Those who know me know how obsessed I am with my morning routine: an at first rigid, now more fluid, ordered set of steps I take to prepare for my day and keep myself both occupied and at peace from my 4:30am wakeup to my 8:30ish “arrival” at work. You might think it hard to consistently fill four hours, but fill them I do in my ongoing attempt to start my day as the vision of a woman who has her shit together.
I wasn’t always this way, and I will let you in on a secret that things are not always as they appear. That’s right, I haven’t always been a morning person, and I have not (and still do not) always had it all together. Allow me to briefly, somewhat reluctantly share the origins of my sweet little routine.
It all began one rainy morning in October, 2021 as I lay in bed delaying the start to my workday, opting instead to numb out with my dear friends Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson. This same self-soothing quirk helped me unwind after work, drift off to sleep at night, and somehow steeled me to move through my day unbothered by the chaos of being a human in 2021 swirling around me.
I wasn’t alone in my struggle to just be a human in 2021, and there was nothing remarkable about this day in October other than the extra loud volume of my long-ago internalized story: You’re not enough. You’re not doing enough. Scratch that, you’re not doing anything to change the lousy circumstances in which you find yourself. I briefly left my body, and as I hovered above looking down at the mess that was me subsisting on a diet of iced coffee, hot cheetos, and Law & Order: SVU, I knew it was time to make a change.
I started with exercise, joining my brother at his 5am workouts at F45. Then there I was, at 6am, everyday with a brain full of dopamine and a body full of endorphins facing what I like to call the Netflix conundrum: SO many options that I just stare blankly, having no idea where to begin. I heard that routines are good for your brain because they can free you from such conundrums, so morning routine it was. Wake up, work out, feed and walk Fido, make coffee, stretch, pray, shower, get ready, plan my day, start work, rinse and repeat.
After a few months my routine was finally internalized, giving me more space for more self-improvement! So I asked myself, what other things do people who have their shit together do every day? They keep their house in order, they cook and eat clean, healthy meals, they prioritize connections and relationships. Over time I adopted more and more healthy habits. I saw myself being successful, got a dopamine-shaped reward, and all I wanted was more. Because it still wasn’t enough. And sure, people who have it together practice meditation and do work to heal their inner child, but all it took was one look at my journal to know: pain that didn’t eventually equal dopamine just wasn’t for me.
So full speed ahead I went, fully living into society’s mistaken impression that more = better. I produced and produced to the point of sheer exhaustion when all that remained were all of the thoughts that I had successfully skirted and the voice on full blast saying, “You’re not enough.”
In these instances, which continue to come and go, I return to what I know: numbing with Olivia and Elliot and iced coffee and hot cheetos, couch surfing for a few days while I tell myself, “it’s good to rest,” until I have enough energy to be the woman who has her shit together again.
What I’m slowly coming to realize is that whether I’m a model of healthy living or fully in sweatpants mode, I’m still acting on that same story I tell myself about myself: “You’re not enough.” And when I stop numbing and listen closely, there’s another voice saying, “For the love of God, please do less, sis.” That’s little Anya.
So I made some shifts, and now I try to journal every morning as part of my routine, sometimes using this guided journal called, New Mindset: Who Dis?: a self-described guide in asking the “right questions” of yourself. I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to write about for this newsletter when this prompt fell in my lap and brought it all together: What pain or discomfort are you willing to endure? Why are you willing to put up with that pain specifically and not others?
The first thing that came to mind was my love affair with F45. Every day I will choose those 45 minutes of physical and mental pain because I know I’ll never regret it. Then there’s keeping my house clean. I’ll tolerate the temporary annoyances and passing discomfort to have the home of someone who has their shit together. But what else? I choose to open my heart to share the pain of the people I love when they need it. I choose to lean into occasional discomfort and such when doing my job.
I’m willing to endure the kind of pain or discomfort I choose, and beyond the physical trappings of a put together life are the real opportunities for feeling and healing that I struggle to choose and so desperately need.
Little Anya needs me to do less so that I can be there for her more. She needs me to choose her pain and sit with her in it, even without the promise of dopamine on the other side. So how can I begin to make the time and space to choose my own pain to sit with? How can I slow things down to preserve my peace, and continue to move slowly, at a low rumble, even when chaos is circling around me and within me?
Here are some things I’ve practiced lately to help me imperfectly get at these questions:
Talking to my inner child. Revisiting moments from my past, sitting with a former me in her pain, telling her all of the things she needed to hear then, and that I need to hear now.
Meditation. I’ve resisted long enough, and dangit it works. It helps me sit in the space that is not having my shit together and being okay with that.
Tarot. Regular readings give me the opportunity to slow down, listen, and tune into messages I may be missing.
Prayer. God and I are tight. Having faith and knowing that my angels are with me helps me notice even the smallest of miracles and blessings in my life every day.
Setting boundaries. At least I’m trying to. Sometimes it feels like conflict or a recipe for hurt feelings, and it’s essential if I want to preserve my peace.