Updated: Sep 26
Happy Winter Solstice (for those in the Northern Hemisphere). This occurs when the North Pole is tilted the furthest away from the sun resulting in the shortest day and longest night of the year, and marking the beginning of winter.
Winter is when most species of plants and animals hibernate or lay dormant for months to conserve energy while surviving harsh winter conditions due to weather and lack of food. Temperatures drop, metabolisms slow, and everything rests. Now obviously humans don’t abide by Earth’s schedule as other living things do because we’ve evolved in such a way that we’re not so connected to the seasonal cycles – but maybe we can still practice spiritually. In last season’s issue I wrote about harvesting for winter, hopefully you were able to read and maybe apply some of it (link to harvest article). So this winter, if you want to join me, let’s use this time to rest, be still, conserve energy, slow down, and self-reflect.
These past two years have been especially challenging for the mental stamina of most humans. In the midst of all social isolation, polarized news, glamorized internet lifestyles, and untimely deaths, a lot of us are realizing that we don’t have the tools to cope. Being forced to sit still and/or move slow has forced unwarranted self-awareness onto a lot of us. As we move into a new year, maybe a little scared of what’s on the other side because these roaring 20’s haven’t been as glamourous as the Gatsby parties - how do we actually do the thing everyone preaches called “self-care” or ”self-love”? Where do we start? I always say start with the source. We are our own source, so I wanted to start with self. Before we can really tap into our healing, I think we must address the toxins, and all the ways we hurt ourselves aka self-abuse.
Disclaimer: Reader, you are not alone. This is a guilt-free, shame-free space that I want you to sink into with your favorite beverage or snack. I’m drinking a hot cup of coffee as I type this. Please feel free to take notes, take deep breaths, cry, whatever you need to as we go on this journey together.
Ok! So I had an idea to have a panelist discussion about self-abuse, and I may still do that, but for now it’s just me and you. My intention is that we both leave this article feeling empowered with tools to practice self-reflection in this time of winter stillness and understanding that we are going through this human experience together. I’m going to break down self-abuse into four sections that we can both apply in our own time at home or wherever we are:
Trials & Combat
(1) Identify Habits
In order to break down our self-abuse, I think we must identify our habits, our specific practiced behaviors first. Some questions to ask ourselves in this process could be:
Why do we form habits?
Are all habits coping mechanisms for survival, trauma, beliefs, traditions, etc.?
Do we form habits to validate ourselves?
How can categorize habits, good versus bad, healthy versus unhealthy?
We can write down our answers or tuck them in our thoughts. A habit or trauma-response I’ve formed is to not fully acknowledge my physical pain due to injury. I’ve been an athlete my whole life, plus I served in the military, and in both it is shamed upon to be physically injured. The phrase “suck it up” is used a lot and over the past 30 years I’ve developed a habit of ignoring my suffering and taking that phrase too literally. This “habit” has left me with lifelong injuries to my hips, knees, ankles, and spine. I formed this habit to not be shamed in my sports or military career. The fear of shame, the fear of isolation, the fear of belittlement, and specifically in the military the fear of not being seen as capable. Being seen as “capable” has always been validating for me, maybe it’s also validating for you. I wouldn’t classify it as bad or unhealthy, but if taken to the extreme, then yes. So now I’ve identified ONE of my many habits.
Maybe take some time to identify one or two of your own… or continue reading and go back through the steps at the end.
Now that we’ve identified our habits, are we going to hold ourselves accountable, or are we going to just throw up our hands and say, “well this is just who am I”. Some key questions to ask ourselves now:
Is our identity wrapped up in our habits?
How do we separate ourselves from our habits?
Who are we without all the outside influences and inside coping mechanisms?
What are our habits attracting (energy, people, career, etc)?
So I identified my habit of ignoring my suffering to maintain my perception and projection of being capable. So trying to separate myself from my capability – that’s really hard for me. I’ve wrapped so much of my identity in what I can do, what I can accomplish.. but why if it’s causing me to suffer on the backend? It’s frustrating and really difficult to separate myself from my capability. But I am more than what I can do. You are also more than whatever habit you’ve attached to your identity. Unpopular opinion, we are not only what we do – cut yourself some slack.
Again, maybe take a minute to sit with this, or push ahead to the next section.
(3) Trials & Combat
So this is the period/section between separating ourselves from our habits, and actually using our tools to combat self-limiting beliefs – I want to call this part the “trials”. Trials are the hard times we pass through as we’re developing our self-awareness and choosing what to do with it.
We’ve identified our habits, we’ve decided to separate them from our identity, so we can start the process of breaking the habit without breaking ourselves. The separation mentioned before is our buffer, it’s our cushion, it’s the boundary we need between self and behaviors. It’s hard to do that obviously. There are people who can help us: therapists, life coaches, spirit guides, religious leaders, etc. So this is the section I advise to seek outside help for guidance. A therapist or a coach can guide you through the trials, and supply you with the ammo you need for combat.
Separating myself from my capability has always been hard for me, but it became almost unbearable after a bad car accident. I was in severe pain for months, and during COVID so I was confined to my apartment, not wanting my pain meds, and unable to mask the pain with other distractions or activities, then my aunt died and everything from physical pain to emotional grief came crashing down on me. My therapist gave me tools that I say saved my life. We practiced mindfulness for months, and one of many gems she gave me was, “treat grief as a visitor, when it comes, let it in, welcome it, acknowledge it, don’t dwell on how long will it stay, and when it leaves, let it go.” She told me that emotional grief was just as potent as physical pain and I applied that sentiment to both of my issues. I share this not because it was all of a sudden easy, but because with daily practice it helped. I’m still working through things, but my therapist really helped guide me through my trials and give me tools to combat my habits.
Maybe take a beat, and think of your own trials, and whether you have someone to guide you through them, someone to give you tools.
Whew, we made it to the fourth section. Like everything in life, self-acceptance is easier said than done. How do we practice self-acceptance? I specifically say “practice” because I don’t think it’s something any of us will ever master but should be something we apply daily. And let us not confuse self-acceptance with reluctance. Acceptance is not where we identity our habits and say, “well this is just who I am”.
I find myself able to practice self-acceptance through yoga. The breath. Breathing through discomfort and imbalance in challenging poses. The smile. Smiling through hot and extreme temperatures. For me it’s yoga, where it’s not about me doing anything, but about me being me. Not competing with other yogis in the room, not me straining for a pose. Me being me in the moment and letting that be enough. For you it’s probably something else. I think you’ll know what works for your practice of self-acceptance when you’re met with external challenge and internal praise. Praising yourself, patting yourself on the back, hugging your inner child, that’s what it feels like.
Wherever you are right now, I encourage you to smile for a beat. You got through this article, and though I appreciate you reading it, more than that I’m almost positive you’re a wonderful human, so smile for yourself for a second.
You are loved. Take care of yourself.
Established in 1987, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is a voluntary health organization that gives those affected by suicide a nationwide community empowered by research, education and advocacy to take action against this leading cause of death. AFSP is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide, including those who have experienced a loss