One of the buzzwords of the last few years has been “self-care”—it moved from the offices of therapists to the outside world (self-help world, new-age theorists, media, talk shows) and now you see it thrown around everywhere. But as it is with any new trend, this is a confusing term for many who are suspicious of anything New-Age-y, who read “self-care” and decide it has something to do with spirituality and spas and possibly pedicures.
…Actually, it might have to do with all those things, as “self-care” is a very individual concept. What makes you feel cared for is not necessarily what will make someone else feel the same way. So if going for a pedicure gives you warm fuzzies, than add it to the list.
That’s right—make a list! Write down all the things that make you feel good and write down all the things that you can do to avoid feeling bad. Sounds simple and it is, but dig a little deeper and really figure out what those Good and Bad things are. For example, for me, going to a meeting where I am sure to run into someone who stresses me out is not a Good thing even though it’s a meeting and is technically a part of my recovery. But it’s not Good Enough, even if it’s a meeting. My self-care should involve going to a meeting where I feel safe and welcomed and where I won’t risk stress of running into someone who disrupts me. Self-care is setting and having boundaries—so guilt-tripping yourself into attending an uncomfortable meeting is not part of the deal.
I’ve said many times that it’s important to remember when we get out of our trauma and go into recovery, we are very vulnerable. We’re more vulnerable in the beginning, but taking good care of ourselves should be a lifelong process anyway. Many newly sober people feel a lot of guilt and remorse and confusion, which might lead them to engage in some questionable and shaming behaviors such as trying to apologize too soon, going to confession, sticking with the know-it-all people in the rooms of AA who are not trained professionals and can be full of bad advice. Running on misguided instincts—no matter how good our intentions—is not self-care. Remember that early in sobriety, our bodies and our especially brains are still readjusting to the new life—we are not quite ourselves at the beginning of our journeys and we have to attend to our recovery with utmost tact and care. I don’t mean forgoing the discipline of recovery but I mean learning to be gentle with yourself enough to recognize harmful situations that can lead to more trauma and confusion. In the beginning, self-care might just mean being watchful, attentive, and Self-Protecting.
With time, adding to your list of self-care will be something that can provide great refuge in times of stress. Even years into recovery, I sometimes forget that I don’t do well if I don’t get enough sleep or if I don’t eat at a certain time. I don’t have to “baby” myself any more but occasionally, I do stumble a little and forget what I need to do to feel good. I can take frantic vacation, but I know now—based on experience—that I do better with planning. I know now that I should spend some of my weekend resting instead of trying to socialize and help everybody that’s asking for help (overextending yourself when helping others is not part of self-care and it is not good for your boundaries).
I know what makes me feel good and what makes me feel unhappy, and if I can focus on one and avoid the other, I’m good to go! I’ve a friend who used to be a social butterfly, but in recovery, she discovered she’s an introvert and groups of people drain her. So she stopped attending all the events and she stopped feeling guilty about it and has made peace with the fact that her ideal Friday night is actually staying in and watching a movie. That’s self-care.
The beauty of recovery lies not only in finally becoming free of substances and hopefully, eventually, of some of our traumas. The beauty of recovery lies also in the fact that we have gotten ourselves back so that we can help ourselves and take care of ourselves in the safest, most loving way possible. And self-care is one of the greatest tools we have to teach ourselves self-love.
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