People in the rooms will tell you to “Just don’t take the first drink and go to meetings.” They also say “We are not a glum lot.”
Those are the first introductions to self-care and celebrating a life of sobriety.
It often takes a good while for both of those to become habit. Many of us come into recovery having really beaten ourselves to a pulp. Even the “functional” addicts, who still manage to get to their jobs every day, are not eating healthfully, getting deep sleep on a nightly basis or getting to the doctor and dentist regularly.
How many of us drank or got high to relieve anxiety and fear? Once in the throes of our drug of choice, whatever had been bothering us was forgotten. Now, without our substance in our systems, we needed to learn ways to relax that didn’t involve alcohol or drugs.
The first thing we are told is to go to meetings. It’s not that meetings are a magic elixir, but they do keep us busy. They give us a place to go where we can be with other people and not turn to substances. We are not surrounded by our “friends” who are using and encouraging us to just have one.
What other steps can we take to lead to self-care?
One of our many acronyms is HALT, which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. If we are feeling one of these things, we need to find a solution.
We need to learn ways to eat healthy foods. When we re-establish healthy eating, it is one step in the resumption of our lives. And we sit down to eat real meals….not throwing food down our throats over the kitchen sink or sitting behind the wheel of our car.
If we are angry, we need to learn ways to deal with that. Some of us use 12 step programs. Some use therapy. Some use exercise or yoga. Some rely on spirituality or some combination of these tools. These activities will keep us busy and will help us to feel better about ourselves. By having those options to help us find emotionally sober solutions, we move toward recovery.
Being alone is often one of the reasons that we use substances. We can’t stand to be alone with our own thoughts. How often are we told that our head is not a safe neighborhood for us to go alone? So, instead of going to a bar, a party where we know alcohol and other substances will be everywhere or our basement where we go alone, we find sober people to hang with.
We go to meetings and meet people. We go for coffee or dinner with them. Over time we start to make friends in the rooms and we start to do sober things together. We may actually find ourselves smiling or laughing periodically.
As we progress in recovery, it becomes more clear that we can enjoy being in a group of people and we are NOT a glum lot. We can find people who like the same things that we like: hiking, dancing, playing Pictionary, camping, and going on cruises. There is no place we can’t go sober if we are spiritually fit.
Sleep can be truly elusive in early recovery. We sleep for a few hours, wake up and can’t get back to sleep. We may feel tired all the time. Our internal thermometer might be skewed and we may wake up in a sweat even though we are not sick.
Part of this sleep disturbance may be because we have used substances to help us regulate. It takes some time, without drugs and alcohol, for our bodies to re-adjust to normal sleep patterns. But, when we are tired, we need to rest, even if we don’t sleep.
That doesn’t mean sitting on the couch and playing on our phones. It means really doing something to relax. Some take long hot showers or bubble baths. Some listen to relaxing meditations. I have seen people coloring in adult coloring books or crocheting at a meeting. It allows them to listen without getting agitated.
We need to remember to not beat ourselves up.
Talk kindly to ourselves. Accept ourselves…warts and all. And sometimes we need to lie down and close our eyes even if sleep evades up. Rest is very necessary to recovery.
Learning to take care of ourselves does not happen overnight. There is no magic wand. We are told that a new habit can be acquired in 30 days. If we are willing to take it one day at a time, we can put together those days to achieve a more self-caring and enjoyable lifestyle.