafting scent of something sensual and spicy and glamorous. Sixty minutes of piping hot water softened with salts, slick with oils. Sixty minutes of soft music, a good book, and time to breathe.

Other times, I don't have sixty minutes and my "me time" comes in snatches - desperately stolen moments in between the needs and demands of the responsibilities I love. Sometimes all I have is that first sip of coffee in the morning, or the satisfaction of my own fresh breath, just after I've brushed my teeth. Sometimes it's the blissful smoothness of good chocolate melting on my tongue, the smell of a good perfume, or the shape of my mouth with a good lipstick on. Sometimes it's the softness of the couch and the weight of my dog's big head in my lap. Stolen moments, all of them, but each one is breath of air, peaceful and serene, moments that keep me strong and steady. Moments that make me the person my loved ones know they can lean on.

Sometimes it isn't even as long as a moment, and all I have time to give myself is a quick prayer, just a desperate skyward utterance, an eager and pleading "Help me!" sent into the abyss, seeking God's busy ear. Sometimes it's the sound of waves crashing - or the sight of them.

But in the space in between, when I don't have a lot of time but there's definitely enough to give myself something more than those stolen moments? Well, here are some of my favorite totally affordable, easily doable, stress-less gifts to give myself:
  • A good cry. Sometimes I just need to break away, to find a quiet place to clear my mind and drown my sorrows in teardrops.
  • Watch a good show. I like to choose funny shows with short episodes to cheer myself up and get my mind straight. Sometimes it's F.R.I.E.N.D.S. on Netflix - other times it's Joe Santagato on YouTube.
  • Take a breath. Or forty. Now and then, all you need to turn your stress levels down is time to breathe. Find a place away from all the things that are messing you up, and just breathe. But don't do it just to do it - feel it. Be right there with it, and listen to it. Pay attention like it's your favorite song and you're trying to memorize the lyrics. And then you'll have this one breath that unlocks everything, and then you'll realize that you're still alive, that it's all gonna be alright, and that you got this.
  • Write a letter. Write to the person that's hurting you or stressing you out. Write to the thing that's too much for you to carry. Write to the illness that haunts you or the emotion that won't let you go. Give yourself permission to be brutal, to be vulgar, to be totally and unalterably honest. Write til your head hurts or your fingers ache or you run out of paper or your battery dies. Release the poison and the resentment and the sadness and the ... whatever. And then shred it. Burn it, flush it, delete it. Let the poison out - but restrain yourself from showing your letter to anyone. Just because you've let it out doesn't mean you have to pour it on someone else.
  • Count your blessings - literally. Make a list of what makes you "good enough" or "lovable." Make a list of accomplishments, even if they feel small. Make a list of the things you feel blessed to have, or the people you feel blessed to know.
  • Get outside. Soak up a little sunshine, let the breeze kiss your skin, stand in the rain and let it wash over you. Look around you - look through the ugliness to appreciate the beauty of the world we live in.
And lastly, think about what you're going through. Take yourself out of the situation, and pretend that what you're dealing with is something someone you love is dealing with. Ask yourself what you would tell your best friend, your brother, your daughter, if they were dealing with what you're dealing with? Would you tell them to slow down? To take a break? To show themselves mercy? Would you tell them they are worthy, that they are beautiful? That there is hope, that they have potential?

You know you would.

So take your own advice. Give yourself a break.

It worked for me.
Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is truly a self-love staple. I found this great book on Amazon - it's called the Little Book of Mindfulness and it's full of short meditations that remind you to step out of the past, let go of the future, and live in the moment.

Because sometimes, all you need to be able to catch your breath is to allow yourself to stop and breathe - and even though we don't all have the time or the inclination to sit down and meditate for an hour, there is still so much more life to be enjoyed when we make the effort to live presently in each moment as they come.

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
If you're reading this because you're searching desperately for a break - or permission to take one - then please feel free to rest here a while. Read through, click around, and see what else you can find. Take a breath and give yourself some space. And then share this post with your friends - remind them that they deserve a break now and then, too.

When you're done here, if you like what you've seen, be sure to come check me out on Patreon. The people who support my ability to keep writing mean a ton to my little family, and we're always looking for an opportunity to welcome more people into my community - we're SO CLOSE to reaching the next goal there, and I can't wait! Hitting that goal will be thrilling because it will bump my poems from one to two a month AND it'll trigger my first Patreon-exclusive giveaway. I also post short stories, podcasts, mini-blogs, and lots of other content there, so it's a great place to get to know me on an even more personal level.

