Saturday, December 26, 2009


“Kathy, what is your New Year’s resolution?” a girl friend asked me over lunch. “Mine is to give up cigarettes and sugar” she continued, while shaking a packet of sugar substitute into her coffee.
 “Not to give anything up and to put myself first,” I answered. “Then I will refocus on implementing the difference between want and need in my life.”
 My friend stopped stirring her coffee, peered over her sunglasses at me, and asked, “What do you mean by that?”  
 The concept of “care-giver first” and the difference between want and need were clearly alien to her. I had learned about both of these ideas during radiation therapy ten years ago while battling breast cancer twice. I still see the side effects of emotional emptiness and burn-out in the women around me who are not aware of these self care concepts--so vital to life.
 Women are the main care-givers, but many women give unconsciously and unconditionally until there is nothing left to give. Consequently, their emotional well runs dry. Lately, I am seeing an alarming pattern in my friends during these uncertain economic times. Part of the problem is not distinguishing between wants and needs. Families have many wants, and the care-givers try to meet these wants as though they are needs; a terrible burden to carry. Women are getting burned out from giving so much of themselves to those who want more than is available. Often, when there is nothing left to give to those who truly need help, including themselves, the result is medication, and psychotherapy to fill the void, and dull the feeling of failure in their lives.
 Today is the dawning of a new day in a new year. My first New Year resolution will be to allow myself to love and embrace myself, and always put myself first. I will give myself permission to be number one in my life. How can I possibly share with others if I am empty? It is reassuring to be emotionally filled, loved and appreciated by others, but I need to be able to fill myself first with all of those signs of affection, even if no one else can give them to me. I want to be embraced by others but I need to love myself first.
When I was going through chemotherapy, my psychotherapist armed me with a powerful mantra to help me through the uncertainty of treatment. “You are number one. No one and nothing is more important than you.” She was right. Ten years later, as a cancer hotline phone counselor and mentor, that mantra is still important to me. If charity begins at home, and home is where the heart is, an empty heart cannot give anything to anyone else.
 The importance of this mantra was even more evident during my Stitch-n-Bitch (as we liked to call ourselves) radiation therapy group. It broke my heart to see women who had been the sole care-giver to their family suddenly discarded when their circumstances shifted, and they needed to be taken care of by their significant others. These women said they felt that without the love and devotion of their family, they were nothing.
 Their chances for a full recovery were challenged by their depression and feelings of emotional emptiness. Our little group spent many hours discussing wants versus needs. We want others to love us, but we need to love ourselves. We want a beautiful house, but we need a roof over our head. We want to eat in fancy restaurants, but we need nutritious food on our plate. The list of wants versus needs is endless. Realizing the difference between them, however, may be the first step in not becoming emotionally, physically and financially bankrupt.
 Putting that concept into practice will help us, as care-givers, to become aware of our limitations. I realize that I have been lax in practicing what my little group preached ten years ago. So, my second New Year’s resolution will be to put want versus need back into daily practice. When I see something enticing, I will ask myself, “Do I really need that, or do I just want it?”
 In 2010, I will focus on inner balance by being kind and forgiving to myself first, and then to others. I will seek out and join a community “sister-hood of women” who can be my support system. Their strength will keep me from feeling alone during times of despair and their resources will help me meet the needs of my family and friends.
When my body is fatigued, I will rest. When my soul is tired, I will meditate and give thanks for having all that I need. I will surround myself with the things I love; my husband, positive friends, pets, plants, music and fragrant candles while taking a warm bubble bath. Enjoying my favorite things will make my soul soar.
  Like the Chinese yin and yang, which are seemingly opposing forces bound together, intertwined, and interdependent in the natural world, we are complex creatures comprised of body and soul. These two diabolically different parts must be in balance as a duality for complete health of body and mind. Like yin and yang, male and female, body and soul are a dynamic equilibrium. If one disappears, the other must disappear as well, leaving emptiness.
Too many of us have lost a part of ourselves and are experiencing this emptiness. We can look in both directions, but tend to focus on the past and judge ourselves by events that cannot be changed. It is time to face forward into the future of a balanced and strong New Year comprised of yin and yang. We can learn from our past to build a positive future. The good news is that a sisterhood of women is only a phone call or tweet away to help you refill yourself with the love you deserve and NEED.
Balance yourself. Take care of your soul and it will take care of you . . . then you can take care of others.