The Wonderful, Amazing, Gorgeous, Life-Altering Power of Words

In another life, in my pre-fuck-up life as a college student at a University of California campus, I studied linguistics.  I loved it.  I loved to play with sounds – there is nothing quite so entertaining as an entire class of fifty or more ling students quietly experimenting with trying to make phonemes not native to their language, all muttering some random sound or other under their breath to try to figure it out – with language, examining how we put words together from component parts, how we put sentences together from words and meanings – I particularly loved the idea of adjective order; why do we say “big yellow car” instead of “yellow big car”, when “yellow” and “big” are both just adjectives modifying car? – and studying how all these things have changed over time, different languages melding and separating and evolving like living things.  I believe that how we think about things shapes how we perceive things.

Given that, it’s perhaps a little surprising that it’s taken me this long to catch on to the awesome (in the literal sense of awe-inspiring) power of reframing one’s thoughts about an issue.  But in the past couple weeks, a couple really big ones whacked me over the head – that Universe, never shy with the mighty thwack of the clue-by-four, is she? – and I wanted to share them with you.

“Disgustingly Healthy”

I was doing a group coaching teleclass with Molly Mahar of Stratejoy this past month, and the first daily-practice challenge she set us was a daily self-care practice.  Ten minutes, of whatever self-care speaks to you*.  I figured it would be pretty easy to me, I’m quite used to indulging my whims on a nearly-daily basis, and that’s basically the same thing, right?

Haha, no.  Wrong.  Self-indulgence and self-care are not the same thing at all, and I kept tripping over this confusion every time I tried to perform my little acts of self-care.  Was it self-care, to drive to the Starbucks down the hill and get a coffee on a warm afternoon?  Was it self-care to go to the store and get the horrible-for-you processed boxed-pasta-dinner meals that are a guilty pleasure of mine, and make that for lunch?  Or was self-care supposed to mean having iced tea instead of a frappucino, having brown rice with teriyaki sauce instead of rehydrated butter-garlic sauce?  I realized I had a very basic problem at the core of the idea of self-care:  I had no idea what self-care meant to me.

So, as is my wont when I’m upset or needing to think, I went outside.  I went for a walk down to the overlook that gazes out over the water and the refineries, and sat on a bench, and thought about what “self-care” meant to me.

What I discovered was that I had tangled up the notion of self-care with self-indulgence, as a personal backlash against a culture in which there is this overwhelming, dictatorial notion of “health” – in this usage, “health” is code for “thinness/weight loss” – as a moral duty to which I was beholden.  I had spent years on one diet or another, and so my whole idea of “good” and “bad” foods had moralistic tags related to calorie count and fat grams, rather than how a given food made me feel or how much I enjoyed it.  So when I thought about “self-care”, I thought about it as an act of temporary self-forgiveness, allowing myself to have the foods that were “bad” without immediately starting in on the self-hate such indulgences were “supposed” to produce**.

The problem is, that those “bad” foods weren’t even always what I actually wanted.  And so having them was an act of rebellion against restrictive diets, and a momentary respite from constant self-policing of food intake, which was definitely an act of self-care.

But now?  Now I am attempting to integrate HAES principles into my life, and I’ve been proudly (and vehemently, and sometimes loudly) diet-free for a couple of years now.  I don’t attach negative judgments to “indulgence” foods like cookies or frappucinos or fast food, simply for being high-calorie OMG-YOU’LL-GET-FAT foods.  So does the idea of “self-care” as a temporary respite from self-policing still serve me?

FUCK NO.  Let me say that again: FUCK NO.

Well, then the question became: How do I define self-care now?  Is brown rice with teriyaki self-care, or simply “doing what I’m supposed to” by virtue of being a relatively healthy food?  And I realized I had a phrase I used any time I made choices of food and drink that were healthy for me, even if I also really enjoyed them (like I do with the brown rice example I keep using):  “Disgustingly healthy.”

I would say it as a joke – “*looks over a plate of brown rice and a side of carrot sticks with peanut butter for dipping, both favorite foods of mine* My, I’m just being disgustingly healthy for lunch today, aren’t I?” – but it reflected a deep-seated bias against healthy foods, borne of my rebellion against diet culture.  I decided, as soon as I realized what I was doing, to drop that phrase from my vocabulary.  Now, I may refer to my food choices as healthy or not, but not even in jest will I attach a judgmental term like “disgustingly” to it.  “Healthy” is value-neutral.  I will not self-deprecate for choosing less-healthy foods, nor will I praise myself for choosing healthier foods.

And you know what?  It hasn’t changed my regular diet, but it certainly has changed my manner of self-care.  I listen to my body, now, and self-care is defined as simply giving my body what it really wants.  Sometimes that’s a frappucino, and sometimes that’s a smoothie, and sometimes it’s simply a walk in the sunshine.  And I care for myself by honoring my own needs and requests.  It’s that simple.

“I can’t afford this”

Money stresses me the fuck out.  It really does.  I’m unemployed, trying to make a transition to self-employed.  This means I don’t personally have money coming in very much.  I earn some money cleaning my mother’s apartment for her – as she says, she’s going to pay someone to do it, and whether that’s me or a cleaning services, is up to me.  So I bring in $65 every two weeks.  This has to provide gas money for wherever I want to go during the month, my subscription fees to a novel-writing course I’m working my way through ($25 a month), and whatever else I want to do that isn’t just “household expenses”, which my fiance covers.

I’m kind of a retail-therapy sort of person.  I particularly love to spend on books/ebooks, personal development/information products, musical instruments, and makeup.  I have a wishlist file, complete with titles, colors, URLs, prices.  It’s frighteningly long.  I add to it, rearrange it, and eliminate items from it as I go.  I like *stuff*, I really do.  But I can’t afford a lot of it.  And I always found it terribly disheartening to have to look at awesome stuff and be like “Oooh! But…I can’t afford that.”  It felt like scarcity.  Tense, worried, insecure, the *feelings* of poverty, even though my basic needs and many indulgences are well taken care of.

But what if, instead of saying “I can’t afford that” and reminding myself of what I don’t have, I say it like this:  “That money is already marked for something else.” 

Saying that acknowledges that I *have* the money – I usually do – but that I’ve made certain choices about what to do with it.  It lets me say, “Is this genuinely more important than having gas to make the occasional trip to the next town over to go to the mall?”  And if it is, I’ll figure out how to rework my driving to conserve a little more gas, and redirect that money toward whatever was important enough to override the desire to drive places.  It’s a feeling of choice, instead of a feeling of unavailability.  It reminds me that I have good reasons for the disposition of funds I’ve already chosen, and I feel empowered to make a decision instead of having to be constrained and forced onto a path.

Oy, how do my posts always get so long?!  I’ll wrap up then, and leave you with a question:  What linguistic habits are holding you back?  How can you rework them so that they serve you better?

*My conception of “self-care” largely involves food and drink.  I don’t have a lot of money; I can’t really afford to treat myself to experiences like going to the movies or something.  Even a trip to a state park or something costs money – the entrance fee, plus gas money to get there and back, and I just can’t afford that.  A $4 coffee drink or $5 burger is a lot more doable on my budget.  And I can’t take long, indulgent soaks either, cause my bathtub doesn’t have a drain plug.  So, yeah.  For me, self-care = food of some kind.

**Just hang around any group of women in a situation where there’s a cookie platter, and listen to the amount of “Oh, I’m so bad!” every time someone takes a cookie.  Immediate self-flagellation is a requirement for indulgences like a single cookie.

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~ by jadelynkaia on 05.20.2011.

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