Part of a customized 7-year ongoing project of self-realization.
I am a 46-year-old woman who grew up in communist Romania. I am working on loving myself more every day. I hope this article helps you either (re)discover self-love, or practice it successfully.
“Self-love is not a state of feeling good. It is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth. Self-love is dynamic; it grows through actions that mature us. When we act in ways that expand self-love in us, we accept much better our weaknesses and our strengths, less need to explain away our shortcomings, have compassion for ourselves as human beings struggling to find personal meaning, are more centered in our life purpose and values, and expect living fulfillment through our own efforts.” (Deborah Khoshaba Psy.D.)
My childhood experiences
Growing up in communist Romania was traumatic. The lies, the hunger, the hiding, and more lies just drove everyone and their neighbor insane. Westerners still don’t believe me when I tell them stories about the food shortage (the rationing of 1 liter of oil and 1 kilo of sugar/family/month, the 1000 people lines to buy meat, oranges, bananas and candy to name just a few), the coordinated power blackouts (electricity was randomly on and off for periods of 2 minutes to a few hours), the low hot water supply (sometimes as seldom as once a week, for just a few hours), the sole 2-hour long TV program about our beloved leader Nicolae Ceausescu, etc. These are just stories today, but 40 years ago the whole population of Romania was agonizing.
The psychological effect of these terror techniques applied to the entire population made our parents and grandparents act crazy. They would chase the food trucks and beat us up to be first in line when the meat van was approaching the old “Alimentara” (public food store.) I grew up training heavily as a hunter-gatherer?—?hunting and gathering info about when and where food would be supplied/sold.
There is a communist joke that illustrates the paranoia and desperation we experienced:
During Ceausescu’s regime, an old lady gets sick and she leans against a wall. In 5 minutes, at least 200 people stand in line behind her (thinking that food is going to be sold soon.) A young lad asks everyone in the back of the line what “they are selling” but nobody seems to know. So, when he gets to the old lady who is tired and sick, he also asks her what she is waiting for. The old lady replies: “My dear boy, I got sick and leaned against the wall to rest a bit.” The guy asks: “So, why don’t you leave now?” The old lady straightens her back and shouts angrily: “Leave? Now, when I am the first in line? Are you crazy?”
I hope this introduction gives you an idea of life in a communist country.
The psychological trauma in communist Romania
Because of all the suffering and repressed feelings and convictions, because of the fake love for the Communist Party and the political leaders they were forced to display, Romanians learned how to live double lives. At work, our parents (I am 46 now, my mom is 70) were unhappy, but never lashed out in public, while at home they were different?—?let’s say, normal people. They made jokes when the Secret Police were not around.
The definition of a job in a state-owned factory in communist Romania was: “We pretend to work, while they pretend to pay us.”
Yes, salaries were that low, almost “symbolic” as we used to call them. The double lives taught many generations how to master lying and faking.
Between 1947 and 1989 Romanians pretended, lied, hid their feelings and religious, sexual, political, cultural convictions and orientations. Neighbors turned in neighbors, families were torn apart and hundreds of thousands of people died in communist political prisons/camps. My grandfather spent 9 years in political prison and for tens of years after that he was an “ex-convict”, a “pariah”. This brilliant teacher to be (he got arrested when he was a third-year student in languages for disseminating flyers against the communist regime) was beaten to death, worked in a mine, at the Black Sea canal, lost his pride, his friends, his life, everything he had. All his family members did time because of him?—?some did a year, some a few months, but they all got interrogated, terrorized, beaten and incarcerated.
Imagine the trauma of the kids these people had. Imagine the lack of love and respect for values in a society where all that mattered was how many kilos of meat you could buy, sometimes at the price of beating a neighbor to death. Imagine how hard it was for all of us (I was 17 when the communist regime fell in Romania) to adjust to a free market and competition. Private companies appeared in 1989, and the fight for capitalist money began.
What we still avoid talking about is the impact communism had on our minds and souls. In communism, no one set healthy boundaries. I can’t recall one person taking good care of themselves (the shortage of water and electricity did not help.) Only communist party members and their families attended restaurants and clubs.
