Like most of us, I was raised to put others first. To be kind, considerate and generous even if it was something I didn’t want to do. Sometimes that meant giving up belongings or going without to provide for another person in need. Other times that looked like having to take on responsibilities I didn’t want or hug friends and relatives I didn’t like the smell of (seriously, some people stank and nobody wants to snuggle up to bo cologne or cigarette/coffee breath combo. Eat a mint and take a damn shower, Stinky!). Adults (parents, teachers, role models) all do their best with kids and oftentimes force or encourage them to be nice to others before themselves in an effort to instill good morals and values in children. Good intentions; ass backwards positions.
For as long as I can remember, I put everyone else first. Some of that was familial expectation and guilt, some of that was to keep peace and avoid conflict and other times it was purely walking on eggshells with a psycho in the house who could explode with a tantrum at any time. At times it was work related; being a loyal and dedicated employee giving so much of myself for the team when things were nuts and we all needed to pull together to get everything done. Most of the time, however, it was just about being a decent human. Doing kind things for others, looking out for friends or even strangers, volunteering to help those less fortunate, donating to charities, and the list goes on forever as it does for most of us and to be quite honest, I was always happy to help. It made me feel good. The world has enough people being shitheads – we need more people being kind and without a doubt, giving kindness creates love. And yes, we need more of this everywhere.
Here’s the problem. When I was putting everyone else first and doing nothing but giving my time and energy away, I was depleting myself in every way imaginable. I had already been making good strides with implementing changes to honour myself but when boob cancer rolled into town – holy shitballs did that change things. Everything I was doing had to be about taking care of me – my life actually depended on it. I had to make myself the number one priority in my life and be totally committed to ME. I have said this before but my support network and friends are incredible, and I most certainly did not go through this situation alone. I did however, learn to establish boundaries that were less like lines in the sand and more like ditches with hungry alligators or that bad ass bunny from Monty Python that would fuck you up in an instant. Most people I did not have to sick the alligators upon, but some people did get a taste of that and learned very quickly that “no” was not negotiable.
What I learned is that not only is it okay to say “no” – it’s imperative to my survival and ability to help others (the latter of which I believe all of us are here to do). In fact, establishing clear boundaries is much less about others taking advantage and more about honoring and respecting myself than I realized. I’m much stronger now than I have ever been and don’t find myself in situations where I am doing things I don’t want to. When I agree or offer to help someone else out, I am able to do it from a place where I am able to honour myself first and I find this energy even more powerful.
My new mantra is “me first”. This doesn’t mean that I no longer help others, donate time, money or my energy to anyone. It simply means I take care of me first before anyone else. I used to spend the first few minutes of each day sending love to others. Now, I do me first. I don’t get out of my bed without meditating and grounding myself, preparing for the best day ever. Once I’m done making sure I feel good, if appropriate, I focus on sending positive thoughts, healing energy, love, good wishes, whatever you want to call it to others. If my mind starts to wander to other people or responsibilities before I’m finished setting up my space, I immediately stop and refocus my attention on myself. Everything else will get done and there really is nothing more important than looking after myself before anyone or anything else. There will always be competing priorities but the only person who is ever going to make me the most important – is me. And that friends, is not selfish or unkind. It is the best thing we can do for anyone.