“We have to have the intelligent faith of letting go of our holding back.”
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Kombucha is a favorite treat of mine. It’s something I like to drink the morning after binges to signal that I’m starting over, I can take care of myself, and I can consume something that will make me feel good.
I haven’t bought it in a few weeks or so, reasoning to myself that maybe actually having the kombucha around was making it easier for me (mentally) to binge, knowing that I had something to fall back on. I also didn’t want to have to depend on anything to make me feel better. Plus, it’s pretty damned overpriced, which is why it always feels like a treat.
Reflecting on it (or the lack of it) yesterday, as I took the time to make myself a delicious meal for the first time in weeks, I realized that maybe if I had had that kombucha after all those binges and bad days that culminated during those weeks, I would have been more motivated to take care of myself– because the very act of having and consuming the kombucha, to me, symbolizes an act of kindness.
As I was growing up, my dad always stressed “strength.” He wanted me to be strong, to not have to depend on anything, to not have to resort to tears when my feelings were hurt. He didn’t believe in God because he “believed in himself.”
So I grew up trying not to depend on anything or anyone. I saw it as a sign of weakness. After I graduated high school, when many of my friends seemed to forget about me and I felt terribly lonely, I told myself I had to be solitary, a lone warrior. When I moved to San Diego and felt like dying because I had no one to fall back on, it seemed more evidence to me that I had to be “independent.”
Olive told me the other day:
“I think you try to be independent… of everything.”
And I chewed on that for a bit. What did that mean? Isn’t it good to be independent?
(I remember watching “Into the Wild” in my first quarter of college. I related to Christopher McCandless-Alexander Supertramp so much, this desire to be free from depending on anything or anyone, free from all externals– and then the ending came, and it struck me with the force of its truth.)
When I think about not wanting to depend on anything– not wanting to depend on what works, or admit that when I do certain things, life is definitely easier for me– I think about brushing my teeth.
Brushing my teeth is one action that I hate to bend in the realm of self-care. (Even bathing, I bend sometimes, but much to my own downfall [see: how to reform a bad day]. I remember my friend telling me he simply rinses himself with water just once a week. I told him that I shower daily because I feel mentally better afterward. He told me, “Mind over matter”– but I don’t want to bend that far.)
But even then, when I reframe it that way, I get resistant. I don’t need any of this, I protest. Not even teeth-brushing, if I had to go without it.
Years of being told I was too needy and clingy when I was younger forged a new determination for me as I learned to be stronger: to not have any needs, to not depend on anyone or anything or any action to make me feel sane.
But I do have needs. And not admitting that I have them and not tending to them is an act of arrogance and violence, not an act of love. It’s an act of ego, it’s all just ego.
When I deny my own needs in an attempt to build “strength,” I’m missing the point.
I have needs just as everyone has needs. I have vulnerabilities just as everyone has vulnerabilities.
Not buying kombucha because I think denying myself its presence will make me stronger is holding back.
Not eating my favorite food in the morning because I think I’m meant to be more “flexible” about it just in case I can’t eat it when I’m traveling is holding back.
Not admitting that doing certain actions makes me more productive and happy (and then not doing them) is holding back.
There’s this gaping gap in my intention to be kind to myself, and that’s this:
Believing that deliberately holding back from myself and making my own life difficult is going to make me stronger.
I keep on thinking about it, well what if I don’t have it around, what am I going to do, I need to be prepared– and I keep on having to remind myself, well, we’ll figure it out when we get there– that’s when the real strength comes in. Not this bullpucky self-denial shit. It just makes you feel unhappy.
So there’s the fine line, the distinction. Not taking care of yourself when you have the opportunity to doesn’t make sense. Forcing yourself to be in unhappy circumstances when you can do something about it and make it better doesn’t make sense. But when you’re put into a situation where you have to adapt, you can trust in your own strength to adapt. When that comes.
I sense that that quote about holding back is mainly about holding back from other people, from life. And that’s how it first resonated with me– just as writings on generosity do: when we feel resistance to giving more, we have to challenge ourselves to push out of our comfort zones and do just that– give more.
But I woke up with this: What about when we hold back from ourselves?
What about when I tell myself I don’t need something just because really, I’m trying to indulge in the perceived strength and self-importance that comes from denying myself (and I don’t even know I’m doing it?!)?
What about when I stay in unpleasant situations when I have alternatives, feeling stuck and stagnant while stubbornly thinking it’ll “make me stronger”?
It goes back to that distinction, that fine line. It’s the fine line between quitting because it’s good for you and realizing that you’ll be able to handle the real difficulties when you meet them.
It’s a fine line to navigate, but I have confidence we can do it.
Where in your life are you holding back from yourself?
Where can you give more to yourself?
I’m learning. I’m learning to depend but not be dependent. I’m reminding myself that we’re all interdependent and interconnected, that I have needs that I need attending to, too… and that taking refuge in a bottle of kombucha the morning after a binge can be an act of wondrous kindness to myself.
Admitting I have needs… that’s the vulnerability, the real strength. That’s the path of a warrior.
I take back what I said yesterday about 7-day bursts and starting over. I’m simply approaching every day with the intention of taking care of myself.
If you want more of this goodness, I invite you to join me on the Letter for deeper and more intimate explorations. As one reader describes, each Letter is me as “The Epiphany Machine.” It’s now just $25 monthly.
Addendum: I was honestly nervous about publishing this– the fact that it didn’t have a photo to accompany it, and the fact that it’s so raw– but if you’re looking for a taste of what the Letter is like, this is it. Except, um, that we go even deeper.