May 11, 2011

Taking Care of Myself

Long gone are the days when my reaction to things going wrong is to self-destruct.

I so clearly remember coping with work stress - long hours, and a boss who was cheating on his wife with a coworker - by getting drunk every night, staying out late, waking up hung over and overtired, and going back to work and starting all over again.

I gained a lot of weight then.

When I got laid off in 2001, I was actually thrilled. Four months' of severance seemed like a fortune, and I was free to go out drinking every night of the week and not have to get up and go to work. I could be hung over all day at home.

I gained even more weight then.

When my next job went sour in 2008, I started drinking and eating a lot again. I probably gained about 20 lbs in less than a year. But the tide started to shift: when I felt really, really bad, and wanted to escape my life, I started to travel. I went to Death Valley. I went to Morocco. I went on every business trip and visit that presented itself to me, whether it was to Southern California, Philadelphia, Boston, Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago,  DC, and especially Turks & Caicos.

After I quit that job, I spent a year drowning my sorrows. And then I decided to do something good for myself: I joined Weight Watchers, and I used my free time to attend meetings, go grocery shopping, cook at home, and buy new clothes that actually fit. During a crisis last summer, I was momentarily tempted to get drunk in the afternoon and eat (literally or figuratively) a bowl of bacon, but instead, I went to my Weight Watchers center and cried my eyes out to my meeting leader.

"Go do something for you," she said. "What do you like to do? Besides drink and eat bacon. Do you like to go to the park? Go to the movies? Figure out something you love and go do that."

I sniffled and nodded, and set a course for home. I realized the thing I wanted to do most in that moment: watch General Hospital.

That day last summer was a huge turning point for me, and put me on a course of mental stability that has allowed me to weather this most recent layoff with a fair amount of grace and resilience. Sure, I went and cried on the phone in the Whole Foods parking lot. But when I asked myself, "What am I supposed to do now?", I didn't fall back on those old standby behaviors.

I went and got myself a nice lunch, with one glass of wine.

I went and got my hair done, with one glass of champagne.

I went and got my nails done, and serendipitously met a recruiter sitting next to me.

I felt good, and I looked fabulous.

And when my old phone short-circuited (probably because of the tidal influx of post-layoff emails/txts/calls), I went and bought myself a shiny new Blackberry.

In the days that have followed, I have found cute younger boys to kiss, gotten my hair done again, gotten properly groomed at the spa, changed the sheets on my bed, washed the dishes and cleaned up the apartment. I deposited checks in the bank. I mailed a birthday present.

I am taking care of me, because nobody else is going to do it, and because I have to be strong for whatever opportunity presents itself next. The universe is speaking to me; I'm just not sure what it's saying...yet.

Whatever it is, I am going to be ready for it.

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