I have behavioral problems. Not with my kids — with myself. I just cannot seem to get my act together.
Since becoming a mother a decade ago (First of all: WHAT? Second of all, I’m old), policing my own behavior has been a huge challenge. All of my energy goes to being a consistent parent, which is great, right? Of course it is! Parenting experts always stress the importance of consistency because kids thrive under steadiness and uniformity; it brings a sense of stable predictability to an often unpredictable world, blah, blah, blah.
Even adults prefer consistency, which is why my husband predictably has to use the bathroom at the exact same time every morning, just when everyone is trying to cram into the bathroom to brush their teeth for school. In response, I predictably roll my eyes and let out huffy sighs to let him know how irritating his predictable bathroom schedule is.
When it comes to dealing with the people I live with, I’m relatively constant, but when it comes to me, a human being with vices and a love for simple carbohydrates, it can only be described as dysfunctional mayhem hidden beneath a highly-functional exterior. The only things I’ve managed to do consistently as an adult involved eating something I shouldn’t be eating when I’ve already gained a few pounds, or spending money that I don’t actually have at the worst possible time — like when bills are due and our account is already in the red. Sure, I’ve got a few redeeming qualities, but as a general rule, I have a long and well-documented history of a self-sabotaging inability to stick with anything that could be classified as healthy.
I’ve experimented with every type of diet and exercise available. I’ve owned a ThighMaster, a NordicTrack, rollerblades, a mountain bike with matching helmet, and dumbbells. I have belonged to a multitude of gyms, danced or huffed along with many different workout routines on a multitude of medias, visited yoga studios, cleansing centers, psychics, and therapists. I’ve had a witch doctor in Alabama inspect my fingernails. I’ve spit into a glass of cold water first thing in the morning. I have tried pills, shakes, “dry brushing,” saunas, and massages.
I’ve been a runner and I hated it. I’ve been a swimmer and I almost drowned. I’ve kickboxed, weight trained, raquetballed, and rock climbed. At 38 years old, I’ve tried everything short of plastic surgery to radically change my body, and guess what? I’m still the way that I am. My body likes to be how my body is, and I’m inching closer to accepting that, except for one tiny detail that I’ve failed to mention.
I don’t have it.
Amid all the things I’ve done (keto, Whole 30, vegan, diet pills) to make myself look and feel better, I’ve struck gold with a few. Yoga, for example, makes me feel amazing. My body operates on a much higher level when I eliminate sugar. I absolutely love diet pills, but that’s apparently a really unhealthy thing to get hooked on. So is, unfortunately for me, vodka.
After hitting bottom nearly 2 years ago, I got sober and ate many pans of cookies and gained a bunch of weight and then I lost some weight and gained it back again. Why is it so hard for me to just be healthy? The thing I’ve missed this entire time is consistency, which is something I didn’t realize until my last therapy visit.
“Why is it so hard for me to take care of myself? It’s EXHAUSTING.”
“Because you’ve never done it consistently,” replied my therapist. “You do great for awhile, start feeling good, and then BOOM.” She slapped the arm of her armchair with an open palm, to demonstrate, I assume, my face slamming against pavement. “Up and down, up and down. That’s how you’ve been living your life for a really long time.”
My eyes widened as I absorbed what I was hearing. It’s true, for certain — I’m a yo-yo dieter, and up-and-down caretaker of myself, and I’m never consistent. In sum, I do whatever I feel like doing, and expect things to magically change.
There’s a lot that I am consistent with, though, like my self-loathing. I’m consistently anxious and unhappy with my physical appearance, which leads me full circle back to my original point. If I’m unhappy with myself, and I have the tools to make an improvement, then WHAT IS STOPPING ME?
We tend to pin the blame on our families or our workload, and while those are certainly valid scapegoats for the most part — aren’t almost all American mothers overworked? — it’s mostly just us women avoiding taking care of ourselves the way that we take care of our families. I don’t know why we do it. I have no idea why most moms, myself included, have no problem spending money on a child’s ballet lessons even if said child does not even enjoy said lessons, and yet we can’t seem to bring ourselves to pay for a massage or a gym membership. Or, if we do, we feel guilty.
I’ll leave my kids in the care of someone else so I can run errands, but I won’t leave them to go for a run.
I’ll take my son to the dermatologist to have a wart taken off of his thigh, but I don’t make myself an appointment for a weird mole on my face.
I put breakfast on the table in the morning and make sure my family is fed, but I’ll fail to feed myself. Later on, I’ll hangrily shove processed garbage into my mouth and wonder why I keep doing this to myself.
I don’t make time for self-care, because self-care has never been a priority. I have it backwards. Instead of caring for myself first, I care for everyone else and then run out of steam. There is nothing left. I gave it all away. Then, I act like a raging lunatic and blame it on hormones and then I look in the mirror and wonder where the real me went.
There’s a lot of damage for us to repair, I think, and it has nothing to do with cellulite or wrinkles or body fat percentage. The fixing needs to start inside us, and slowly radiate out. We have to amend the belief that we come last. We have to unapologetically reclaim ourselves. No one is going to tell us it’s time to do it, and no one is going to give us permission. We need to give ourselves permission.
Now is the time to find consistency: within ourselves, for ourselves, because I’m the only me I’ll ever have, and the more I take care of her, the more I like her.