Friday, March 7, 2014

Self-loving vs. Self-soothing

This is my seventh week of exercising!  Not just the putting on my tennis shoes and going for a walk kind of exercise, where I can slow my pace whenever I'm distracted by the thoughts in my mind or the sights around me.  No, this is a dedicated exercise program that gets my heart rate up and my sweat glands working.  The kind of routine that requires a shower afterwards, and a cool down period so my breathing and my heart rate can come back to normal.

So what's the big deal?  There are lots of folks who exercise on a regular basis.  Problem is, I've never been one of them.  I've never liked exercise.  Even riding a bike when I was a kid wasn't fun to me. I did it because the rest of the kids in the neighborhood were doing it and I didn't want to be left behind when they took off to explore, but I couldn't wait to get back home and bury my nose in my favorite book.  (And probably eat a bowl of ice cream or a piece of pie while I did so.)

I've tried exercising like this before, I really have.   And each time I make it for about three weeks, and then I get sick. No kidding! Every time I've tried to change my eating habits and get into a regular exercise program, I've gotten sick.  Usually it's bronchitis that hits, and I have to get an antibiotic and I'm pretty much out of it for at least 3-4 days, and it takes a lot longer to be able to breathe normally.  And of course, by that time, I've gotten out of my routine and lost any and all interest in trying to exercise again.  Until the next time my clothes don't fit and I decide it's time to try again.   And no lie, I get sick again and it all goes down the tubes.

So what's different this time?  For one thing, I'm not looking at this as something I need to do just until I can lose weight.  I'm finally realizing that my body works better when it's exercised!  With a long history of arthritis in my family, and strong evidence that it didn't miss my DNA, I know that exercise helps lubricate my joints and makes it easier for me to move, once I get moving.  So if I want to continue to be able to keep up with my granddaughter (and I do!), then I need to do this for myself.

And I think that's the biggest difference: doing it for myself.  I'm not doing it to look better in my clothes, although I can already tell a difference in my jeans.  They don't feel like sausage casings anymore when I have them on!  I'm not doing it to have a better chance of attracting a mate.  I'm not doing it because someone else said I should. I'm doing it because I've finally come to realize that exercising is a way of loving my body, loving myself.  It's a self-loving activity, rather than a self-soothing behavior. 

What's the difference?  A self-soothing behavior is something that helps lower your stress/anxiety level, which is also what exercise does, but a self-soothing behavior often started as a spontaneous reaction (as opposed to a well thought out response) to a stressful situation when we don't have more positive behaviors available to us. For instance, a baby will cry when it's hungry, but if it doesn't get fed, might attempt to sooth itself by sucking its thumb.  It doesn't have the ability to get itself something to eat. So it does the best that it can to make itself feel better.

When things became uncomfortable for me in my home when I was growing up (Dad was an alcoholic.  Mom had a lot of emotional baggage and took her anger at dad's drinking out on me in a variety of forms of abuse.), I never thought to ride my bike or go out for a walk.  I'd never been encouraged to do anything physical, and sports programs for girls were just beginning to become popular in school curriculum programs, so I didn't have any experience of seeing how physical exertion could help with my stress.  What I did have were excellent role models for using food and alcohol as coping mechanisms (self-soothing behaviors), and when people overeat and drink copious amounts of alcohol, they're not prone to exercise while they're doing it!

Okay, I've known for a long time that exercise was good for me. But that never made me want to stick to it.  Something is different this time.  And I know that, because, believe it or not, three weeks after I started exercising, guess what happened.  I got sick!   This time it was a head cold, and I felt miserable, but I kept on  exercising! Every day.  Every single day. I just told myself I'd do it for as long as I could and when I couldn't do it anymore, I'd quit.  But I finished the routine each day.

And my mind set is different this time.  I'm not telling myself I have to do it every day, and do it perfectly.  If I miss a day, I don't beat myself up because I did.   And when I'm finished, instead of all the negative self-talk I used to have going on in my head about how much I hate doing this, and how tired I am and how much my body hurts, I thank my body for making it through and I congratulate myself for making the time and finishing the routine.  And I'm really proud of myself for doing it!  I also notice that when I'm done, the stiffness and pain in my body has diminished  considerably.  My mood seems brighter; I have more energy; and I find myself thinking about the next day's schedule and when I'll make time to exercise again!  

WHOA!!! Who is this person?  Where did she come from?  And why has it taken me so long to find her? 

Good questions, all of them.  I've been doing a lot of work on myself for a lot of years, trying to heal the wounds from the past.  Perhaps I've finally dug deeply enough through the layers to remember who I really am, and to recognize the difference between, and the importance of, loving myself into wholeness rather than soothing myself into complacence.  

Seven weeks isn't really a long time, but it's longer than I've ever managed before, and so to me, it's miraculous.  Something is definitely different.  I think I'm going to quit counting the weeks now and just relax into the routine.  I'm also going to find some other ways I can love myself better and see where they take me.   I'll let you know what I find.

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