Last Wednesday night, I sat at a table of powerful women. Really, the #rubywoopilgrimage was made up of powerhouses, every single one of whom happened to rock two X chromosomes. We devoured baskets of tortilla chips, chunky guacamole and rich salsa; we raised salt-rimmed margarita glasses to one another.
To this week. To each other. To continuing the pilgrimage, each in her own way.
We were coming to the end of our time together – a time you’ll continue to read about in the coming weeks, months and years – but to be honest, I was exhausted. The pilgrimage had been so rich, so deep, so meaningful in a thousand different ways, but I hadn’t had a chance to process all I had taken in. I needed time to think through my role – past, present and future – when it came to women’s rights, voting rights, immigration reform, the prison to pipeline system, racial injustice, and everything else our hearts and minds filtered in that last week.
I needed stillness. I needed quiet. I needed space to let it all seep in.
As we sat there, gorging our bodies in food and drink, I could feel resentment settling in. Three of the women beside me would leave early the next morning; instead of attending meetings on the Hill to advocate and lobby, they would return to their homes, to their families, to their lives, to next events on their calendars.
But I would return at 2 o’clock in the morning after the meetings. I would attempt five hours of sleep. I would kiss my husband hello and goodbye, spend the morning with my babies, and then leave at 2 o’clock in the afternoon to speak at a retreat for the next day and a half.
This is what I signed up for, I reasoned. I’m the one who said yes, I kept telling myself.
So, I’m the one who needs to push through this week of exhaustion – because if I can just do that, then I’ll be okay. Then I can rest. Then I can hunker down for Thanksgiving, for the holiday season, and for the rest of 2017, and, and, and…
That’s when I began to realize I needed to advocate for myself, just as much as I need to advocate for others.
“Did you ask forgiveness or permission?” I asked the three, regarding booking early flights home. Had they asked to miss the meetings on the Hill? Had they been given special permission? Or had they simply looked at their calendar – or even more so, listened to their own unique needs – and advocated for themselves?
It was the latter, of course. And apparently, it’s a conversation I’m still entering into, as a late thirty-something woman.
I don’t suppose I’m alone in learning to advocate for myself. Certain spaces exist in which I am unapologetic in fighting for the needs of those around me: I send emails. I pick up the phone. I engage in tough conversations. I try, with all my might, to use my words for good.
But sometimes it comes at my own expense. Perhaps like you, I’ve gotten it in my head that self-care is made up of soap operas, bon bons and indulgent soaks in bathtubs. But that’s not the true definition of self-care, not in the least. Self care is “…making the choice to not build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.” Self-care is making choices that are healthy for you in the present and in the long-term. Self-care is listening to the needs of body, soul and mind, and sticking up for yourself – whether that be in the form of a day at the spa or an early flight home from an event.
For me, their self-care became the empowerment for my self-care – for seeing a real, fleshy example is oftentimes exactly what we humans need.
We need to see each other don the heroic garb of self-preservation in order that might learn to do the same.
Oh, you’re flying home early because you need to kiss your babies? Me, too.
Oh, you’re flying home early because you’re speaking at a conference, and need time to gather your thoughts and do a load of laundry before you head out again? Me, too.
Oh, you’re flying home early because you need to, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation? Yeah. Me, too.
Self-care that night – and perhaps all the nights ahead – meant walking into the other room and rebooking my flight home. Sure, I missed the meetings on the Hill and the official end of the pilgrimage, but I gained a whole lot more.
I gained me.
I gained listening to and advocating for my needs. I gained realistically looking at what I physically, emotionally and spiritually can and cannot do, and unapologetically doing what I needed to do in that moment – all of which is good and holy work.
And that, perhaps, was more powerful that anything else.
Might you do the same.
So, what is it for you? What is self-care and what is it not? How have you learned to care for yourself, and how might you enter into caring for yourself in this coming holiday season?0