During active addiction, many of us used substances to boost our mood, boost our energy, deal with negative life events, socialize, relax, and “take the edge off” our daily lives. In the modern world, with all of its fast-paced, hectic routines, it can seem all too natural to use and/or abuse chemicals in order to deal with stressors. To this end, and especially when our “crutch” of getting high was still working and without serious consequences for us, we neglected our self-care and replaced it with the artificial peacefulness that came from getting high. Of course, as with all addicts, tolerance developed, negative consequences piled up, and eventually our drugs of choice failed to bring us any kind of release or satisfaction. In fact, they began to simply cause harm in our lives and lost any and all “beneficial”effects.
We were left defenseless against the world in this state, often with our bodies and minds in poor shape. Unable to find a path out, we entered the world of recovery and began to understand that there was in fact a way to live life in the modern world without resorting to chemical substances.
This new life in recovery, however, requires radical changes to almost all aspects of our lives. And one of those areas of change involves taking care of ourselves in ways that we may not have done for years or even decades. Our true self emerges, as do our true needs and wants. Some people, for example, find that they are actually big introverts–that all the clubs and concerts and parties and socializing was mostly mediated by alcohol or drugs and that, without getting high, these high-energy, extroverted activities hold little appeal for them. Perhaps now they deeply enjoy evenings at home reading, or long walks alone in the woods. Others may have the opposite experience. Perhaps they spent most of their addiction alone in their rooms, isolated from the world and, now that they are free, get a lot of pleasure and joy out of going out with friends.
There are some classic and vitally important stand-bys of self care which hold true for most recovering addicts. Basic things, sometimes, that we neglected in addiction. Hygiene, rest, exercise, and nutritious food. Following through with your recovery plan, such as going to 12-step meetings or seeing your therapist. Beyond that, make sure to have fun and find ways to unwind after stressful times (going to a movie, taking a hot bath, buying yourself something nice). Taking more time for oneself, whether that means declining a social invitation when you are feeling exhausted, or trying to go a bit easier at work if you can. Stress reduction is key. Even if work or family remain sources of busy-ness and stress, try to find other areas in your life where you can reduce stress and anxiety by changing your routines or habits. In many cases, setting new boundaries will be necessary. Saying no to a boss at work who wants to pile extra tasks on you, or to a friend who might want you to go out to an event when you’re tired, or even deciding to take a break from dating for a while. A good therapist or self-help group can teach you about the difficult (but important) practice of setting new boundaries in your life that will help you keep your mental, emotional, and spiritual stability.
The internet offers a ton of great resources about ways to have fun in sobriety and relax. Some of this author’s favorites are hot baths, listening to calming music, spending time outdoors, going to meetings and socializing with others in recovery, reading good books and watching favorite TV shows. And don’t forget getting enough sleep! Meditation and naps can also work wonders in terms of slowing down a stressed, overactive brain. Having a pet around is also a common part of recovering addicts’ lives.
Remember that self-care is not some sort of luxury, or something selfish. It is a priority and a right. The time you spend on self-care does not detract from the time you spend on other pursuits–it allows you to interact with your life much more productively and meaningfully. So, in the coming days, try out some new ways to take care of yourself and make sure that you feel more safe, protected, peaceful, and happy in your life. Find what works for you!