CoSozo Living

Reclaiming Yourself
  • Jacqueline Doneghy is a graduate of the University of Michigan Schools of Education and Social Work...

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Fri, May 1, 2015
First You – Then Me… If There’s Time
“How do we keep our inner fire alive? Two things, at minimum are needed:  an ability to appreciate the positives in your life – and a commitment to action. Everyday it’s important to ask and answer these questions:  ‘What’s good in my life?’ And ‘What needs to be done?’” (Nathaniel Branden)

I’ve worked with Jane and Mike (fictitious names given to maintain confidentiality) for several years and I can always recognize the state of their relationship by how closely they sit together when they come to session. There have been times when they have been so antagonistic towards each other the room hasn’t been big enough to contain them.
 
Today they sat within close proximity of each other. While it had been many months since I had seen them, their complaint remained the same: There was a breakdown in communication. For Jane and Mike, as with many couples, this was their “go-to” place whenever their relationship was breaking down. Jane complained that she rarely has time for herself – to do her own thing – and that when she does take time to do those things that make her feel renewed and reenergized, Mike becomes disgruntled and implies that she doesn’t love him as much as he would like. 
 
I asked Mike what his definition of a relationship was. He explained a relationship is one in which each partner puts the needs of the other first. I gathered from his comments that if they really love each other the other comes first – always in all ways. As Mike was sharing his thoughts, Jane became visibly upset.
 
While both were in long-term recovery, Jane had had several relapses. What Mike didn’t realize, but Jane has come to appreciate, is when she doesn’t spend quality time with herself doing those things that make her feel renewed and reenergized, she has very little to give to her partner. Taking care of others without taking care of yourself is not love.
 
Our body, our mind, our spirit is like a bank account with an automatic transfer. Whenever we take care of ourselves, do something that gives us pleasure, that feeds our individuality, we make a deposit into our savings account. Whenever we give care to others - not take care of others - we write a check.  Funds (energy) are automatically transferred from our savings account to our checking account and as long as the funds are there, we don’t run the risk of bouncing checks - of burning out or of experiencing compassion fatigue.
 
Giving to others doesn’t require that you give up yourself, that you lose yourself to another. Sometimes we think that doing things for others requires that we sacrifice ourselves - all for the purpose of taking care of others. We think that the more we sacrifice ourselves the more they will know we love them.  When we persistently and chronically put the needs of our partners, family members, friends, and co-workers first, we end up losing ourselves. We can feel emotionally, spiritually, mentally empty and dismembered. We no longer feel or know who we are.
 
The key to knowing, feeling, and believing in who you are is found in how you like yourself, love yourself, and accept yourself.  I stated “how” not whether or not you love, like, or accept yourself.  “How” is what you do to take care of yourself that results in your liking, loving, accepting, and believing in you.
 
My clients tell me they can love another and receive love from another. But when I ask them if they are loveable , they stop short and answer with a resounding “No!”  I know then that it has been a long time since they have put themselves first without feeling guilty, without  feeling that they aren’t being a good parent, friend, partner, spouse, sister, brother, son, or daughter. Often I give my clients permission to give themselves permission to love themselves, to take care of themselves, to put themselves first.
 
We have many choices in how we live our lives.  Taking care – giving care – to yourself includes more than exercising or maintaining a healthy diet.
 
Ask yourself:
  • Do I see my life as a collection of threats and problems to be endured or a collection of promises and opportunities to be experienced?
  • Do I approach the events of my life as having a chance to learn something about me or as just something to endure or get through?
  • Do I approach my life as an adventure?
  • Do I check in with myself asking if I am happy?  Am I at peace?
 
There was a movie several years ago called “The Bucket List”. Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson played the major roles. In the hospital for treatment of cancer, both find out that their prognosis is dire – they have only a few months to live. They decide to make the most of whatever time they have left by making a list – a bucket list – the things they want to do before they “kick the bucket”. It was inspiring to watch them accomplish those things one at a time not worrying about how much time they had left. It was equally inspiring to watch these individuals become happy, peaceful, and content as they completed their list. I walked away from that movie realizing that taking care of yourself includes doing those things that make you happy and content.
 
Putting yourself first is like putting your oxygen mask on first in a descending plane. Without putting  our mask on first we can’t take care of our loved ones. Taking care of ourselves first enables us to take care of others.
 
“The most intimate and powerful of all relationships, and the one we never escape is the relationship to ourselves.”
(Author Unknown)
 
Taking care of ourselves is our first and primary responsibility. Only then are we fully present and able to forge the relationship that Mike and Jane were so clearly desiring. To have a relationship and be there for one another always and in all ways, we must first show up for ourselves.
 
Caregiving – our ability to care for others begins not with another person but rather within ourselves, through our ability to gift our own self with body, mind, spirit, and soul, so that we then have more to give freely to others.

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