How to Make Self-Care a Priority in Recovery (And Why this is Important for All)
Throughout life, many of us are taught to extend love outwards- to be kind to others, to share, to shower others with compassion, empathy and generosity. Yet, when it comes to directing all those gifts to ourselves, it often feels less natural.
When you’ve spent time in a dark place, as manifested by addiction, you may have spent much of your sober time feeling guilt, shame, and perhaps self loathing. It can be challenging to replace that hatred with adoration and love. You may not feel you deserve such gifts— but ironically, your ability to love others depends on your ability to love yourself.
Why Self-Care is Essential in Recovery
Self-compassion and self-care are integral cornerstones of healing addiction. While it sounds easy, for many of us, learning to love ourselves in recovery can be one of the most challenging tasks we face in treatment.
Addiction is a form of self-abuse and oftentimes, harmful coping mechanisms are used to mask any negative feelings you may have about yourself. By practicing self-care, and learning to extend love towards yourself, you begin to cultivate feelings of self-worth, strength and resiliency.
Loving yourself does not mean you are selfish or self-centred. On the contrary, loving yourself deepens your ability to care for others and broadens your capacity to love. Pointing your compassion inwards fosters increased empathy for those around you. Simply put, you can’t care for others if you don’t care for yourself first.
Self-care includes caring for your whole being, including living a balanced lifestyle (being mindful of sleep, nutrition and exercise), exerting healthy boundaries for yourself and others, practicing self-acceptance, and becoming more mindful and aware of your thoughts, behaviours and actions.
Here are 6 elements of self-care to practice in recovery, which will nourish your entire being. And while these are important practices for those in recovery, they’re also important self-care measures for all.
The 6 Elements of Self-Care in Recovery
Physical self-care means caring for your body internally and externally. Your physical self-care could be ensuring you get eight hours of rest every night, taking a long walk, or preparing yourself a healthy and wholesome meal. By prioritizing things like sleep and nutrition, you can optimize your energy levels, which results in having more energy for yourself and loved ones.
Emotional self-care is important for both your internal and external health. You can take care of your emotional well being by processing and verbalizing feelings with trusted friends, family members or a therapist. You can also release negative emotions through an expressive art form, such as listening to music, singing, drawing or dancing.
It also helps to avoid situations and people that cause you undue emotional distress, practice setting boundaries, and learn to be in touch with your thoughts and feelings. By releasing your emotions rather than bottling them in, you can move through painful experiences that may otherwise cause you to suffer.
You can practice mental self-care by trying new activities that challenge and stimulate you mentally. Engage in an inspiring, philosophical or meaningful conversation with a friend, try a puzzle, or delve into a new book. It’s common to get caught in stagnation traps and stick to what’s familiar, so trying a new activity or hobby can help shake off mental cobwebs.
Spiritual self care might be achieved through meditation or yoga, by donating your time to a worthy cause, or by spending time in solitude in nature. For some, spirituality is found in books and for others, it’s found in wilderness. Your spirituality is personal to you and only you. This aspect of self-care can assist in feelings of connectedness, oneness and universality, and help you diminish feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Relationships are important and social self-care means taking time to nurture the relationships you have. You may practice social self-care by spending quality time with individuals who uplift and support you, such as friends, family or even your sponsor.
If you’re trying to escape negative social circles that don’t support your sobriety and recovery, social self-care might mean looking outwards to create new, meaningful friendships and connections. A few ways to do this may be to join a 12 step recovery group, volunteer at special events or sign up for new activities.
Practical self-care involves caring for routine aspects of your life that support you (housework, groceries, logistics, and finances).
These tasks may feel like chores, but they’re to-do’s that can motivate you and instill a sense of responsibility and accomplishment.
You may choose to de-clutter your home, create a calming space for yourself, or set up a routine to pay your bills on auto-pay. Sometimes financial matters can feel like a burden, especially when you have been dealing with so many emotional issues related to recovery, but having control over practical areas of your life can be incredibly empowering and rewarding.
As you can see, practicing self-care in all aspects of your life can help nurture you as a whole being and leave no area of your life unattended. When you feel as though you’re being cared for, you can give more to others— and this positive energy comes back to you tenfold.