But whether you come to Patreon or not, I'd like to thank you for being here, and invite you to make sure you never miss a post - this content is ALWAYS free, so take a second to subscribe to my blog (the subscription form is in the right sidebar) and make sure we stay connected. By subscribing, you're making sure you stay updated on all the latest news! And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site, from the very bottom of my heart, thank you for reading.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Father's Day: What It Means To Be A Dad

In May, I talked about Mother's Day and the difference between being a mother and being a Mom. I talked honestly about how motherhood isn't always the number-one-best part of my life, but also talked about how there's nothing that would make me want NOT to be a mother. Mostly though, the post was meant to outline the differences between a person who has been biologically successful at having a child and a person who has taken the time to create an emotional bond that stands the test of time - the kind of bond that survives rejection and sadness, overwork and underpay, and sometimes outright desperation of more kinds than I care to list here.

This applies to fatherhood too - because while it only takes a few blissful minutes and one wildly determined little sperm to create the beginnings of a human child, it takes so much more than that to create a parent. So with Father's Day being this past weekend, I thought it appropriate to explore fatherhood - and what it takes to make a father into a Dad.

Just like with motherhood, DNA creates fatherhood. It's simple science, the magic of our God-given biology. The joining of two people, two cells. And that's all it takes - boom! You're a father. One missed condom, one drunken night, one moment of physical need. Fatherhood.

But to be a Dad ... to choose a child above yourself in all things, to want the best for that little person even if you lose out in order to give to them, to care enough to nurture them, to guide them, to partner with them in building a future you may not even live to see ...

That's something different entirely.

I've talked very little about my own father here, because my relationship with him over the years has become something painful enough to avoid talking about. It would take more than one hand for me to count the times my father has somehow come up in conversation, only for the person I'm talking to to sit up a little straighter and say with surprise, "Oh! Your father's still alive, then?" And I tend to lower my eyes and say quietly, "Yeah, but it's complicated."

Now, raising two daughters who will also feel the same ways and say the same things, I'm forced to deal with my own issues so that I can coach my children through theirs, and the lack of what the women in my family experience in the way of fatherhood has really drawn a line for us as to what we think makes the difference between a father ... and a Dad.

I was a "Daddy's Girl" as a young child, and I can still vividly remember the sense of hero worship that filled me whenever I thought of him. My father was a huge man with a bull temper and a strong personality that could not be contained. He had a sensitive pride that was easily injured, and a big heart that loved well - when it loved. I remember him letting me play music he probably thought was horrible whenever we were in his car together - and not only did he let me choose the music, but he let me have my own preset button on the radio. And he would learn my music, too. I can close my eyes right now and see him, hunkered down, slouching off to the right, heavy elbow pressing deep into the console armrest between us, his low baritone belting out the lyrics to Ginuwine's Pony while I grinned to myself, proud of our closeness.

He loved music - probably still does, though I wouldn't know. My first introduction to the power of music was at his hands; we were in church and I looked up, following the scope of his big hands on the hymnal, The sight of tears streaming down his face as he sang, along with the tremble of his chin as he struggled to compose himself in that moment, stole the words of the song from my lips. I mumbled along, quietly, marveling. I wish I could remember what song that was - I too have wept through the words of countless songs, and I've wondered a time or two if maybe the same song that touched him so also touched me along the way.

We're estranged now, and have been for years - a wall of old hurt and resentful unforgiveness stands between us just as solidly as the wall that stands behind me right now as I'm writing this. There are some hurts that heal and scar over, becoming a part of the past - not quite disappearing, but ceasing at least to be painful. Others ... well, others remain, sensitive to the touch and flaring up again with the weather.

Despite the wall and various injuries that built it, the most valuable gift my father has given me over the years - the same gift my children are now receiving from theirs - is the stark and sometimes jarring contrast between what makes a father, and what makes a Dad.

A father is a man who might begrudgingly pay a little child support (if the mother is lucky), resentful of his need to do so. He might take his child(ren) for a weekend now and then, parking them in front of his television or video game while he tolerates the inconvenience of his visitation time. A father is a name on a birth certificate, a donator of genetic material.

But a Dad ... a Dad is something different entirely, a blessing and a guide, a teacher and a companion, an encourager, a protector, a safe haven.

A Dad is a man who doesn't just provide a game to play - he takes (or makes) the time to play it with you. A Dad gives his heart and his soul, so much more than the occasional set of school clothes.

A Dad is a man who never forgets your birthday, who keeps his word, who shows up when he's supposed to. A Dad is a man who swallows inconvenience for the sake of those he loves, who puts his kid's birthday parties and concert recitals ahead of TV football games and boxing matches.

