Self-care, Envy and Martyrdom

I have been kicking around the idea of self-care lately. I hear a lot about it on social media and it helps me a lot to remind myself that it is important to take time to feed my own soul. But it also makes me think about the time in my life when I was just trying to survive the day and how there are so many women in that same situation right now who are working twelve-hour days and raising kids on their own with little or no help. I know that when I was in that place in life I would roll my eyes at the idea of self-care because it just seemed to be a luxury and privilege that I did not have.

But as I have thought about this more, I realized that I did have time for it but I choose to spend that time sleeping with men who did not love me or drinking at the bar until 2 am so that I didn’t get enough sleep because I had to get up at 6 am to take my kids to school. I choose to spend my time working to pay for a house away from my kids so that I could have my “life” and that meant driving across town at sunrise (again, after being at the bar until closing) to take them to school. I was living two lives and then complaining that I was exhausted. Well, yeah, two lives will exhaust you. All of these things were my choice. I choose what to spend my time and energy on. And I did not spend either of them on things that would better my life.

What would have bettered my life would have been to go back to school, to work the boring job that came with benefits, to go to therapy so I didn’t think it was ok to chase men who did not want me and to live in the same house with my children even if it meant having a curfew because my mom also lived in that house and did not think anything past 10 pm was something anyone should be doing. Yes, I could have gone out with friends but not at the expense of my time with my children.

The truth is that all of my eye-rolling about self-care was envy and lack of knowledge of what exactly self-care is. Before I go further, let me say that I am not saying that everyone who is a single mother is making stupid choices, I am specifically talking about my own experience because it is all I can speak on. I can only write about what I have learned from those experiences and choices. If it helps, great and if it doesn’t then just stop reading it. But maybe if it makes you feel some type of way the thing to do would be to sit with that feeling and ask yourself some hard questions that only you and Jesus can answer.

First, let me say that I am often envious and jealous of what other people have that I perceive to mean that they have an easy life while my life sucks and is so hard. But here’s the thing: everyone has struggles and hardships. Everyone has wounds and everyone is doing their best to survive, not always in the healthiest ways, but still, that is what almost every single person is trying to do. But I grew up in survivor mode so other people’s happiness became a threat to mine in my mind since I could not see how I was ever going to get out of my circumstances and into a life that I loved. I grew up having to watch every step I made and every word I said. I became hypervigilant which means I had no time to just be a kid or to enjoy life. As a teenager, I would get hurt by peers and it was not just normal teenager drama, for me, it became an act of aggression that was meant to kill me because that is the emotional response that had become my go-to response to anything painful. That followed me into adulthood and is still something I struggle with. It also has made me see myself as a victim in all kinds of situations, including when something good happens to someone else. It makes no logical sense, but it is how my emotions and mental reactions go. Everything in my mind is a life or death situation and if it is not giving me life then it is trying to kill me. Therapy is helping to break this kind of thinking but this is the kind of thinking that had, and at times still has, me rolling my eyes when someone says “self-care”. It is easier to be a victim of life’s circumstances than to cut out unhealthy behaviors and replace them with healthy ones.

The second was my misunderstanding of what self-care is. My idea was that it was all the things that women do to look good like getting their hair done, pedicures and nails done along with facials and spa days. These things take time and money. Neither of which I had when I was a single mother of four with a drug addict for a husband/ex-husband and an absent baby daddy. (you might ask how I had money for the bar every night, well, I was pretty enough to get free drinks, that is how that works) Also, somewhere in my life, I put that in the “that is what white people do” list. I do not really get that list and it is going to take a lot of unpacking for me to understand it so I am not going to go down that rabbit hole now, but things on that list are things that Hispanics in my life do not do.

So what is self-care? I think I came up with that answer to that yesterday while at Mass. Self-care is anything that helps you say “yes” to God. Anything that makes your soul proclaim the greatness of the Lord. That is self-care. It can be a bath, a shower, getting your hair done, going to Mass alone, sitting in a bookstore with a coffee, camping, hiding in your closet with some candy, reading a book or riding horses. Or coloring with your kids. It can be a dance party in the living room with your family. It can be anything at all. Whatever it is that makes your heart sing God’s praises that is self-care. And it is something everyone needs regardless of their circumstance. If you are not making time for self-care, you are not loving yourself and you are teaching your family that you are not important.

When I do not care for myself it is usually because I want people to feel sorry for me. I want to martyr myself so that people will see how much I give of myself to the point that I am a depleted human being. That is calledCODEPENDENCY. If you have never heard of it, then look it up. Get Codependent No More at your local bookstore or on Amazon and read that shit. It will blow your MIND. I wanted to set that book on fire the first time I read it. But then I finally accepted that I am codependent and a lot of the things I thought were happening TO me were things I was allowing to happen so that I had something to feel sorry for myself about and then I would get mad when others didn’t join me or see how much I was doing. Martyrs are saints because they gave their life out of the love of God, not so people would feel sorry for them or tell them how good of a job they are doing. It was not about them at all.

The last two years since losing my oldest son to suicide has had my butt in therapy more than ever. It is in there that I have come to see how much of my own “I do not have time for self-care *eye roll*” was really an act of self-hate and lack of seeing myself as important enough to love. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. That means loving yourself. Not in a prideful or arrogant way but in a humble way which means knowing that you are made in God’s image and are a temple of the Holy Spirit so start taking care of yourself as such. This is possible for everyone, even if you are working 16 hour days and have no money, take time out of your day, even if it is when you are taking a bathroom break and remind yourself that you are important. If you were not important, you would not be working 16 hour days. If nobody else sees how hard you are working, I see it and I see how important you are. So does God.


