honeymoon phase / ˈhənēˌmo͞on fāz/, noun.
The beginning of something new and exciting. Waking up before your alarm. Butterflies. Giggles. Willingness to do small tasks with great enthusiasm. Hope for the future. Blindness to past pain.
In our orientation, they warned us that this would happen.
We’ve all experienced little honeymoon phases throughout our lives: the first week of a new school year, the addicting presence of a crush who likes you too, realizing you can commute to work via bike (when it’s summer, and freezing rain is the LAST thing on your mind), our child-like faith at church camp, a new job (even if it’s menial labor) where you are enthusiastically attempting to impress your boss.
These last few weeks have been full of honeymoon experiences for me. I carefully filled my new Mizuno backpack full of shorts and extra sports bras and a banana and workout flats and caffeinated energy gels and literally jumped out of bed at 5:20 am to go to my first practice with my new track team. I snuck a quick snapchat of my fancy (non-running) shoes that I wore when I first walked into the heavily air-conditioned office building that will be my work home for the next year. My housemates and I explored the far ends of this city using only public transportation with unfailing energy to complete a photo scavenger hunt. I wake up before the sun to walk/jog with people who are exercising for the first time ever… and I love it.
Honeymoon experiences are completely overwhelming. They’re exhausting and emotional and lately I’ve found myself tearing up about the littlest things: a witness moment of kindness or a #blacklivesmatter testimony or an inspirational moment in my book. But I love it, obviously.
The brain’s limbic region, or “pleasure center”, activates when we’re doing something exciting. Functions that are critical to our survival as a species (mainly sex and eating) will (luckily) continue to release dopamine, the pleasure hormone.
Dopamine is extremely important to our humanity. It is a natural pain killer. It encourages us to take risks. It enables us to be motivated by rewards. People with low levels of dopamine can be prone to addiction, as they are seeking ways to replenish their supply. Dopamine also regulates movement, so an extreme deficiency results in Parkinson’s Disease.
The problem with the thrill of the honeymoon phase, though, is that it is a kind of pleasure that is not necessarily sustainable. I can only guess that the dopamine response to “non-essential” activities like meeting a new friend and getting a new job diminishes as these experiences become more commonplace and less exciting each day.
To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with short-term pleasure. Life is, after all, just a series of little moments that are stitched together into our “tapestry of experience”, if you will.
Our challenge in this life, then, is to identify and actively pursue the practices that act as the thread to hold these moments of pleasure and joy and self-discovery and sometimes even pain together.
The thread, I believe, is self-care. Self-care, in my mind, has four dimensions: physical, emotional, spiritual, and social.
I realize that in order to be holistically healthy, my stitching needs to come from all four of these dimensions. I will give you examples of the self-care practices that I have found for myself:
Physical: Running clears my mind, refreshes my spirit, and empties my heart of anger. When I am injured, I require, at the very least, time outside and alone where I can see the sky and get out of my head and center myself in my body. Also, sleep.
Emotional: Journaling clears my mind and takes the weight off my shoulders. Listening to music and singing with abandon does something similar, for some reason.
Spiritual: Going to church keeps me engaged with the wider world, reminds me that the depth of God’s creation heals even the deepest pain, and keeps the fire inside me burning through the darkness.
Social: Staying in touch with old friends and family connects me to my roots and keeps me grounded.
At least in my experience, beginning a self-care routine doesn’t always function like the normal honeymoon phase of new experiences.
It’s not ever easy to pull yourself out the door for a run when you’ve been so used watching Netflix after work to relax. Church isn’t all that appealing when you’ve decided that Sundays are for sleeping in. It’s kind of awkward to call your mother when you haven’t updated her about your life in the last month. Who has time to journal when you’ve been struggling to get even 7 hours of sleep lately?
The cool thing about running and going to church and journaling and talking to your mother, though, is that these are experiences that get easier and more meaningful with faithful dedication. They might be draining at first, but they provide the structure that can hold you up when you’re being tossed around by the waning honeymoon phases of life.
It took me over 22 years to refine the self-care practices that work for me (am I seriously that old?), and I’m still working to perform them with regularity. I’m guessing that the next 22 will bring a completely new set of experiences that I’ll need to learn to stitch together into a holistic pattern of self.
I’m up for the challenge though, because wholeness is what I’m after.