Self-care is one of the most important things we learn to do in recovery. When we drink and use, or when we suffer from mental illness, we look for outside sources to self-soothe. Our internal resources are often verboten to us; they are either non-existent or significantly unsafe. The recovery process helps us cultivate that inner resource, where we become able to self-soothe, and take care of our own needs without sacrificing our well-being.
Occasionally, one of our alumni writes guest posts for us, sharing what it’s like to be a young adult in recovery from mental illness and addiction, and how she is learning to live fully. To every woman I work with, I encourage self-care. To every newcomer I meet and extend my hand, I encourage self-care. This young lady really breaks down some of the necessary components of finding and cultivating self-care. I’m honored to share her voice:
Personal or self-awareness is essential when acknowledging and learning about yourself. Recognition of your needs is the first step. Second would be to put those things into action. In dealing with physical needs you must first distinguish the basics.
Sleep is essential for all humans; it plays a major role in ones emotional state. Exercise also has a sizeable portion in a healthy life. Staying active is vital in maintaining ones physical health. Whether it be a lot or a little, it is incredibly important. Keep in mind that exercise of any kind releases endorphins in the brain, and this is equally significant in supporting and preserving a healthy emotional state of mind.
When it comes to both of these forms of self-care, moderation is imperative. Where sleep and exercise are helpful and quite necessary, too much or too little of each of these things are not. Too much sleep may indicate a person who is suffering from depression. Sleeping the day away could be a direct result of trying to hide or suppress feelings. Sleeping too little could also suggest that a person is overworked or even depressed.
On the other hand, exercise, while very important, should not become your main focus. If exercise becomes an obsession, this could be viewed as a type of disorder (specifically having to do with your health concerning your weight and appetite). And exercising too little may force you to become sluggish and will not help your healthfulness.
Hygiene and nutrition are two more exceedingly important factors to be aware of when handling self-care. Hygiene goes without saying, but nutrition is something that many either do not take into consideration at all, or become preoccupied with. Overall, physical needs transfer to emotional wellness when you begin to take your health and wellbeing into your own hands.
For emotional security, taking pride in yourself is crucial when working on self-care. Doing things for you should be your main priority. As my mom often says, “You cannot help someone else without first taking care of yourself.” Happiness comes from doing what you love, so pursue hobbies that you find joy in and take pleasure in. For me, that means going on a bike ride, playing the drums, taking photos, and writing. It took me a long time to find things I genuinely liked. For some people, they have known their whole life and even turn it into a profession. Others may pursue their passion as a hobby and many people have yet to find out what they love to do. Even if you don’t really pursue something, there are plenty of things that you can do to have fun and enjoy yourself.
Some other activities one can partake in are singing, dancing, taking a drive, or riding a train, taking a bath, going to the beach or for a swim, getting a massage, or even being of service to someone else in some way.
Doing kind things for other people is probably one of the most helpful things you can do for you. Helping others encourages you to get out of yourself.
Acknowledging my own specific difficulties and balancing love and patience for myself with gratitude and recognition for what I already have is a critical balance. For example, I personally struggle with manic-depression, or Bi-Polar disorder. This means that taking my medication for the mental illness that I face is a fundamental and key part of upholding and literally balancing my life.
Reaching out to others whether it is a friend, relative, or a therapist, is a productive way to take care of your mental state. Checking in with someone to not only talk about your struggles and/or triumphs, but also about theirs, is a great method when encouraging self-care for you and others. For those of us in 12-step programs, calling a sponsor and going to meetings is a positive way to turn your frown upside down. Relating to another person is almost always helpful when you are struggling with something. Going to a meeting can get you out of your head and into the open arms of a fellow 12-stepper.
Many people believe that spirituality plays a large role in turning one’s attitude around. I believe that no matter what religion you practice, faith you believe in, or Higher Power you trust and respect, you can find self-care in spirituality. My teacher, and someone that I look up to and greatly respect likes to approach every situation with a level of compassion that is almost unheard of. However you practice self-care, do it kindly, but whatever you do, get into action.