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SELF CARE, PART 4: OBSERVATION, SOFTENING, INTEGRATION & RELEASE

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I thought I was ready to share the next batch of tools, but something happened in recent weeks that I did not expect. This will be a personal story, and I am sharing it with you because it illustrates very well the process I have described in previous chapters of this self-care series: observation, softening, integration and release.

Given that this story is long enough, I decided to dedicate it its own “chapter” in the series, allowing it to be an interlude between one set of tools and the next. I hope you will enjoy it and find it helpful.

I have wiggled around some parts of the back story because other people and their privacy are involved, as well as their right to their own roles in this life, and even their own mistakes. And we all make those, don’t we, even as we do our best in each moment depending on the circumstances.

I only wish to clarify one thing: the dysfunctional they/he/she mentioned here and there is neither of my parents.
That they/she/he is someone who loves me in their own peculiar way, and as much as someone who does not really love themselves can love. It is also someone I love despite everything. I have balanced and forgiven completely a while back, and now have a good relationship with this person.

Most importantly, I have also accepted that – whatever others did or did not do, and whatever their (unconscious) role in my life – it is now my own responsibility to clear whatever is in the way of my own full personal freedom, expression and expansion.

I find that, as I move forward in this process and the big blocks are released, the subtler aspects float to the surface, asking to be tended to. However, due to experience yes, but also the current energies, they are quicker to release. Which is a very, very good thing.
What follows is one such story.

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THE BACK STORY

Some of you may know and some of you may not, but in my “previous life” (aka, a segment of my current one), I had a restaurant. This was back in Italy, of course. My role started with taking care of the dining room, the wine and making some of the desserts, and then progressed to becoming a full on, learn-on-the-job chef.

I was also the main administrator, promotional agent (this was before social media and gps made things easier), grocery shopper and all around gopher. Because when the business is yours, you just end up doing some of everything at one time or another. 

All of this lasted about ten years: two of renovation and set up, and eight of activity. Then I burned out. In the final few months, I was so stressed and exhausted all the time that I would see (even beloved) clients drive onto the property and, instead of being happy as I logically should have been, I would start quietly crying. That’s how burned out I was.

I have always enjoyed good food, and loved to cook and bake for friends, but the restaurant business was not something I had ever even considered for myself. My brother was the chef in the family at the time, not me.

So how did this all come about?

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Suffice to say that I was manipulated into saying yes to being part of the restaurant. Heavily manipulated, the kind of dysfunctional manipulation that started from the moment I was born into this world, and maybe even before. Which is why I allowed it. When you are exposed to some form of dysfunction or other since baby-hood (like so many of us are), that becomes your normal. You don’t question it, nor do you know how to find your way out of it because it takes a long time to figure out that it is NOT normal at all. Some of us never do.

All it takes is one dysfunctional person to mess up a whole expanded family. My family had/has two of those. 
That is why I caved at the time, even though I was aware of what I was saying yes to.
And I was not saying yes merely to a restaurant, to being a sommelier, chef, baker or to creating glorious food – which I actually enjoyed. 
I was saying: “Yes, I will live my life the way you want me to live it just so I can get you off my back!”. Which of course, didn’t work. 
“Yes, I will live my life the way you want me to because maybe it’s easier.” and it wasn’t.

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Nevertheless, I accepted my newfound role and poured all of my energy and heart into it. 
Even so, each time I tried to bring in my own creativity in an attempt to innovate and expand, I would still be criticized, blocked and again manipulated at each step. Because that is what dysfunctional people do: if they say red, and you offer them red, they reply that they had really said green. And they are never wrong. You are. 

Furthermore, unless you are Italian you will not know this, but in Italy, trying to set up, support and expand any kind of business is extremely complicated and stressful because of the way the bureaucratic system is, and has been for a very long time.

In the end, it was a hard decision, but if I wanted to survive, I was left with no choice but to quit. 

Fast forward about twenty years.

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THE TRIGGER & THE CATALYST

I have cooked and baked here and there for friends and family since then, but of course, nothing like the rhythm of a restaurant kitchen. In the past couple of years, since living again in a house with a proper kitchen and a good oven, two in fact, the baking has increased in frequency. This has been especially true over the past twelve months, because it has helped soothe and calm me as I was going through a challenging and traumatic period.

Baking is such a fine-tuned art that, like painting, it clears my mind as it forces me to focus on the details of what I am doing. In recent weeks, I have found myself baking 2 sometimes 3 times a week: cookies, cakes and desserts of various kind have been shared with the few local friends and some neighbors.

Then, a few weeks ago, my friend Alessandra asked me a question: “Why don’t you sell what you bake?”
“You are so good! Maybe once a month, or once a week, however it works for you, on your terms…”

My immediate response: RESISTANCE. 
Or maybe: resistance, in small letters. And poor Alessandra became the recipient of a series of WhatsApp voice message ramblings.
However, despite my reaction, I had considered the same thing. There was and there still is the desire to share what I create, whether with a paintbrush, a camera or with eggs, butter and a whisk.