For tens of years (after the second world war) people in other European countries have lived a healthy life. Families teach their kids to respect other kids; meanwhile, I was told that I was allowed to do whatever it took to gain or win. Fighting dirty was a national sport in communist Romania. So was gossip. And lying. God, we all lied to our teeth. My family did not allow me to reveal that we were poor. We pretended. Everyone was afraid and made jokes in relief.
Yes, most Romanians my age and + are uneducated, rude, too direct, absurd, cowardly and competitive. Not trying to find excuses, but the above stories may shed new light on how you see Romanians from now on.
My 7-step self-love project (ongoing)
7 years ago, I had an epiphany: I am not my upbringing; I am not a communist. I started reading about self-awareness and self-love. I read a lot; I mean A LOT.
1. Between 2013 and 2018, I attended yoga classes and all kinds of self-development programs. I learned that my solar plexus chakra was blocked. I learned about breathing properly and visualization. In 2015, I even did 108 stand and squat uddyana bandas 4 days in a row (as I write these lines, the pain I had in my legs becomes vibrant!). 3 hours of uddyanas every morning. Good for me.
And then pause.
2. In 2018 I felt fed up with all the teachings, the training, the NLP, the yoga, the spiritual gatherings and yoga sutras, etc.
And I pressed pause.
My daughter decided to go study abroad and that was quite difficult for the single mother who felt abandoned (just like I had been before by other family members.) I unconsciously relived past traumas.
3. In the summer of 2018, a random blood test showed I had a severe lack of vitamin D. Starting taking vitamin supplements (here is a study by Alessandro Cuomo, M.D, that shows the connection between Vitamin D and depression) and, also, deciding to restart my self-love work, helped me gain confidence in myself and be happy for my daughter who had been accepted at a prestigious British University.
4. In September 2018, I started buying my first semi-expensive clothes. Previously, I used to buy my clothes in the street or at the metro station, cheap Chinese and Turkish stuff (a blouse would cost as much as a kilo of tomatoes.) I will never forget my first 3 pairs of pants (on sale, of course) from Peek and Cloppenburg.
5. In November 2018, after a month of research, I went on the keto diet. To this day, keto is my lifestyle, not only my diet. I have lost 11 kilos so far and my health has significantly improved.
6. In December 2018, I published my first Medium essay.
7. In January 2019, I started decluttering both my wardrobe and my life. Friends and clothes that did not fit were gone in a month.
Sounds like I am just journaling, right? Well, it is more to it than it seems. All these actions I have taken since 2013, respectively restarting 2018, are actions that helped me heal my childhood trauma. Slowly but surely, I learned how to recognize old behavior patterns (gossiping, lying, deflecting, bizarre behavior, etc) and I gently worked on every one.
The self-love recipe (7 actions) that works for me
Now we have running hot water every day in Bucharest, Romania. We also have electricity and food. We have more than we need. But the most important thing we need to do is to constantly work on self-love.
How to practice Self-love:
1. Take care of your body (hot baths, massages, good sleep, awesome food, great clothes and textures that make you feel good about yourself)
2. Take care of your psychological health (spiritual work, meditation, awareness, mindfulness, slow life, positive vibes)
3. Take care of your environment (surround yourself with friends with good energy, clean and organize your home)
4. Get rid of the old and unimportant (clothes you don’t wear, people whose presence is not beneficial to you, activities that don’t serve you)
5. Relax (probably the most important of all; I haven’t learned how to fully relax yet, but I am working on this every day)
6. Live every day as it is the last
7. Prepare for death so that when it comes, you are ready and feel happy to have lived the best life.
You are the only expert in yourself. No one knows you better. No one can fully understand your body and your mind. Be there for yourself.
Please leave your thoughts in the comment section. Let’s connect!
Vivi has been writing about the process of self-realization since the age of six. She has dedicated her last years to helping people know themselves and live their best life. She has been teaching since 1990. She also posts/blogs about the role of cooking at the intersection of food and self-mastery.