The First Steps in a Journey of 1,000

I’m hoping to talk more about self-compassion soon, about what it looks and sounds like, and how one might actually practice it, if they were so inclined. I also hope to relay some of my experiences on this journey to self-compassion, in case they may be helpful to others who are curious about walking this path.

Thrice this weekend I had opportunities to practice self-compassion, and you know what? Not only were those moments not nearly as drawn out and wreaking of resentment, at the end of each I actually had some insightful realizations about thoroughly entrenched thought process.

First, when I was mentally adding up my grocery spending for the month, I started to realize it was going to be almost exactly the same as last month, even though I hoped to bring it down $100. Right as I started telling myself how dumb it was that I didn’t make any significant changes but still thought I was going to spend less (this is how I hide my self-criticism, by saying what I’m DOING is dumb, and not calling MYSELF dumb. Well played inner critic, well played), I stopped myself and changed tracks and said: This is really hard. Changing deeply ingrained habits is really hard. All people struggle with this, and it’s so easy to feel like I’m the only one who hasn’t been able to change the way I do something. But every struggles with this. And it’s really hard. And it sucks to feel like you are failing. But you are really trying, you just don’t know how to make this change.

It was that last sentence that struck me: I DON’T KNOW HOW TO SPEND LESS BUYING GROCERIES. I mean, sure I know what other people do to spend less, but I haven’t really sat down and thought about which of those strategies might work for me and my family with our specific strengths and weakness and our unique restrictions. I honestly had never considered that before, the fact that I didn’t have any plan to actually change the way I buy food. I just kept telling myself, This month I’m going to spend less on groceries, and then I just didn’t buy one or two things randomly and hoped to see a significant difference in spending. Of course what I’m spending hasn’t changed! I haven’t changed the way I buy groceries! It was a real a-ha moment for me.

Later I got into it with my husband, but I stopped myself, and instead of berating myself for losing it with him again, I hugged myself and recognized how hard being married is, and how hard it is with kids, and how I’m really trying but it’s fucking hard and everyone does shit in their marriages they regret and it’s okay that I made a mistake. And I cried, but I calmed down faster than I would have and I didn’t feel any resentment toward my husband. I thought about the things I normally do after a blow up, all the reasons I feel resentful and upset (like how I think of ways to make his life easier and offer them, but he never does that for me, he just comes home and sits on the couch while I race between bedrooms at bedtime until I can finally collapse on the bed at 9pm), and I thought: If I didn’t ask for what I needed he’d never offer it to me. I have to duck out of work early to make time to exercise and provide my own self-care because he never gives me the time. And then I thought: I’m lucky to be able to carve out those moments, to leave work early and run before I pick up the kids, and then shower while they are watching TV and dinner is cooking. And then I realized: it must be hard for him to carve out that time for himself, his work hours go later and he doesn’t have as much flexibility. And those hours on the couch are really all he has.

I can’t tell you what an incredible moment that was. It has been SO LONG since I saw his situation in a sympathetic light. Whether or not he feels like he can’t carve out time for himself or not, for me to have that thought was momentous. TRULY.

The third instance came shortly after when I was outside with my son in the backyard, which is completely overgrown with weeds. I was lamenting how everything I planted two years ago died after a few months (I couldn’t water them because of the drought, but they probably would have died anyway), and now the clover is back and the wild grass and both have taken over and I am a failure for letting it get that way and I will never be able to rip it all out. And then I looked out at it and my daughter was standing in the middle, blowing on a dandelion. I was about to call out to her not to blow on it because then a million more would be growing in the yard, but I stopped myself and said, Girl, you better not tell your daughter not to wish on that dandelion. They are going to grown regardless and shame of you for even thinking of telling her to stop. I was thinking that as I looked up and saw her, standing there, blowing with all her might as she made her wish. Suddenly I recognized how beautiful our yard is, with the green and the yellow flowers and the white blossoms, like a long forgotten garden, a secret treasure lost to anyone but us. Why would I want to pull up the clover and the grass? So we can sit in a landscape of brown dirt? Where is the beauty in that?

