Over the years, as a way to correct what I’ve labeled a ‘self-care deficit’, I’ve embarked on a journey of self-care.
I started therapy with the question “Why can’t I feed myself breakfast, for fuck sakes. What’s wrong with me?” That was the tail end of Ariadne’s red thread into my own inner landscape. That thread has led to an increased ability to care for myself in all the ways one should *and* can. Not just the water/food/rest equation, but more. The flowers I buy myself on therapy days. The gifts of mindfulness – journaling, that early morning tarot draw to set the tone for the day, the intentional way I meet myself on the page. The choices that foster a soul-nourishing life, like the courses I invest in so I’m always on top of my teaching game, or the ones I buy so I’m always on top of my sense of self-possession.
But in all that self-care, there was a near violent steering away from other-care.
Imagine, if you will, a life in which needing others to show up was dangerous.
That is the life I’ve lived, and in this life where needing others to show up was *very, very fucking dangerous*, I became ever increasingly more self-reliant.
And that’s not a bad thing, my loves. Not at all, but when you (and by ‘you’, I mean ‘we’) are covering a deep desire for ‘other care’ with self-reliance, you can grow very, very weary of self-care. You can start to resent all the care you so carefully extend to yourself. And you can start to slip. You can let go of the nourishing practices that you’ve established, because you *get tired* of always doing for yourself what you *wish others would do for you*.
Real talk, babes. 100 percent.
Your journal is precious. The time you spend with yourself, exploring what is true for you is precious. The flowers you buy yourself, the little acts of tenderness toward the soft beast of your body are precious. The nail polish, the things you choose to adorn yourself with, the excellent food, the copious quantities of water…precious.
But all that self-care can’t take the place of those things that others do for you. They can’t replace the fiercely loving rage, expressed on your behalf, or the food prepared, and served to you at a table set with love. They don’t cover the way that one takes a moment to check in, or the other one arrives with your best interests at heart.
We need other people. We *need* them.
Self-reliance is a thing I am very, very fond of, but I have, over the years, grown *too* fond of it, because SAFETY.
Safety of this kind is isolating. It creates in me a refusal to accept what’s on offer from those who are offering out of a sense of *care*. When someone shows up with offers of *caring*, I get scared. I get resistant.
I can be in the darkest of dark moments and still, even now, say “Go home. Leave me alone.”
I can be in the loneliest, most dire need for human contact and say “I’m just fine, thanks. Let’s talk about you.”
Because, needing people has had a history of being unsafe. Needing people has, in my history, led to abandonment, ridicule, being taken advantage of…
Being raised by ill-equipped parents set me up for this, and so my ‘people chooser’ has always equated a traumatic or dramatic bond with love.
I’m learning how to choose otherwise.
In the last seventy-two hours, I have been:
Attended to when I was about to bite off more than I could chew.
Witnessed while I rage-sobbed. Handed glasses of water, tissues. Laughed with when the storm passed. Tucked into bed.
Told “I get it. I got you.” multiple times.
Fed. Taken for a drive. Heard.
Led by the loving hand of a friend (as in, this was not a romantic or sexual gesture – this was platonic and somehow more poignantly caring as a result) to a drawn bath strewn with lavender flowers. Offered candlelight, firelight, music, and whatever degree of conversation or solitude I needed from moment to moment.
Checked in on with “I know this is an anniversary for you. How are you?”
Told exactly why I matter.
These are the things I have always craved, and also the things I have always lacked, and here they are, arriving, like a migration of butterflies, gathering, like a murmuration of swallows, taking over my sky.
Other-care. A lot of it. And I’m letting it come. And I’m taking it in.
And I’m not just accepting whatever is offered. I’m asking for very specific things. Like “Oh, hey. Please read this collection of memories that are coming up right now so you can know.” and “I need a human. Would you please bring food and sit with me?”
Asking. Receiving. Noticing who shows up and who doesn’t. Noticing what special brand of caring each beloved has to offer. Accepting limitations with grace, but also setting boundaries accordingly. Having a life time of corrective experiences packed into the space of a weekend, and letting that flow into all my wounded places like cool, clear water.
Self-care matters. But the care you get from others also matters.
In the journey towards wholeness, it might matter even more.