on self care
December 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
i know that the standard prescription in these situations is to take care of yourself. or take care of yourself first.
but i’ve always had a hard time visualizing what that actually means. i know that when i get triggered and can’t stop crying or fall into a paralysis of depression or want to refuse food to the point of starvation, it makes little sense to take a hot bath with candles or eat something nice. i simply can’t imagine any way out of my state, even though i have the DBT cards where i’ve thought through very carefully when in a normal rational state what i should do when i’m not.
what is self care, anyway? about a month ago i picked up a zine posing the same question, in which the anonymous writer talked about the insufficiency of care when the problem, as in many cases of trauma, is the lack of a self. or, maybe, the development of a self tightly built around a wound, a self organized to protect against trauma. a self fortified by a multiplication of maladaptive strategies intended to protect and conceal an original injury. in that case, s/he says, what we need is not to take care of that construction of self, but to transform it, to become something other than what we’ve been. to live a life that is not organized around an original wound.
i came to similar conclusions this afternoon when i was running–which is like one of the last things i want to do when i’m stuck in the panic of a trauma response, even though i know exercise helps and it’s on my DBT cards etc. the thought i had was:
when all my energy wants to bend toward someone
please stay, please come back, please hold me, please love me, please don’t leave
what i need to do is to retract that energy to a center, keep it close. when everything in me longs to turn outward, to grasp and to pull, i need to pull it back in. i need to turn it inward. i need to retreat and take my space, to seek refuge in solitude–or in being with others, doing other things. i need to run or lift. i need to meditate and pray. i need to listen to dharma talks. i need to read and write. i need to go outside and observe nature. i need to visit my parents, play with my child. i need to go to meetings–support group and community organizing both. and i need to do these things for as long as it takes for my panic to subside. even if that’s a day. even if that’s a week.
in writing this down, it occurs to me that this thought took shape in stages or drafts. an earlier form presented itself when i was emailing a friend:
he’s still away, but we’re talking and trying to figure out how things can be different, better. i know it’s more complicated than just his mental health struggles, because i have my own trauma that plays out in relationships, which makes it harder than it otherwise might be. so i’m having to confront and think through my piece of our dynamic.
and then this morning, when listening to a dharma talk online, the teacher said, roughly:
fear’s not in the way, it’s the way. if we don’t have a practice of opening to the vulnerability that’s in our body, we don’t discover the openness that is the pure expression of love. open to the truth of impermanence, that there is no ground. the real truth of loss. but opening to loss is what opens us to tenderness.
just sitting with the freefall when i’m in it, when i’m doing everything to keep from being in it. a cessation of striving and grasping. i can’t do anything about anything. there’s nothing to try. a relief, a liberation. all i can do is use this time to focus inward, to bring my energy back to a center. to transform a self that has emerged from injury. i know the buddhists go further and reject a notion of the self as fictional, but in this case it seems a useful or strategic fiction. a provisional notion, a notion that helps me respond with kindness to my own suffering instead of deepening it.
(here’s another thing. i have decided that it makes more sense to describe my borderline stuff as “trauma that plays out in relationships.” it is less stigmatizing and pathologizing, more forgiving and kinder–putting the emphasis on what happened a long time ago that now continues to manifest in my present experience, rather than on an identity that is static and defective. putting the emphasis instead on the temporal, the phenomenal–once i was injured, now i am compelled, in the future i might have some other relation to that injury. it opens up room for change and transformation. to name it in that way is also just more descriptive of what my experience is.)