A Dad is a man who calls you to see how you're doing, and lets you know that it's okay to not be okay. A man who praises you when you're doing well, and holds you up when you're not. He's a counselor, a friend - a safe place to hide from a world of judges.

A Dad is a man who wants the best for you - who wants to give you more than he had, who wants to see you rise above where he started, who wants to see you grow.

For a daughter, a Dad is the first man to hold her hand, the first to show her what it feels like to be cared for. A Dad is the first man a daughter dances with, the first man to hold the door for her, the first man to buy her flowers. For a daughter, a Dad is what to look for in a future Husband - the King who shows his Princess how to choose her Prince. Or how not to. For some daughters, a Dad becomes the first lesson on how to recover from heartbreak, how to survive not being enough, how to live with letdown.

For a son, a Dad is the strongest and most steady example a boy has of what to become when he grows up. A Dad is a lesson for Princes everywhere ... on how to become and behave as a King. Or again, how not to.

A Dad is strength gentled by compassion, hard lessons softened by love. And sure, he's imperfect. He messes up and makes mistakes - a Dad is, after all, only human, and at his core he is only a father like the rest. The difference - the one thing that pulls him over that line and makes him something he wasn't before - is in his willingness to make the effort over and over again, to reach out and reach out and reach out, to find the balance between endearing vulnerability and determined fortitude.

So although I skipped the public spectacle of Father's Day, I'd like to encourage men who are reading this: if you have children, don't just be a father. Don't throw a check at your children and call it a day, and don't come in and out of their lives, using them for your convenience. Take the time to be a Dad, make the effort to nurture a relationship that will enrich your life. Foster a bond with a person who will grow up to change the world - confident in the strength and guidance you gave them. Give your heart to being a Dad with the same enthusiasm you give to your other passions.

And if you're a child - grown or otherwise - who has a Dad that takes the time to be a Dad ... appreciate the gift that that is. Show your Dad some love, and let him know that you see and appreciate whatever he gave you over the years. Because your Dad? He's a gift not every kid is blessed with.
In keeping with this post, today I'm sharing a pair of "Featured Favorite Products" that are all about Dads - and the effort that makes a father become the kind of Dad every kid longs for.

We'll start out with this fill-in-the-love journal for Dads I found on Amazon! This is a cute and fun way to show your Dad how much you see, appreciate, and respect the dedication he's shown you over the years. And for under $15, Amazon makes it easy to show your Dad what a difference he's made in your life.
But if you're the dad and all you want is to keep being good at it, then beef up your summer energy levels with  Strike Force Energy - this zero calorie, zero sugar, zero carb packet of magic delivers your energy for an entire afternoon at the park without making you sweaty, jittery or cranky (at least, that's how it works for this mom). You won't crash when it wears off either, AND each single liquid packet is small enough to fit in your pocket, wallet, or desk drawer (works for moms, too - I always keep a packet or two in my purse)! My favorite thing about it is that it's simple to mix (tear open, dump into a bottle of water, shake it, and then down it, baby) and it isn't gross or disgustingly sweet like so many other energy drinks on the market. Makes a great low-cal, sugar-free substitute for my usual coffee, too! And to make it even better, I'm partnering with Strike Force to give you 20% off your order - just use AFLBRANDI8634 as the discount code when you checkout at (or click the link above)!

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
To all the Dads out there - thank you for being dedicated! If you're reading this and loving it because you have an awesome Dad, share this post with him and let him know he's amazing even if it isn't Father's Day. Or if you're reading it and relating because it's all about what you want to be as a Dad, share this post with your kids and let them know how much you love them.

If you liked this post for other reasons, or you think you know someone who will, feel free to share it on your social media, and don't be afraid to invite your friends to come hang out in the comments!.

Make sure to come check me out on Patreon, too! The people who support my ability to keep writing mean a ton to the girls and I, and I'm always looking for an opportunity to welcome more people into my community - right now, we're just THISCLOSE to reaching the next goal there, which will bump my poems to two a month AND trigger my first Patreon giveaway. I also post short stories, podcast, mini-blogs, and lots of other content there!

But in the end, whether you come to Patreon or not, I'd like to invite you to make sure you never miss a post here - this content is ALWAYS free so take a second to subscribe to my blog (the subscription form is in the right sidebar) and make sure we stay connected. By subscribing, you're making sure you stay updated on all the latest news. And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site, from the very bottom of my heart, thank you for reading.