Coping

I’m so glad that we as a society have started to be more open and accepting about self-care.

It has been so beneficial to give myself permission to take a bath or bake cookies or watch crap television. But more importantly, it’s been incredibly beneficial to learn how to not beat myself up for having given myself that permission.

But the truth is that the kinds of self-care we talk about – the indulgent and naughty, but ultimately harmless and adorable kinds of self-care – are only a part of the story. “Self-care” seems to only be attributed to socially acceptable coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, coping mechanisms aren’t always adorable. And sometimes there are just not enough baths in the world to get us through the week.

And so sometimes we give ourselves permission to smoke. And we give ourselves permission to get angry. And we give ourselves permission to post an anonymous rant on reddit. But that’s the kind of thing we make sure we feel really guilty about later. Because if we don’t feel sufficiently guilty, our “bad” act makes us a “bad” person.

I don’t understand why we as a society have gotten over so many of our hangups around sex, and yet we still have so many hangups about pleasure and relief derived from other uncouth sources. I mean, it’s not like we’re giving ourselves permission to hurt someone, or to neglect our work or our family. We’re not talking about developing an alcohol or drug addiction, or about taking our anger out on our family members or on the living room drywall. And yet anything stronger than a cup-of-tea-and-a-good-book response to stress seems taboo.

We tell ourselves that exercising regularly, eating right, and meditation will cure all that ails us. And if we don’t tell it to ourselves enough, you can bet your ass that other people will pick up the slack. We shame ourselves for doing the things that help us get through the day instead of “investing” in the kind of “lifestyle” that people assure us would make us feel better if we just tried harder. For the record: the best marker of a scam is something that is guaranteed to work but for the failure of people to adhere to its instructions with adequate fidelity.

Don’t get me wrong, I am super happy for anyone who has found their way to be happy. But as far as I’m concerned, as long as your coping mechanism isn’t hurting anyone, I’m just as happy for the person who gets through their week with the help of a daily cigarette, nightly glass of wine, and excessive profanity as I am for the person who compulsively cleans their house and writes angry poetry about their ex online as I am for the person who gets off on yoga and clean eating.

It doesn’t mean that we can’t all try to find healthier coping mechanisms, or that we shouldn’t keep working on ourselves and our issues to reduce our reliance on our coping mechanisms. It’s just to say that you shouldn’t beat yourself up about the little indulgences that offer you some brief satisfaction, whatever they may be. In fact, I have to imagine that people would be more likely to develop healthier habits and to work on their underlying issues if we stopped putting the weight of the world on every decision they make. As though a trip to McDonald’s is a moral failing that defines someone’s essential character.

What I’m really getting at here is that I’m proud of you for getting through the day in the best way you know how. I hope you’ll find a way to make yourself smile tomorrow, especially if tomorrow happens to be a particularly bad day. I hope you won’t let anyone make you feel guilty about surviving and finding a way to smile. Because I love you – shortcomings and all. After all, as Abe Lincoln said: “folks who have no vices have very few virtues”.

Posted in: Progress

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