[CN: mentions of trauma, suicidal ideation]
I’m sitting here having possibly just eaten the best dessert of my life. That I made for myself.
I posted earlier this week about how my body was calling for me to eat healthier, local foods and how I’ve committed to creating meals out of farmers market hauls.
But it was just today that the big realization hit me: I’m cooking purely for myself.
Three years ago, at the very outset of my trauma healing journey, I remember joking about how I only cooked when I had company over and never when I was alone – something about a tree falling in the forest and no one to hear it. It was a legitimate feeling then, because as it turns out, doing things for ourselves is an extremely layered process for a person with trauma.
“Do something nice for yourself” is a piece of advice that a lot of anxious, depressed, traumatized, and/or codependent people hear from other well-intentioned folks. The trouble with this is that all the manicures and bath bombs in the world won’t address our core issues. I remember hearing it and thinking to myself that the nicest thing I could do for myself was probably suicide (and how ironic it was that the same people who told me to do something nice for myself called that selfish!).
Let’s take a look at some of the factors involved in trauma that might be blocks to doing something nice for ourselves:
• In the trauma profile assessment tool I use in The Re-Patterning Project, one of the trauma profiles measured is called “trauma abstinence.” Trauma abstinence means that we feel that our needs don’t matter, that we will caretake those around us but meanwhile have trouble buying ourselves groceries or meeting our other basic needs. This is typically a normal reaction to being made to feel during our upbringing that our needs were shameful or dangerous.
• Then there’s fawn response, which is a response to trauma in which the traumatized person learns to please, supplicate, and cater to others’ needs before their own in order to source protection against future harms. Fawn response implies an inherent deprioritization of our own needs by virtue of the fact that we’re so tuned into the needs of others.
• Then there’s also desensitization, which is the response of the body to traumatic stress in which it turns off its ability to feel in order to survive. Desensitized folk lose the ability to feel their bodies. In my own estimation, my body stopped talking to me because I kept refusing to listen to it. We can withstand extreme pain, but we also lose the ability to feel pleasure.
These three factors may or may not be individually present in a traumatized person, but all three were definitely present in me.
So cooking for myself was functionally useless. Not only did it do nothing to advance my agenda in pleasing other people, I didn’t even have the sensory perception to be able to enjoy it. As far as I was concerned, it would have been entirely wasted resources.
“Doing something nice for myself” was a mystery, one my therapist couldn’t solve.
The first step I took toward embodiment was to realize that if I wanted to be able to have a healthy relationship, I had to believe that my needs were neither shameful nor dangerous, that they matter. This was simply a logical equation.
From there I had to undo all the programming that kept me from believing that expressing my needs could be not only safe but beneficial. I traced all the way back through my timeline and accounted for every incident that had led to its acquisition, and I undid them one by one.
Figuring out what my needs actually were meant I had to persuade my body to start talking to me again. In order to build trust in that relationship, I listened. I had to lean in and cup my ear at first, but if I really concentrated, I could hear my body telling me what it liked and didn’t like. Many of the things it didn’t like were things I had relied on for my survival, and releasing them wasn’t easy. But they were no longer sustainable, and the minute I had started resensitizing I could no longer put that toothpaste back in the tube.
Let me recap:
I started cooking for myself not because it’s what I’m “supposed” to do to be a well-behaved A+-getting non-codependent who’s read Why Men Love Bitches twenty times and still cries herself to sleep every night wondering why no one loves her even when she’s doing everything “right” (past self shade here, fyi).
I started cooking for myself because I hacked my way into believing that my needs are actually helpful to me and because I invested time into listening to my body so it would trust me enough again to tell me what it wants.
I did this through bringing conscious awareness to the mechanics of my trauma, to the pieces of myself I’d unknowingly suppressed along the way, and to the effects of my choices and circumstances on my physical, emotional, and energetic bodies.
And I also think it’s no coincidence that just before I started on this food adventure I had spent a week in Italy with a man whose bodily genius is so keen he can discern my trauma from my posture, can tell when I’m triggered by perceiving that I’m shaking even when I can’t feel it myself, can respond to my subtle body cues in ways I’ve never seen a human do before. Because of course our soul connections alchemize us even without our conscious knowledge.
When I returned home, my body was telling me it wanted to eat fresher food.
I made possibly the best dessert I’ve ever had in my life tonight. For myself. By myself. With no one to share it with.
And I didn’t even think about it until I was finished.