In a Dark Church sits a Sheep

After daily Mass I love to sit in the Church until the lights get turned down and everyone leaves. It is just me and Jesus.

I am an emotional person who puts a lot of weight on feelings. I react to things based on my feelings, I sometimes wallow in my feelings and I put way too much emphasis on how I am feeling.

When I sit in this dark Church I do not feel happy or loved or at peace. But I AM. I am happy. I am loved and I am at peace and I know that in my soul when I sit here in the dark facing my God in His little golden house.

Nowhere else do I have such a deep knowledge of who I am like I do when I’m in here after Mass sitting in the stillness. It inspires me to be me. It makes me whole. It helps me understand the meaning of life. It makes me want to write and dance and take a long nap.

I am safe here. I am at home here. And it has nothing to do with my feelings or if anyone has given me permission to be here or believe what I believe. It is so much more than that.

In here, I am good. Not because of what I do or don’t do but because God says I am good. I am good because He is Good and I am made in His image. I am good because He loves me and God only loves Good things. He can’t love anything that is not good. It is impossible.

Here in this dark Church I can feel my son. I can also feel my grief for him. And the joy of the gift of being able to love him. I am a mother and being a mother is the strongest thing I could have ever been. Being a mother made me a warrior.

This is my Home. This is where I find myself. This is where I am loved unconditionally.

The lost sheep that was found and brought back to the 99.

The Love That Lives On

Photo by Pixabay on

Parenting is so weird. You just have sex, a baby is made. Then one day you go to the hospital and give birth to a tiny human that the hospital lets you take home. Even if you are only seventeen years old and are an only child who has never held a baby or changed a diaper in your life. And just like that you are responsible for making sure this tiny person does not grow up to add to the number of assholes in this world. You also have to make sure they eat good food, grow up healthy, do not wreck their car or become a drug addict. It is really a lot when you think about it because really, you just wanted your baby daddy to like you, you were not really prepared for parenthood. But here you are and suddenly looking the window of your seventh floor hospital room holding your newborn baby, you are scared of heights.

There are all kinds of books to help you get ready for a baby, a toddler and even teens. But there are hardly any books on how to parent adult children. What happens when you reach the point in life where they are adults and do not have to listen to shit you say? What happens when they are old enough to make all their own choices but because you have been their mom their entire life, you know they are stupid. Not like, stupid stupid, but just too stupid to do things that land them responsible for another human life when all they wanted was a little love and sex seemed like the way to get that. You know, like you did when you became their MOTHER.

There are not many books on how to handle parenting adult children. How to respect your adult children, keep quiet when they are finding their way in the world and swerving on the road of life. Discerning when to say something and when to just let them find their way. It is not easy to know when to let them fall and when to swoop in and save the day. It is an entirely new phase in life and there are so many variables. But at least you can watch others and talk about this new phase in parenthood.

Parenting a dead child is a totally different story.

There are no “what to expect when your child dies” books. There are grief books and there are now even people on Instagram who are being open and honest about what it looks like to mourn a child. There are support groups too. But there are no books explaining how to navigate through the questions that come when one of your children dies.

How do you answer questions like “How many kids do you have?” or even “How old is *insert name of dead kid here*?”. Do you keep them the age they were when they died or do you keep adding to that number with each birthday. Do you even celebrate their birthday after they die and if so, what does that look like? Who is in charge of keeping up their grave? For Catholics, do you go to every mass offered for them? It is an obligatory mass or do people get to decide if they want to go?

All of these are things that come up and each one of them is a blow to your grief. And you figure them all out blind with no roadmap because nobody has written one.

A few years before Anthony’s suicide I went on a road trip across the country to Philly to see Pope Francis. There were many times on this trip that I was driving and did not know what to expect ahead of me because I had never travelled these roads before. I was so scared and it was really bad for a control freak like me to let go and surrender to the road ahead of me. In West Virginia I lost my shit and had to pull over to pull myself back together and wait out the rain. In hindsight that trip is a lot like the journey of Grief that I am on now since losing Anthony to suicide.

I am scared and I lose my shit a lot to the point of pulling over and taking a timeout before getting back on the road. I know where I am going, that is to do my best to get to heaven and pray Anthony is there for me when I get there, but the in-between is full of unfamiliar territory. Sometimes the road is dark and winding in front of me which scares the shit out of me but then the sun comes out and I get a grip.

I have decided to always say I have four kids because I do. Anthony is still my child. I also say that he is 25 years old because no matter what, Anthony still IS and the years still go by. Time is a tool for the living and I am still alive so I will use it. I am his mother so I take responsibility of keeping up his grave and we have dinner as a family on his birthday where we let his children blow out the candles on his cake for him. He mattered. His life was a gift and that is what we celebrate on his birthday. It is not easy. To be honest, it tears me up inside, but Anthony’s life is worth celebrating. The most important lesson I learned though is that just how I figured out how to be his mother even though I was seventeen and had no experience with babies is how I will figure out how to be his mother now that he is dead. Both situations are fueled by one thing: the love I have for my child as his mother. That lives on.