Before coming into recovery when I heard the cliché ‘self-care’ I would cringe.
I pictured candle lit bubble baths, expensive spa days and massages, or middle of the day coffee dates with girlfriends. None of these options seemed possible in my single mother, full time working and minimum wage-earning life. I was confused and, in a way, a little resentful.
I was reminded over and over while in treatment and at the 12 step fellowship meetings I attended how important self-care was when recovering from a substance use disorder.
But how do I find the time?
How can I afford it?
Do I neglect my responsibilities for self-care?
Is it really that important?
Self-care is defined as “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health” by the Oxford English Dictionary.
Seems simple enough.
Except culture and the media distorted my image of what self-care fundamentally is and left me feeling like it was unrealistic.
Through my process of recovery, I developed a deeper understanding of self-care.
I stopped imagining the “Hollywood version” where a girlfriend and I alternate between gossiping and sipping lattes while we get pedicures.
I have come to look at self-care as any activity, habit, or routine that we engage in to care for our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health. Practicing self-care helps to improve our mood, reduce anxiety, and allows us to develop a healthy relationship with ourselves and others.
I learned to incorporate self-care into my daily routine which allowed me to dismiss any guilt I felt as a result of designating chunks of time to myself rather than my family. I learned that I had hobbies and interests beyond being a mother or an employee. I also learned that usually my self-care activities are free.
A few things I consider part of my self-care routine:
- Be easier on myself, allow down time
When I came into recovery, I started to gain self-esteem. The more I did and accomplished, the better I felt about myself. Which was all good and fine, until I gained some blessings (new job, house, dog) and I found myself with less time to get all said things done. I struggled with equating my self-value with my productivity. I learned to talk to and treat myself the same way I would with a loved one. I am not superwoman, and I can’t expect myself to be able to do everything all the time. It is okay to take a break.
- Spending time outside
I have always enjoyed being outdoors, but since finding recovery I depend on it. There is nowhere I feel more connected with myself or grounded. Exposure to sunshine and fresh air is proven to reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, increase energy levels, boost the immune system, improve mood by increasing levels of serotonin as well as stimulating melatonin production which is important for healthy sleeping patterns and preventing depression. Now I call that a “win-win.”
- Say “no”
I learned that the word “no” is actually a complete sentence. I am allowed, at any time, to turn down an invitation or temporarily decline an assignment. If I feel like I am being spread too thin, getting emotionally overwhelmed, or just too plain tired I can say no. It’s a form of self-preservation for the mind, body and soul. And the best part is, I don’t owe anyone an explanation for why I said “no.” No is no and that is that.
When I think about a time in my life when I felt genuinely content, I recall my father reading “The Wizard of Oz” and “Charlotte’s Web” to me before bed. It’s like those moments with him gave birth to the book worm that I am today. I’ve always loved reading and now prefer it to watching television (which drastically helped my insomnia in early recovery). Sitting back with a good book has been a great way for me to relax and decompress while spending quality time with my family. The icing on the cake? My son and I have started our own bedtime reading routine that I hope he’ll cherish as much as I did.
- Remaining true to myself
It’s hard to explain the incredible freedom of living without a chemical dependence after years of despair. Finally, free to go, do, and be whatever I want, which includes being a woman with integrity, grace and dignity. It is important that I uphold these principles and virtues in every aspect of my life because I value my self-esteem and choose not to give away or lose pieces of myself anymore. Those days of people pleasing and compromising myself are over.
- Indulge in a good meal
I don’t know about you, but I always feel like food tastes better when someone else cooks it for me; especially after a long week of working, running errands, and taking care of my family. Indulging on delicious food whether it’s a night out at a fancy restaurant, something quick I picked up on the way home, or delivered straight to my door is my absolute favorite way to wind down and reward myself. Which, makes sense because the act of eating signals the brain the release endorphins, such as dopamine, into the body.
Self-care doesn’t have to be another expense, or a time of isolation. It doesn’t need to include bubble baths, although they are nice, or weekend getaways. Sometimes it isn’t anything more than paying attention to what brings you joy and choosing to do more of it.
Self-care is appreciation towards yourself. Self-care is devotion to your mind, body and soul. Self-care is the ultimate act of self-love.