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But the burnout from the restaurant had been so severe that it was still there, tucked away in the hidden depths of my being. Some of it anyway.

I had had the same question asked of me by 2-3 others family members and friends. But that morning, when Alessandra asked it, was a particularly trigger-strong morning. We were expecting guests at the house for an early lunch, and I was exhausted from cooking and baking non-stop for two days in a row. On top of that, this production was something that had not been in my plans at all, but a last minute readjustment to my entire week as a result of someone else’s schedule. 

Anyway, once our lunch guests had left, we had cleaned up, and I had a chance to rest and think, I realized that it was time to pay attention to and analyze my extreme reaction.

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OBSERVATION & QUESTIONING PROCESS

Analyzing and assessing the situation:

  • I clearly love and enjoy baking; cooking as well, but baking especially.
  • True, until the lunch guests arrived at the house, I resented having been pushed into this by someone else’s schedule, needs and desires.
  • However, this being pushed and manipulated was really no such thing as nobody had asked me to cook or bake for the lunch party. But I had felt I had to – a residue of the old guilt-trips, shoulds and have-tos that have been a strong theme in my life. Clearly, there are still residues of those here and there.

Asking the questions:

  • Why did I feel I had to do this then?
    Because otherwise the food would have been take out.
  • So what?
    Because I live here and would be involved with the party whether I wanted to or not unless I were to leave the house for the day, which – besides being rude, as well as hurtful to Sally (my roommate and kind friend), was not my choice at all. The guests that were coming were (are) perfectly lovely, friendly people I actually enjoy spending time with. So all this inner grumble had nothing whatsoever to do with them, and everything to do with something unresolved within me.
  • And?
    Well, I do like to bake (especially) and I do get enjoyment from people delighting in my edible creations.
  • But…?
    I don’t like how extremely physically tired it makes me (this, by the way, is a cellular memory that my body still carries from the restaurant years).
    I don’t like all the post cooking-baking clean up.
    Most of all I don’t like feeling the pressure of the have-to instead of the pleasure of the enjoy-to.

And there it was!

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Burrata-Coppa-and-Cantaloupe-Salad-at-The-Girl-and-The-Fig-restaurant-in-Sonoma-California-photography-by-Monica-Schwartz

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Clearly, what needed to be cleared/healed/removed/lifted from this equation was the resentment at being manipulated, which in the past had eventually brought on the burnout from the restaurant and the need to run away from home.

And since the burnout is connected to food, cooking, baking and hosting… that is where the resistance was.

The next layer of questions:

  • If this resentment and burnout were to be cleared and no longer be there, would I launch myself into having, say, a bakery, another restaurant, or becoming a baker/chef in one again?
    Unlikely.
  • Would I have gone into this line of business of my own accord if I had not been pushed and shoved into it?
    We’ll never know now.

When I was about 11-12 years old, I would help with the many entertaining events my aunt used to host throughout the year, often by making a dessert called Profiteroles (little round choux filled with vanilla pastry cream, then piled up and covered in chocolate ganache) from a box. By age 18-19 I had graduated out of making desserts from a box. By then my brother was already attending cooking school. So my interest in cooking and baking started early.
Maybe, if I had been given space, I might have reached a point of wishing to do more with that talent and take the next step by myself. But I was constricted, almost chastised into it; just as I have been all my life each time I tried to express any of my many talents – the ones I had interest in pursuing anyway: the creative ones. 

I no longer feel resentment or anger over any of that. This person is what they are, and their role in this life is what it is. I have forgiven this person and released all the negative a while back. I am just keeping the good times, because there were lots of those, too. They were usually double-edged, but they were good as well.  

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New Assessment:

Because of:

  • my recent resurgence in desiring to bake;
  • my continued pleasure and enjoyment of it;
  • the fact that it does not seem to want to go away, and that it is even going to the next level of ability;
  • plus the questions by others and my extreme response to those;

one thing became evident: it was time to release the restaurant-related manipulation and burnout.

Why? So i can open another restaurant or bakery? No. 
Just so that there is room for me to create something new around food in any shape or form should I ever wish to. I would be free to choose that without limitations should that be my pleasure at some point. That is freedom.

Of course, this resurgence of interest might also only have happened so that these questions might arise and my resistance be dissolved in order for me to reach one more level of freedom. Then it might all go away. We will see.

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CONCLUSIONS

Alessandra was a catalyst and her question cathartic. We often have those catalysts. In my case it was a friend, and one who also understood her role. My noticing my extreme reaction, then digging into it by asking myself the questions and answering honestly, brought on a softening, an acceptance and then an integration of the old limitation, which translated into a release. Because of all the healing/release work previously done, this was actually rather easy and quick.

