Back on the Wellness Wagon: Reclaiming My Sanity After a Bout of Stress-Induced Debauchery
It’s been a hell of a summer. A lot of joy and a lot of suffering. Very balanced in its own way, now that I think about it…
One of the highs? Sitting on a terrace in Monte Carlo, dressed in a slinky black cocktail dress and sipping an overpriced drink while trying to look-but-not-look at the wealthy, impossibly beautiful people milling about.
One of the lows? Sitting next to my best friend at one of the top cancer hospitals in the world, trying to look-but-not-look at the poison dripping out of the IV bag, down the clear tubing and into a recently implanted port located just below her collarbone.
With steep peaks and deep troughs, it’s been a summer of extremes. But it wasn’t until a flight to Paris that I slipped right off the wellness wagon. It all started with a piece of cheese.
A piece of cheese and my whole Vegan world came tumbling down. Two weeks in France destroyed the rest of my defenses.
Screw my liver, let’s day drink. Screw my lungs, I’m going to start vaping again. Screw exercise, let’s relax.
In June, I was stone-cold sober with healthy, pink lungs and a deep sense of purpose. By August, I was a hot mess: stressed out, sleeping poorly and utterly demotivated.
But now the kids are back in school and the husband is back at work. And I’m getting tired of my own excuses.
So what’s the secret to a fail-proof wellness reboot? Aiming for balance.
Let’s start by saying that I am really — really — hard on myself. I set standards that may or may not be realistic and — when I fail or when things don’t go according to plan — I tend to internalize the failure as if it’s a reflection of my character.
And nowhere is it easier to fail — and fail fast — that my physical self.
Food, alcohol, exercise, sleep, money, clutter — all of these are part of the world as I physically experience it. It’s the world of “things”: things I do or don’t have, things I do or don’t do.
An old-fashioned planner is the cornerstone of achieving balance in my physical self. By blocking out time in advance for exercise, meal prep, meditation, cleaning and working, I set myself up for success. I have to respect that getting back in the groove may take some time, so being kind to myself when I’m not perfectly hitting all my targets is key.
Behavioral patterns are born from mental constructs, so it’s very important to watch out when “I am…” thoughts are negative and disabling.
All summer, thoughts like “I’m tired” and “I’m bummed” created very real changes in my life.
I became more tired and I got more bummed out. My meditation practice suffered and with it, my ability to control thought patterns dissipated.
All I wanted to do was lay in bed and binge Netflix.
Habits, practices, and patterns became increasingly self-destructive and I began to doubt everything: my value, my purpose, my path.
The only way to fix something is to first know that something is, indeed, wrong.
Journaling is one of my favorite tools for this. My journal entries have a handful sections and usually takes less than five minutes a day. I write some general notes about how I slept last night, my energy level, and any habits, practices or patterns that I notice throughout the day.
It’s amazing how different my early morning attitude is when I do something as minor as petting the animals for a few minutes when we all wake up.
It’s interesting that I lose focus and start wandering the house every day in the early afternoon, my mind full of self-doubt.
But never noticed these things before I started journaling.
Journaling is the window through which I see how my mind works because it forces me to pay attention to my thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.
Relationships with other people can be tough. This summer, I’ve had to really work at some relationships in my life. Some others, I have had to let go of.
My relationship with myself, however, is always the biggest challenge.
I find it easier to be kind, generous and forgiving of others but don’t usually approach myself with such magnanimity.
“What am I doing?” or “What am I thinking?” are easier questions for me to answer than those around my emotional aspect of self. Answering “How am I feeling?” requires more insight, curiosity, and diligence.
Thankfully, I’ve got a lot of tools in my wellness toolkit to help me be successful when operating outside of my comfort zone. Techniques like emotional processing and release, grief recovery and instituting healthy boundaries help move me towards wholeness in the emotional system.
Over the summer, I ran from my negative emotions. Drinking and sleeping were a way to escape, but the next day the negative emotions were back again.
Processing a negative emotion such as anxiety requires that we sit with it, rather than escape from it. So now when that anxiety swirls in my belly, my job is to recognize it as a signal to pay attention to.
Processing emotions is different than wallowing. Wallowing magnifies, but effective processing is like peeling layers off an onion until nothing is left.
Our beliefs, values, and models of the world are the foundation from which stem all aspects of our self. Over the summer, my spiritual self was out of balance as well.
I didn’t always feel connected to my higher self, God, higher consciousness, energy or whatever people want to call it.
Diseases of the soul are more dangerous and more numerous than those of the body — Cicero
Spiritual wellness is not the same thing as religion. Religion is an example of a technique people use to move towards balance in the spiritual system…but after spending most of my twenties deeply entrenched in organized religion, I now choose other techniques.
This disconnection and imbalance in my spiritual system occurred because I stopped regularly doing what works for me. I meditated sporadically, prayed occasionally, isolated myself and stopped finding the beauty that surrounds me every day.
For me, getting back on the wellness wagon starts with this stuff. Meditating and praying every day. Building community. Finding beauty in the world around me.
These tools help me move towards balance in my spiritual self. Then and only then will I have a chance at finding wholeness and wellness in all other areas.
The Mind-Body-Emotion-Spirit Connection
All four of these systems make up each of us. They are all interconnected and affect one another.
Like most people, I tend to focus on improving the physical stuff: food, exercise, detoxification and such. But those efforts will fail if that’s all I focus on.
Deep and lasting change depends on a lot more than how well I stick to what’s on my to-do list. That’s why my wellness plan covers all four aspects of self: mind, body, emotions, and spirit. Taking one small step at a time, each one purposeful and balanced with a measure of loving-kindness.
Will I slide off into another bout of debauchery one day? Probably. Life is tough and I’m human.
But I’m gonna get up again, learning from my failings and weakness…and getting better all the time.