I sat there thinking that I’ve been annoyed at the overgrowth of clover for months, thinking only of how I didn’t plant it or want it there, ignoring the fact that nothing I did plant could grow anymore anyway, and that the clover and grass made it beautiful.

These were three really big moments for me, and I attribute them all to treating myself with compassion when I was feeling upset. I think when I’m kind to myself I’m better able to see what is actually happening, because I’m not busy judging or labeling any part of my experience.

Late Saturday night my husband told me that he wants us to see a marriage counselor. I fee like I should be happy, because it means he’s willing to work to improve our relationship. Instead I feel deeply sad, knowing that he’s as unhappy as I am.

I’ve spent a lot of today attempting to treat myself kindly, to let myself feel my sadness even when I don’t really understand why I’m feeling it. Surprisingly, when I’m nicer to myself, I find the space to be kinder to my husband as well, and that has made today a lot more pleasant than it would have been. I’m not 100% sure where this journey to self-compassion is taking me, but walking this path intrigues me.forgotten garden

17 Comments

  1. LOVE the picture of your backyard. Because I see green and trees in bloom and spots of yellow and a flat yard.
    SO impressed you are being able to say where and how self-compassion is helping you see from a different rock in the river……this is what living and learning is all about. Congratulations and also good wishes on talking with a professional about your marriage, I hope you find a really super one who can hear both of you, help you both hear the other person, and help you both find ways to change and improve your time and lives. Big tough job but can make such a difference.

    1. I hope we find a good one too. I’m not really sure how to go about looking, but I’m going to start looking into it. I think it could be REALLY helpful for us; I hope it’s an ultimately positive experience, even though I know it’s going to be hard.

  2. These are incredible realizations! I love how being kind to yourself actually helped you not just to see things differently, but to accomplish things differently. Particularly about your husband. Sometimes people tell me I need to stand up to my husband more and not let him get away with things. But I am not a pushover, I don’t think. Instead, I feel like I am being kind to my husband. He is kind to me, too, just in different ways. It really is a cycle: don’t feel bad about “not standing up for myself” leading to more sympathy for him leading to feeling calmer/less stressed leading to us getting along better…

    Also, with regard to groceries, that is a very interesting realization. I have not commented much on your groceries because I really don’t understand how you are spending so much on groceries. I don’ tknow what you are buying, hence I can’t really comment (less organic is an obvious solution, but I buy a decent amount of organic stuff too, and I also know you’re shopping at TJ’s, where organic is fairly cheap). I guess I don’t know how to spend differently than I am spending, either. I just do what I do, and you do what you do. I’m not sure how to help you come up with a plan, and I don’t want to give stupid advice. But it is fascinating to realize that that’s the problem – just not knowing.

    P.S. I am happy to give suggestions if you want, but I don’t want to sound sanctimonious, and I don’t want to tell you things you already know, or give you suggestions that just won’t work. So let me know.

    1. I’m annoyed that people tell you you should stand up to your husband more. People need to mind their own business (unless you asked for their advice, which I doubt). I do think that being kind is more helpful than being critical… I’ll be curious to see where the stuff in our marriage goes as I keep working with self-compassion. We have a long way to go before we’re both happy.

      As for groceries, I’d love to hear more about how you shop. I’m pretty sure they ours is so expensive because we get too much processed food, because neither of us wants (or feels like we have the time) to cook. That is where we need to make changes, and honestly I’m not sure if right now we can make those changes, I just don’t know if we have the bandwidth for it at the moment. But I’m going to look into it and see what we can do, because we do spend A LOT on groceries and we should be able to bring that down.

      1. I spend as much as you do on groceries with one less person in the house! And I was beating myself up this weekend for not reducing our spending this month either. Gah.

