The Language and Practice of Self-Care

by Solita A. Denard

On a rainy Sunday afternoon in March, Mothers, Sisters and Daughters gathered in a circle for an event sponsored by RCWMS: “The Ministry of Black Women’s Self-Care.” Despite the chilly weather conditions and with myriad personal arrangements made to ensure our attendance, we responded to the invitation. Like a call to prayer, the call to pay deep attention to our individual health and well-being was heard and responded to. As we assembled, the collective awareness of our need to intentionally create space for this conversation was clear. It may have been the beginning of an answer to silent prayers, inward whispers and muted screams. On this day and for this moment we had chosen ourselves first. As each woman gracefully entered the building, I was warmed by her smile, grace, and courage.

Kimberly Gaubault (McCrae), the lead facilitator for our session, began by asking each woman to take a moment to define herself for herself. Who am I? How do I define the I who is me apart from the labels, roles and characteristics that others have applied to my personhood? Including our parents. We discussed the negative cultural stereotypes that prevail within our communities and society-at-large. As we offered words and examples, I was struck by how easy it was for us to build the long list of myths. Of course it was easy. We are all conscious of the way our world routinely applies general labels to our lives. There were several words on the list that are often used as “positive” attributes to describe women of color, but often result in the misinterpretation of our efforts and can distort our perception of ourselves. One effect that these “myths” can have on personhood is reducing our being just enough so that we fit neatly into any number of small boxes, despite our intelligence, creativity, individuality, and marvelously complex layers. A quote by the prolific poet, Lucille Clifton, was positioned like a crown above the list. It read: “Come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.”

Next, we investigated the distinction between the terms “selfish” and “self-full” and noted that the practice of self-full looks different for everyone. Understandably, we have repeatedly confused establishing healthy boundaries in our relationships as being selfish. How many times have we second guessed our “No” and allowed guilt to change our instinctual no into a yes? As women, we often receive no teaching, demonstrations or support employing the life-sustaining gift of being self-full and the practice of using “no” as a complete sentence. Further, it can be confusing when others react negatively when we choose ourselves first.

Finally, we explored our understanding of care-giving vs. care-taking. By now you may have guessed it, they are not the same! When we care-give we offer supplemental support to others and we assist them in healthy ways. On the other hand, care-taking undermines our goals for health when we take on responsibilities that others can and should do for themselves. As Kim simplified for clarity, it is a matter of “giving and taking.” Heads nodded, and we agreed that as women we know how to give. While care-giving can be a demonstration of affection, grace and service, Kim asked us to consider two questions:

  1. What have we taken on that we should not have?
  2. Are we living unsustainably as a result?

Again, she encouraged us to remember that “Light attracts a lot of things (like a porch light at night). You must be discerning about what occupies your space.”

The immediate gifts of our session are: an expanded language, increased self-awareness, and confirmation that more women are seeking to join this path of healing at every intersection of life.

To all of my Mothers, Sisters and Daughters: may we continue to choose life, be whole and live free.

In service and in health,
Solita A. Denard