And as I said before in my previous posts around this subject: once an old trauma or issue is truly released, there isn’t just relief, it’s as if it never even happened. 

Now, whether my interest in baking will fade or strengthen as a result of such clearing/freedom in this moment, I wonder how this will reverberate into other lives, or parts of lives, or moments for other aspects of me, other incarnations, other expressions. My little bit of extra freedom can mean more expansion for the other versions of me (past, present or future), and contribute to the collective.

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Delving into all of this throughout the years, I have learned that, whatever the challenges and issues that may have been caused by someone or something outside of myself, these points are true:

  1. Expecting deeply dysfunctional people to change and become who we always wished they were is futile and a waste of energy, time and intent.
  2. Nothing they ever did or do was/is about me, but it is all about them, their own issues and their particular version of reality within their own personal world.
  3. Expecting a mea culpa or honest apology from them is as futile as expecting them to change.
  4. And even if those miraculous things were to ever happen (I have only seen that in movies so far), the cellular imprint would still be in our own bodies, and it is up to us to find it, integrate and release it, thus freeing ourselves.
  5. Just because we love them, doesn’t mean that we can’t acknowledge that they are messed up, and that we shouldn’t have healthy boundaries around them. And may I suggest really strong boundaries. This point is valid even if – like me – you have a chance to physically distance yourself from them. There is always the phone, and these days there is even FaceTime.

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THE NEXT LEVEL

And now what?

Well, a few days after working through this process, I decided I would sell the next batch of cookies I made. I did not allow any doubts and fears to sneak into my decision and forged ahead.
I made a batch of Lemon-Cream Crinkle Cookies (recipe to come soon here on the blog), packaged them nicely (see images below) and posted them on my local NextDoor. This is a social media site aimed at connecting neighbors – available in the United States and several other countries, including Italy, by the way.

It was not a lot, as I was offering just three bags of eight cookies each, but as I clicked send, I felt a tiny bit anxious. It was the first time in twenty years that I was offering my food creations for sale. Yet most of all I felt excited, expansive and my energy was really high. They sold out within 3 hours, and if I had had more I would have sold more.

To me it was a huge moment of healing, of clearing an old block, and allowing myself the freedom to remain open and take the next step because I felt, not just safe in doing so, but light and free.
Inevitably, this particular level of healing connects to other aspects of life, as everything is interconnected. However, I will not delve into those at this time.

I have since sold more of the same cookies, then some of these Lemon-Lavender Shortbread Cookies (recipe here), and some of my super awesome Banana Bread with Chocolate-Hazelnut Cream (photo also below, recipe to come). And yesterday I posted some Pesche Dolci (recipe also to come), which are an Italian specialty made with two tender and hollowed-out pâte sucrée cookies filled with chocolate pastry cream, then dipped in Alkermes liqueur and rolled in sugar. I made some as described, and also some in lemon version: filled with lemon curd and dipped in Limoncello.

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Baked-treats-offered-locally-for-sale
Clockwise from top left: Lemon-Lavender Shortbread Cookies, Banana Bread with Hazelnut-Chocolate Cream, Lemon-Cream Crinkle Cookies, Pesche Dolci in Classic (with chocolate) and Lemon variations

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These are small steps. Essentially, when I bake whatever inspires me, I bake extra then post it for sale. I am watching myself carefully, as I intend to continue along the baking-because-of-the-joy-of-it path, and not because of the shoulds or to satisfy someone else’s expectations.
Also, I am not entirely sure how far (if at all) I wish to go with this. I have noticed that – for all my enjoyment and satisfaction in my end product – it is easy to overdo it and become physically exhausted. So I am going slow, testing the waters, see how it can work for both me and the very nice people who have so far purchased my creations. And I must say everyone has been really, really nice.

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Are you hungry yet, with all these photos of food, I mean? FYI, I have added links to all of the images so if you click on them you will be taken to the relevant recipe or story.

Anyway, I hope this has been interesting and helpful for you. In the next chapter I will continue sharing the next batch of tools that have helped support my own process.

Please, always remember: have compassion for and be gentle with yourself, love yourself, and trust your inner guidance.

Sending you much love and infinite blessings.

What else is possible? How does it get even better than this?

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Previous articles in this series:
Self Care for the Rough Times, Part 1: Tips to Get Over a Panic Attack
Self Care, Part 2: Techniques that Help Heal the Deep Stuff
Self Care, Part 3: Simple Tools to Support the Healing Energy Work

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If you enjoyed this post, you might like to peruse more in the Healthy Living section, or maybe some of my personal stories, which you will find by clicking on the relevant images below.

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And if you are enjoying my blog, you might like to subscribe. I promise I won’t swamp your inbox, as I only send out new post notifications and a monthly newsletter.

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