How I Take Care: Author and Self-Care Advocate Alex Elle
There's something magical about the words of author Alexandra Elle. Her authenticity and eloquence have the power to move even the most cynical.
Whether you've picked up one of her books, tuned into her podcast hey, girl., or found yourself stopped mid-scroll by one of her heartfelt musings on Instagram—it's likely that Alex's words have gently nudged you forward or helped you examine your own life with more compassion, gratitude, and self-love.
In this How I Take Care interview: Alex shares how she has been leaning on community now more than ever, what she’s learned about the power of gratitude, and the definition of hope she's holding onto as 2021 unfolds.
On unpacking self-care and exploring our 'emotional onions':
When I started shifting how I was looking at self-care and thinking about the moving parts of our lives, I started to understand that in order for us to move smoothly, we have to take time out to really cater to what we need.
We have to check in with our bodies, to breathe deeply, to get outside, to dance, to find joy, to rest emotionally and physically, and name what we need.
All of that requires our community. All of that requires being able to say to my husband, “Hey, I need a moment” or “Hey, I have three calls back to back, and here's what I need for the kids or whatever.” Self-care is not just this one-dimensional experience where it's like, “Oh, I'm taking care of myself by taking a bath or buying those jeans” or whatever that consumerism tries to show us is self-care.
We have to pull back the layers of our emotional onion. Then, we're able to kind of see and ask: What are the layers of our self-care practices and what are the layers made of? What do those layers teach us about showing up actively, intentionally, and fully in our communities?
On learning how to lean on community care:
Over the past two and a half years I’ve really leaned into (community care). The reason being is because my two youngest children are 20 months apart. So my husband and I needed a lot of community support and we also needed rest to take care of ourselves.
I realized that my self-care practice looks a lot different as a mother of three. It's just not the same anymore. In order to adjust, I have to put down some of my baggage that I like to carry.
Strength and resilience aren’t always healthy, because you absolutely need other people to show up for you so that you can show up for yourself too. Over the past two and a half years, I've been really leaning on that and exploring that.
I’ve also been looking at it from an ancestral lens because our ancestors did this. Our ancestors were in community and they helped raise each other's babies. They helped in the kitchen, they were cooking for each other, running errands for each other. They were leaning on one another. If we want to take it all the way back to when Black people were enslaved, right? They needed their community.
Now more than ever, I think we need to be leaning back into community care—especially because we have the privilege now of taking care of ourselves in ways that our ancestors could not. It only makes sense to link the two and it makes life less lonely. It takes the burden off our shoulders, especially as Black people and Black women in particular, to have to carry everything on our own from holding jobs to child-rearing to keeping the home clean.
Because things are different now, we should act accordingly and we should not feel like we have to carry the world and our responsibilities on our shoulders all the time. That's where that community care really comes into play for me.
On building a gratitude practice:
Affirmation writing is always something I have in my emotional toolbox, but at a low point, it was really challenging for me to put positive words of affirmation on the page.
Something that I did for the month of November 2020 is create a newsletter called Gratitude Daily. I sent out a gratitude message, short and sweet and it featured what I'm thankful for.
I was doing it for me because gratitude brings us back to our liberties and our freedom. It brings us back to our center. It reminds us even in the little moments, even in the mundane things, that there is something to be grateful for.
Gratitude brings us back to our liberties and our freedom. It brings us back to our center. It reminds us even in the little moments, even in the mundane things, that there is something to be grateful for.
That gratitude email list really helped me and it grew extremely fast. There are thousands of people on the list, and I realized I'm not alone here. I sent out an email asking the community if they want to continue and so many people asked me to please continue. It helped me come back home to myself. It helped me remember the small things and helped me get into a nightly ritual of (writing) down my gratitude at the end of the day.
We are in this together. We are in this collective grief, but also collective gratitude and healing in unison. No matter our differences, our backgrounds, our race, our gender identity, our socioeconomic status—we are in this exact moment in history together, which is extremely powerful.
That's what's really helped along with therapy to get clear about what I need, what I want, and what I deserve.
