In the beginning, there was therapy. There was lots of reading. There was the slow and painful realization that I had been an (gulp) abused wife. That my precious daughters had been (gulp) abused children. That my world had been a mirage created by a monster whose sole focus was, and remains, power and control over us.
When I finally had the strength to own my truth, almost 3 years after my escape, reality took hold and I realized I had a lot of work to do. I had been an addict, fully dependent on trying to make him happy and create an outward visual of a happy family. When all that information came to bear, I faced the fact that I had to do a lot of healing work if I was going to ever emerge from this whole. But I felt guilty! It was almost like the survivors guilt that is visited upon the survivor of a mass casualty incident, I felt guilty for getting out, surviving and moving toward the life I wanted. Soon, I had to come to grips with the seemingly selfish idea that if I wanted to save anyone else, namely my daughters, I had to save myself first.
Self-care was not something I had been entitled to with Captain Crazy. Even being sick was not allowed. I remember clearly calling him once while he was traveling for work and asking if he could take an early flight Friday instead of the later flight. I was sick and so was one of the girls. I needed some help and a break. His response? “THIS is what I’m coming home to?!” Eventually I realized that the airline safety instructions were right; you have to put on your own oxygen mask first before you can help anyone else.
While there are many, many good reasons for focusing on self-care, it’s sometimes hard to know where to start. Here are 3 self-care steps I discovered were absolutely critical to my healing:
# 1. – Give Yourself Credit for Everything
We tend strongly toward criticism or belittling any step forward because this is what our abuser has taught us. He/she always had to move the goal line, right? You would never, ever live up to the expectations because they always changed. One of the top things I realized was critical to healing was celebrating everything that I could have looked on as a failure. Didn’t get dressed today? So what? You smiled for your children and hugged them tightly. Didn’t get the dishes done? So what? You made a nice dinner. Late to soccer practice? So what? You were there and present for your child.
# 2. – Take Yourself on Dates
Real dates. Alone. Things you always used to enjoy doing but cast aside because your abuser hated them or disallowed them or would rush you through them so you had no enjoyment. This is critical to your healing because you must get back in touch with who you were before the abuse taught you that was wrong. Or maybe you need to find out for the first time what you like and don’t like. There is a whole big world out there for you! Don’t do anything with a separate agenda…just go and see if you like it. Nothing is more valuable than spending quality time with yourself.
# 3. – Take Care of Your Health
I don’t mean go on a diet or start working out because you figure you have to be in the dating market. Learn to sleep better. Eat better. Experience life without any crutches like food rewards or drowning your sorrows in ice cream. There’s a very important reason for this piece of advice: your body is likely unhealthy in ways you’ve never considered. Nothing will cloud your judgment faster than being chronically tired or malnourished. You need to think clearly and get physically stronger. This can only happen if you lay off the pizza and concentrate on fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of rest and hydration, and get some regular movement into your life.
Self-care is the most critical piece of your healing because it is how you reclaim your soul, learn to dance with it, then send it out into the world to live joyfully.
I know for sure these things are required stepping stones to healing and that they are worth all the effort. Practicing self-care set me up to eventually have the relationship of my dreams because I learned to know myself. I like who that girl has become, including becoming “Mrs” on October 21, 2017.