      2. I like cooking now but it took me years to get to the point where cooking wasn’t stressful. Since I feel more confident cooking, I find that I don’t feel too exhausted to cook as much as I used to. But it was a long process — I forced myself to do it for years. I finally feel they I’m at the point where I have a decent number of recipes in my rotation for which I always have the ingredients and that I can pull off with little stress.

  3. These are all pretty big! (especially the husband one!) I’m glad you were able to implement self-kindness to a positive effect so quickly! The yard looks beautiful in the picture, really. Kids need nature, in all its mess and chaos, not cultivated gardens & landscapes. I have similar realizations re: spending. Its really hard just to “cut back” without a specific plan and rules in mind, and doing real experiments with hard numbers to see if its working. It also involves buy-in from your family and is really hard to do when there are dietary restrictions of any kind (our grocery bill went way up this year with me doing lower carb. meat & eggs & nuts & cheese is way more expensive than pasta, rice, potatoes, bread. obvious in retrospect, but I didn’t plan for it, and it shocked me the first month)

    1. I’ve been surprised by how quickly I’ve noticed the positive effects of this. We’ll see if I can keep it up during the week when I’m more tired and generally run down from the insanity of mornings/work/pick-up/dinner/bedtime. Being kind to myself definitely takes more time than just pushing my feelings down with criticism, so it will be harder to manage it meaningful during the work week. We shall see.

  4. Been meaning to comment after your post on Friday. Will start with today, though.

    I think it’s amazing how mindful you are being about self-care. It’s insanely hard to do (I really suck at it), so I truly commend you.

    The part about reflections on your husband was also very interesting. Particularly in light of the eating out for lunch/spending money everyday on lunch comparison. Grey and I struggled a LOT with this, for all the reasons you stated. It drove me crazy that I was penny-pinching while he was seemingly blowing money on fancy lunches. And it became clear it was something we just weren’t able to see eye-to-eye on at the time. The exercise you did, of stepping back and analyzing the situation from his point of view is genius for addressing this. To see where he’s coming from helps better understand the architecture of the problem and how to address it from their point of view. Because I found that the change that did come was due to him coming to the conclusion that patterns needed to be modified on his own. Just as I have to do with my students when addressing misconceptions.

    Finally, I actually think it’s a great sign that he is pushing for marriage counseling. It’s not that you are somehow broken, but that you are both landing on the same level for being open to help. That’s actually a very good thing. Combined with the self-care you’re practicing, I really am hopeful for you guys that so much good will come from this. I know it did with us when we were working with David (who I owe so much to).

  5. I think your realizations here have been quite profound and I hope they continue to bring you comfort and give yourself some grace. I’m sorry/glad that marriage counseling is in your future. I hope it is constructive for both of you.

  6. Firstly, yay! Glad even these first steps worked so well for you!

    Secondly, have you and your spouse done a month’s budget post-mortem to see where you spent all the money? It was startling for us when we did it last time and changed our spending a good bit.

    Third, could you cook something and eat it all week rather than rushing to cook every night? We get out the crock pot on Sundays and make dinner for 3 week nights that goes in the fridge for easy reheating on a busy night. If we are enthusiastic we sometimes get the second crock pot out and make another 2-4 dinners (this is our rice cooker). This helps our grocery and time budgets immensely (when we do it, which isn’t always).

  7. My smile got broader and broader as I made my way through this post. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that you’re being kinder to yourself. Pleased, and just a little bit smug!

    Oh, and the image of your daughter standing in the garden blowing on a dandelion? Precious!

    1. You should be smug! Thank you so much for setting me out on this path. I can’t thank you enough.

  8. I am DIGGING the direction you’re going! I can’t wait to see how far you take it and what realizations it might bring for us all!

  9. This sounds like an amazing day, that you were able to change your thinking in the moment. I can also see how hearing your husband say he wants to see a counselor was not relieving news. Hugs.

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