We are in this together. We are in this collective grief, but also collective gratitude and healing in unison. No matter our differences, our backgrounds, our race, or gender identity, our socioeconomic status. We are in this exact moment in history together, which is extremely powerful.
On vulnerability and a journey of learning:
When I first started writing books, in stepping into this role as author almost nine years ago, a friend of mine said to me, “Stop hoarding your story and your happiness, because you never know who will need it.”
That really shook me up because I didn't have a book out yet or think people were going to read the stuff I write. Her saying that other people will need it felt absolutely ridiculous. I had no idea what she was speaking over my life. Even though I had always been a writer, I had always felt really vulnerable in a cage: It was just for me. It wasn't for hundreds of thousands of people to resonate with.
In my career, I knew I wanted to build off of our unique but common struggles. We all go through different things. We all go through different struggles, but at the root of what we're going through, if you think of our struggles as a plant, at the root of what we're going through is community. It’s wanting to be connected and it’s communication. Those are really important because that's how people relate.
As the plant grows, if we're thinking of it in that metaphoric way, the vulnerability is what sprouts from that. It’s what other people can see and relate to, admire, look at and think, “Huh, I'm not alone in this.”
I want people who read my work to not feel alone. I want them to feel like there’s a sense of camaraderie and connection and community and self-trust—because us telling our stories inadvertently gives other people the permission to tell their stories. That's what vulnerability does: It's like a ripple effect.
I want people who read my work to not feel alone. I want them to feel like they're a sense of camaraderie and connection and community and self-trust—because us telling our stories inadvertently gives other people the permission to tell their stories.
It's like dominos and it’s really beautiful. Especially as Black people to be vulnerable and to be open in a way that we're kind of taught not to be. Over the past, almost decade, I continue to learn. I continue to explore what I'm open to sharing and what I'm not and what I'm healing from and what still feels tender and what still hurts.
My new book After The Rain is a collection of the lessons: 15 lessons that I've learned over the past 31 years. The response that I'm getting from people about the stories in After The Rain shows how important it is for us to be vulnerable.
Not all of us are going to be writing books. Not all of us are going to be artists. Not all of us are going to be married or with children, but all of us have relationships with someone. And those relationships require honesty and vulnerability, because that is what bridges the gap to connect people. Even through all the uniqueness that is exclusive to me in my experience, it does not mean it can't be received with understanding and grace and connection.
That's what the power of vulnerability has taught me: To show up honestly and fully so that people can relate—not so that I come across as this expert because I'm not, I'm a student of life and I will never know it all, you know? And that's the goal—to never know it all so you can continue to learn.
On unlocking the power of writing as therapy:
I teach journaling courses, writing retreats, and workshops where we put a lot of stuff down on the page. I found writing by way of therapy, and writing to heal changed my life. I want to give that gift to as many people as I can, though it can get heavy. I have to do a lot of energy work afterwards, or I have to call my spiritual teacher and I have to release things. I have to meditate. I have to recharge, but it is so worth it to be able to give people the gift of writing.
A lot of society enforces that someone else knows you better than you do. And yes, we need experts. We need doctors, we need psychiatrists. We need counselors. We need folks in their fields of expertise. But something that I will always keep close to me is that my own therapist, who I was paying when I first went to therapy when I was 19 or 20 years old, told me that she wasn't there to give me my answers and that I was the expert of my life. She was just there to guide me towards my answer.
That was the most liberating thing I'd ever been told ever in my life. Like what the hell? I know my answers? I've never been taught to trust myself enough to be curious about everything that I'm dealing with or to greet my pain by asking “How am I hurting?” or "Where am I hurting?" and not looking for someone else to tell me that. To be able to do that on the page is just phenomenal.
On redefining hope:
We say hope and we don't really think about the root definition. The first thing that comes up is hope is a noun. It’s “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”
I don't really get hope that way, but then I looked down one and the next definition is “a feeling of trust."
Hope for me is a feeling of trust. It’s not just things I want to happen but trusting that things will happen if they belong to me. If they're supposed to happen. A feeling of trust will live with myself and knowing that I can carry hope in my heart, even in grief, even in pain, because I trust that it will subside and teach me something.
So for me, hope is a feeling of trust.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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