Imagine for a moment that your mother is standing behind you, just slightly to one side, so that if you turned to look over your right shoulder, you would easily see her face.
And now imagine that her mother–your grandmother–is standing behind her. And behind your grandmother is your great-grandmother and so on for as many generations as you have imagination to contain them.
Take a moment to get a strong sense of their presence and influence in your life. Chances are they have gifted you with some amazing talents and inclinations and personality traits.
And chances are they’ve left you with other legacies that are equally amazing, but not necessarily pleasant.
Now imagine yourself turning to face them. As you look into the faces of these women, what do you see?
I’ll bet they are looking at you with a lot of love, but what else is reflected in their eyes?
Grace and peace and contentment?
Or resentment, anxiety and anger?
Do their faces radiate joy? or defeat?
Do they looked filled up? or depleted?
There’s a pretty good chance that, along with all the good stuff they passed on to you, there was a hefty dose of martyrdom, self-sacrifice and overgiving that went with it as well.
That legacy is very subtle, often running well below our level of awareness.
When I set up house with my husband, I was teaching school and he was farming. I would come home after a full day of work and several hours of prep (yeah, I was driven then, too) and prepare the evening meal. On weekends, I would clean our mobile home from end to end. I planned to plant a big garden (isn’t that what farm wives did?) but I could never actually get my act together to do that. As time went on, I got more and more tired and resentful but it never occurred to me to question the set-up. I was blindly running my mother’s script. This was what a good wife did – never mind that this good wife, unlike my mother, was working full time out of the home.
Stephen, of course, didn’t question things. This arrangement worked perfectly for him. He finally admitted (many years later, after we had left the farm and we had become more aware of the patterns in our life together) that after the morning chores he would go into town for coffee, come home for lunch, putter around in the yard for a couple of hours, go in for a nap, and about the time that I would be coming home with my arms full of groceries, he’d head back out to work.
Well, awareness is the first step.
In Chapter One of The Art of Extreme Self-Care, Cheryl Richardson invites us to ‘End the Legacy of Deprivation.’
She says, Becoming aware of how and why you feel deprived can be a key to recognizing what needs to shift emotionally and physically to achieve Extreme Self-Care.
She asks, In what ways are you starving yourself of what you need to live a rich and fulfilling life?
And she suggests, spend the next 30 days becoming skilled at seeing the ways, big and small, that you deprive yourself of what you need. Rather than feel like a victim to something outside of yourself, when you realize that you alone are responsible for overgiving, you can actually empower yourself to do something about it. After all, no one else says yes, overbooks your schedule, or makes the needs of others a priority but you. The gift in owning this reality is that you own the power to change it, too.
Not long ago, Stephen managed to piss me off mightily by saying, “Maxine, you are the one in charge of your days. No one is forcing you to fill them to the brim. You are the one in control.”
Of course, that wasn’t true. The list of things to do was neverending. I was running the household, keeping the house clean, the meals cooked, the family activities and appointments and school events juggled, publishing and launching and marketing a book, and trying to fit it some writing time. He didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.
And, of course, he was right. Twenty-one years of marriage has made him very wise. I was the only person in charge of my daily schedule. Or my life, for that matter. I think it was not long after that conversation that I found this book.
So it is very timely to follow Cheryl’s advice in this inaugural month and take note of those times when we feel overwhelmed, frustrated, burdened, or resentful and ask ourselves:
Where do I feel deprived?
What do I need more of right now?
What do I need less of?
What do I want right now?
What am I yearning for?
Who or what is causing me to feel resentful and why?
What am I starving for?
Be as specific as you can. If you find yourself saying, “I need more time for myself” make a note of what exactly you want to do with that time: read a book, go for a walk, tea with a friend, an uninterrupted bath? What do YOU need?
One last thing before we head off into Month One of Extreme Self-Care. If you can, get a hold of a copy of this book.
Borrow it from the library, if you’re not sure you want to spend the money. That’s what I did at first, although I have since bought my own copy. It’s definitely worth having on the shelf. Each month, I will only be summarizing what Cheryl has to say so you’re missing out on a whole lot of her wisdom if you just read my take on it.
So, Happy April my friends. Isn’t it fitting that we would begin this journey in the spring-time — fresh starts and new growth and all that? It’s time to put on our detective hats and start sleuthing.
Deprivation, be gone!