Words by: Natalie Dormady, contributing writer. Follow more of her journey on her Instagram, @littlearthlings.
I recently went on a family vacation to Tennessee.
I live near Toronto.
We decided to drive.
Essentially, I had a lot of time in the car to think about what being gentle with myself means, and how throughout my recovery journey, I have learned, and am still learning how to.
So, being gentle with ourselves. What does that mean? What does that look like?
I know for myself when I first began recovery, I really didn’t know what it meant or what it looked like. I didn’t understand that I couldn’t be gentle and kind with myself when I was engaging in disordered behaviours. Being gentle with ourselves at the beginning of recovery is almost foreign because treating ourselves with kindness and gentleness is something the disorder doesn’t allow. When we begin recovery we are relearning, and unlearning thoughts and behaviours that have been a part of our daily routines for quite some time. We are discovering new interests and hobbies. We are starting a new relationship with ourselves. And in order to become our own friend, we have to show ourselves compassion and gentleness, time and patience.
At the beginning of my recovery journey, while I was still in an outpatient program, my dietician and I came up with something called ‘cozy tea time.’ Cozy tea time meant that at the end of the day, I would take some time, which would be anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, to do something that brings me joy accompanied by a cup of tea. Sometimes this included reading, drawing, doing puzzles and word searches, listening to music or washing my face, but the point of cozy tea time was to do an activity that I enjoyed, in a mindful and judgment freeway. If I found myself talking down, judging or my inner critic becoming loud, I would take a break and sip my tea. This was a really nice way to be gentle with myself, and to discover some new things that I enjoyed doing. It took me a few tries to find activities that I did enjoy doing. Some nights are different than others, and it’s okay to not like something you once enjoyed. It’s okay to try and try again.
Another part of being gentle and kind to ourselves comes from our internal dialogue. The way we speak to ourselves matters, and it has taken me a while to truly understand how important it is to speak kindly with and towards myself. Sometimes I have a very strong inner critic voice in my head, that creates self-doubt and conflict, but I’ve been working on how to recognize those thoughts and counter them with some positive self-talk. I think it’s important to remember that we are trying our best, and our best can look different from day to day. That is okay. Our best is enough. Something I’ve been doing is writing down positive affirmations on sticky notes, and leaving them around my room. Sometimes I hide them, and find them days later, which is a nice little surprise. By having positive affirmations and little quotes around my room, it has helped me remind myself to be patient, and gentle. Sometimes I come across them at a time when the inner critic is quite loud. Sometimes they’re just a nice way to start my day off.
“Be easy. Take your time. You are coming home to yourself.”
So, to answer the questions at the start, ‘what does being gentle with ourselves mean and what does that look like?’ Well, my answer may be different from your answer, and that is okay. Being gentle with ourselves is so important in so many aspects, and how we are gentle with ourselves should be done in ways in which we enjoy and not feel pressured into doing. I’m still learning a lot about how to show myself compassion, and sometimes I need to remind myself to be patient, as a lot of this is still new to me. That is okay. Being gentle towards ourselves is healing a part of us that has been hurt in the past, and healing takes time. Learning takes time. We deserve to be gentle with ourselves. We deserve to heal.
My thoughts on the drive to Tennessee were something like this. Jotted down on a napkin and tucked away in my trusty backpack.
The car ride was 16 hours.
Lots and lots of patience.