You only need to take a look at alcohol memes on social media to see that there is a common understanding that alcohol can be a solution to stress, a way to reward yourself for a job well done, and a vital part of Mum’s self-care routine.
Anyone who has, or is, dealing with an alcohol addiction will tell you the other side. Alcohol is neither a solution to your problems nor is using it an act of self-care. It is, in actual fact, the exact opposite.
When I was drinking, the height of “self-care” to me was a long bubble bath with wine, music, a joint and a book. I could lose hours in the bath, refilling at least twice, and getting out wrinkly and very, VERY blurry. I probably didn’t take in much of the book by the end.
For a little while in sobriety, baths felt odd and became far more functional.
I had to learn to enjoy them differently. Now, I am back to enjoying long soaks in the bath with music, a book and a herbal tea!
Developing a good self-care routine really does make sobriety easier. Here are just some of the benefits I have found.
Stress management and relief
Recovery is not just about giving up the addictive behavior, it is about developing a new set of coping strategies to help you navigate the difficult times in life. Having a good bank of self-care strategies gives you plenty to turn to when you need to deal with stress.
A bank of self care strategies, and regular use of them, means that when you are stressed or unhappy, you will know what you can turn to in order to make you feel better, and to process the way you are feeling without needing to resort to numbing through drink, drugs or other self-harming habits.
Addiction often has its roots in, and fuels, low self-esteem. That feeling of inadequacy, the inner voice telling you constantly that you are not good enough, can be drowned out if you drink/smoke/shop/surf/gamble enough. For a while at least, but it always returns. Making self-care part of your daily routine starts to tell that inner voice that actually, you are good enough, and that you deserve to be treated well.
A self-care routine will help you to get yourself into a relaxed state of mind, and enable life to flow easier around you. A nighttime routine that nourishes you before bed will help you to be ready for sleep, and to help you get a better night’s sleep. Helpful nighttime self-care ideas could include a warm bath, reading some light fiction, journaling, writing a gratitude list, drinking herbal tea, some light exercise such as yoga and self-massage.
When you take care of yourself and feel valued by yourself, you are better able to communicate your needs to others. Often, when we feel inadequate or undeserving of love, we lash out at the people around us, frustrated by our inability to say what we really want and need. Much of the time we don’t even realize that this is happening.
By learning how to respect and value yourself, you become better able to show others what you need. My mother used to tell my brother and me when she was in need of some alone time, “I am going in the bath and I don’t want to be disturbed.” When she told us this we knew that we had better have a real life-or-death reason to disturb her, so we didn’t. This allowed my mum to restore herself and enable her to deal with raising two quarrelsome children!
Connection to body
Addiction creates disassociation from the body and can lead to a lack of concern for your personal care. The addiction can take priority over physical needs, and we learn to ignore the messages that the body gives. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times I ignored my tiredness, or my aching liver, in order to carry on drinking. Prioritizing self-care means that you learn to respect what your body and mind need, and give it to them.
Maintaining balance and recovery
I know that when I am not taking good enough care of myself, I start to feel really out of balance, and can start to feel quite overwhelmed. It is in those times that my mental health is most at risk, and I need to exercise extreme self-care to bring myself back to balance. Recently I have felt quite unsettled and unbalanced and reflected that my self-care was dwindling. Among many things, I realized that my coffee consumption had risen a lot, and I needed to return to the calmer, less anxious state that a caffeine-free life. An agonizing headache and the stupefying exhaustion that the detox created confirmed to me that coffee really isn’t good for me and that I need to eliminate it from my life. Already, now that my headache and exhaustion have mostly passed, I am feeling clearer, happier, more at peace and definitely more focused!
Self-care is absolutely vital in life, and definitely in recovery. We need to let go of the idea that it is a selfish thing to do. As a mother, I know that if I am not taking good care of myself, I am unable to be fully present as the mother I want to be, the mother my son deserves. I cannot adequately show up in any of the roles I have in my life, so it is vital that I take care of myself, and the same is true for you. Self-care keeps us well and balanced, and so is the greatest gift you can give to those who love you.
This post originally appeared on Balance and Breathe. It has been reprinted with permission.