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.

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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.

Grief

I watched part of Beth Chapman’s memorial service on YouTube. If you don’t know who that is, I’ll tell you briefly. Beth and her husband Duane “Dog” Chapman are bounty hunters with a famous TV show. When I moved to the suburbs and became a stay at home mom I would watch hours and hours of their show because I had hours and hours empty during the day when my kids were in school. I had no idea how to be a stay at home mother. I knew how to live in chaos and how to go in and out of jail. One thing I learned shortly after moving to the burbs is that knowing how to bail someone out of jail isn’t something everyone knows how to do. I remember the first time I met someone who didn’t know what “the procedure” was to get someone out of jail was. I laugh snorted so loud.

I worked for a bail bond woman once. It was by far my favorite job. I loved helping people get out of jail, lecturing them when they came to sign papers and my boss was a heavy smoker so we could smoke at work. Plus I had my own desk and endless office supplies. I lost that job when I was arrested for traffic tickets. You can’t be a bondsman and also keep getting arrested apparently.

So when I watched Beth and Dog Chapman chase down people who jumped bail and catch them, all while giving them advice on how life can be better if they got their shit together, as I myself was working to pull myself out of a life where going in and out of jail was the norm, I saw hope. I saw good people. I saw Beth as a mother and fierce wife. I also saw a good marriage. Something I didn’t see much of in my life and something I wanted badly.

Watching her memorial was hard though because it reminded me about how grief works. Grief is so so weird and it is like a person hiding in the bushes waiting for random moments to jump out and punch you in the face. One moment you are remembering the dead person and laughing at something funny they said and they next you are wondering how the fuck any of this is real. How is it real that they are dead and you are standing in front of all these people saying “Anthony WAS” instead of “is” and you’re reeling. It is like driving on a winding West Virginia Highway. Ups and downs and spiraling around and then just as you get used to that it gets worse until your finally in a state that doesn’t have death traps for highways. I haven’t reached that part of grief yet though.

Grief is universal but also, not all grief is the same. I think everyone has that one loss that takes them out. The one that changes everything. Not every spouse who loses the other spouse goes through The One Person kind of grief. That isn’t good nor bad, it just is. Not every child lost is The One Person loss for the parents. Again, not good nor bad, just how it goes.

The One Person loss comes with shock and trauma. It comes with nightmares and the inability to focus. It comes with depression and the lack of motivation. It comes with rage anytime the suggestion of “one day it will get better” is made because you do not want things to get better what you want is for your One Person to not be fucking dead. It comes with no peace in the idea that your One Person is with God. I mean, you’re thankful for that faith but really, God really should have just kept them alive because that is the only thing that would make sense to you. The One Person grief comes with guilt. Why didn’t you just spend every second you could with them? Why didn’t you do better? Why didn’t you appreciate life before their death? All of these things and more come in waves. It is exhausting and also so so infuriating. You want to sleep but then people will start asking you if you think maybe you should get on meds for depression as if it is not normal to be freakin’ sad when someone you love dies suddenly.

They think that would help because they have not had their One Person kind of Grief in life yet. Also, my son died by suicide so everyone was so scared I was going to kill myself too.

That they haven’t faced this kind of loss should make you happy for them, but it doesn’t. It makes you hate them. Oh, the hatred of people who try to comfort you verses the hatred for those who won’t come near you (because you’re kind of an asshole) part of grief. Nobody warns you about that. Because you “know their intentions are good” and should be “grateful”. Let me tell you, you do not have to be grateful for shit. You are grieving, you are shattered, your person is dead and you get to be an asshole. When you stop being one, you can appreciate the people who stuck it out and if there aren’t any then you can build a new tribe. Trust me. There are a lot of people who understand the Asshole stage of grief. They are your people now.

You get to be selfish when you are facing the worst thing to happen to you. I’ve talked to God about this and He agrees with me. In fact being selfish is the best way to heal. It’s also a good way to weed out fake friends. Or weak friendships. All of which take up time you don’t have once you are spending 24/7 grieving.

If you are a mother, wife and/or matriarch of your family and the dead person is a kid you carried in your womb, let me tell you, you need a therapist and a priest (or some kind of spiritual guide). You need a list of things that you enjoy doing by yourself and you need that list posted in a lot of places where you can see it a lot. You need to live a life where you have access to the things on that list regularly. Even if it means telling people to fend for themselves for two or three hours. Or taking little kids to daycare. Because you will grieve like nobody else does but you will also have to love grieving people like nobody else will. At the same time. It’s a real biatch to juggle. But you will have to do it for your family to find its way. I’m sure this works for grieving fathers too but fathers who lose a child have no clue what it is like to have had that child live inside their body. Again, this doesn’t mean the loss any less painful but it is different and that is just a fact. Being a mother who loses a child you have carried and birthed is a very lonely place. Nobody else in the entire world knows that bond you had with that person who lived under your ribs. It is why Mary’s relationship with Jesus was different than His relationship with everyone else.

Grief makes me ramble. Even more so than I did before. Watching Dog give his speech at Beth’s memorial, I realized that rambling is also a part of grief and it happens because that’s what is going on in the brain. My brain goes from coherent thoughts to “oh look a squirrel!” thinking in two seconds. It makes it difficult to write because I just lose track of what I’m saying or why I’m saying it.

For instance I forgot exactly why I thought writing this post was a good idea. At the end of it all, my whole point is that grief is so weird and so hard and such a disturbance of life as you knew it. It is like being in the ocean. The waves crash against you and you’re not sure if you’re gonna get stung by a jellyfish or eaten by a shark, but you just gotta keep swimming.

Take care of yourself, give yourself permission to feel what you feel without apology. Go to therapy. Go sit in an empty church. Go to the library. Get some coffee. Binge Netflix. Whatever. Give yourself space to be sad your person is gone because if you’re not sad, you’re not healing. Or you’re a psychopath. Could be either one, I don’t know your life.

*all of this is my personal opinion. If you have any issues with any of it, just don’t read it. Don’t send me emails telling me how wrong I am. I concede that I could very well be the wrongest person alive. And goodnight.