Once upon a time while pursuing a master’s degree in conflict management, I had to take a course called, “Disciplines for Sustaining the Peacemaker.” I tromped into the class ready to hate it with a rabid, unrelenting passion, because for me, discipline itself—structure for its own sake—is a dubious, if not impossible, source of sustenance.

And yet, the class had value. My classmates were from all over the world, dealing with deadly, entrenched conflicts. They’d seen first hand the kind of tragedies enacted in Newton, CT, had gone eyeball to eyeball with genocide. A later student in the program, a Liberian lady named Leymah Gbowee, ended up winning the Nobel Peace prize. They were warriors for peace, and to examine how they’d maintain physical, spiritual and emotional health under the most trying of circumstances was a worthy pursuit.

The idea being, once the bullets started flying, time or motivation to reflect on self-care would be scarce.

One assignment was just to make a list of all the things we did that we considered “self-care,” whether we did them daily or infrequently. I sat down, prepared to be stumped, because at the time I was a single working mom, running my own law practice, and “self-care” was not an indulgence I felt I could throw many resources at.

The list surprised me:

Journaling, going for a walk, having a hot cup of tea, reading novels or watching movies with happy endings, meeting friends for breakfast or lunch, seeing the naturopath regularly and being treated at least monthly with acupuncture. Petting the cat or the dog, meditating, lifting weights, taking vitamins, pursuing an education, finding solitude, sleeping, having sex, listening to music, nature and natural beauty, long drives, gardening, prayer, keeping flowers on hand, laughing, wearing the clothes I want to wear…

Other people had things on their lists I did not: Dancing, going to church, the occasional alcoholic drink etc, making music, painting, reading to their children, cooking, cleaning, yoga, team sports, running, reading scriptures or various denominations or favorite authors, knitting, throwing pots, reading history…

What came home to me is that my identity and sanity are protected by measures great and small, everything from a cup of tea to pursuit of an advanced degree. I was surprised to realize I had a bag of tricks—a big bag—and that I was engaged in sustaining the (insert identity of choice here) without realizing what I was doing.

So are you. This week has been hard—awful, in fact—for most of us, and yet, you’ve carried on, you’ve tended to your obligations, you’ve possibly even tended to others as they’ve coped with shock, horror, and sorrow following the Newton shootings.

I’m not giving anything away this week. Instead, I’m asking you to share what you’ve done to keep yourself moving forward. What are your mantras, your cups of tea, your playlists for when it hurts to be human?

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15 comments on “Onward

  1. Look around and see the beauty that surrounds us. The view from work on the day after it rains and the Southern California smog, the grass turning green in the spring,

    But most importantly, laugh.

    I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating:

    Laugh at something at least once a day. Laugh at the goofy things the dog does; watch a movie that makes you smile. Find one thing every day. Soon it will be two things, then three and so on. While it doesn’t seem like much and you may not feel like it, do it. You’ll find that your spirits lift with each smile and recovery gets a head start.

  2. I tend to put myself in a box when life is stressful from without. I look about inside my box and see people carrying on around me with their own basically decent lives, and I see peaceful, often beautiful surroundings. I realize that the world is full of such boxes, that the horrifying abnormalities are the exception rather than the rule, that the world is not degenerating into chaos and horror quite as much as the news media and our collective reaction to great tragedies would have us believe. The horror and stress are still there, and sometimes, of course, they become personal, but there is a great deal else too. We HAVE to keep telling ourselves this. And yes, laughter is essential. I tried to give visitors to my Facebook page a laugh yesterday (Sat.) rather than refer to what had happened.

    • The media… a topic I do not trust myself to blog about civilly, at least not the media we have in this country at present.

      I’m an anchorite, too, and not just in times of stress. I retreat to the tiny world I can order at will, and recharge there. Have to.

  3. My dog, Bandit, died the day after Thanksgiving. He had a very aggressive gastrointestinal lymphoma, and I made the decision to euthanize him when it became apparent that the time was right. Yesterday (12/15) would have been his 11th birthday.

    My mother came to be with me for the euthanasia and stayed for almost 2 weeks. I’m grateful, because this past week — my first week alone in the house — was difficult.

    I am, above all, an introvert in the purest sense of the word. I recharge at home. I’m a nester, and I love to live in a pretty place. Domestic aesthetics are important to me. I am also, however, a naturally slovenly person. I LOVE it when my house is tidy, but untidiness is my natural state. So when I suffer an emotional hardship, I neglect my house. The dirty dishes and dirty clothes and trash piles up. I have long realized that one can measure the state of my emotional wellbeing by the state of my house.

    So…for me, one of the most important and effective things I can do to continue moving forward is to clean up my space…clean out a closet…steam-clean the carpets…deep-clean the bathroom.

    • Oh, you have been peeking. Didn’t you see my lovely FB picture of the thirty foot dumpster I just rented? I am serious. Sooner or later, our environment has an impact on our mental health.

      I know when somebody did me dirty at work, and I was endlessly upset about it, cleaning out my entire office helped me move past it. Not sure what all this dumpstering is about… maybe making room for new books?

  4. I’m with Christina and Mary. Humor, humor, humor. It’s not always present in my work, but it hovers around me all day long, protecting me from the reality of human cruelty. Some people have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Well, I do too. But I have a clown that sits on top of my head, throwing peanut shells to the right and to the left, making a jovial mess of things. When there are no peanut shells is when I know I’m in trouble.

  5. I cook! It’s immediately gratifying and it makes me happy to feed myself, my family, and whoever is in easy reach. This past weekend, my kitchen saw cookies, fajitas, and lasagne. It soothes.

  6. Through the years it has changed. I am an introvert and I usually retreat inside myself like others have posted. After having children I realized that was something I couldn’t do as often and as deeply as I would have liked to have done. When my Twins were diagnosed with Autism I became a “cleaner” so to speak. It was my way to have a little control in my life and if the dishes weren’t done at night (a job my husband does) I would stay up late and do them and make a lot of noise as well to make sure my displeasure was known. In the 8 years since then I have gone through a lot of different coping skills, from getting lost in cyberspace, crocheting until I thought my fingers would be permanently bent to escaping into a great book. The cleaning to control things had to be banished after the fourth child was born because, let’s face it, nothing stays clean in my house longer than an hour with four boys running around. Reading has been my biggest thing this last year and a half. It helps me escape from my many health issues as well as the stress of caring for my 3 autistic sons and one high maintenance “typical” son. A little antidepressant doesn’t hurt things either.

    • Sarah, I recall my dad coming home from work every night around 5:30 and fixing himself a double martini. His martinis would have fueled lunar probes, and he typically had two every night–Mom often indulged as well. They had seven kids in the space of fifteen years, starting with twin boys. No particular special needs among us, but I defy anybody to begrudge those parents their cocktail hour.

      • There are days I wish I did drink. It’s not a moral reason that I don’t, just the fact that I do not like the taste of alcohol of any kind. I’ve had a few things I could tolerate enough to finish but had no desire to have it again, which completely goes against my German/Irish/Scottish heritage.
        By the way, I think it’s a completely wonderful thing to start a family with a set of twin boys.

  7. I can relate to what Nifty said, being a reclusive introvert myself. I haven’t wanted to do any of my normal stress relieving activities – cleaning, reading, listening to books or music, even writing – feel like withdrawing into a hole of comfort. Drinking a lot of tea and spending a bit of time with friends who matter.