I had no idea how to take care of myself when I got sober. For me, it took a year of recovery and many stressful days and nights to arrive at the conclusion that I am not a person who one might call a “pro” at self-care (side note: self-care is apparently a verb; “so and so self-cares by eating spinach and kale 200 times a day”). As alcoholics, my tribe and I require the reminder that taking care of ourselves should be factored into our everyday lives–so much so that we need to use the words “self-care” to describe this phenomenon for it to make any sense to us. Before I got sober, I’d never considered treating my mind, body or spirit as the delicate treasures that they are. I drank and hoped the alcohol would take care of all of those things for me. I knew deep down that going to yoga classes three times a week hungover, in-between 10 cigarette breaks each, or replacing entire meals with wine and whiskey weren’t a part of what any healthy person would consider best practices. Now that I am in recovery, it pains me each time I deny myself the proper nutrients, water, exercise and sleep it takes to power a person who works a full-time program and two (new) part-time jobs. It’s about fucking time.
I recently enlisted the help of a trusted confidant to help me learn how to take care of myself. This person is my “wellness coach” of sorts; he helps me incorporate healthier lifestyle choices into my days, one tiny step at a time. I was hesitant to reach out to him, though I have experienced first-hand how his positive teaching methods have helped others around me. My hesitation reflected my fear of taking a cold, hard look at all of the ways I have not been looking after myself while being accountable to another human being other than myself. After about a week and a half working with him, It dawned on me this afternoon that I haven’t practiced self-care more than a few times in my life….hardly ever, hardly at all.
Others in the program with more years of sobriety under their belts frequently remind me that I am not doing anything “wrong” and that it takes awhile for the mind to catch up with a growing and developing spirit. I am frustrated lately that it takes so much work for me to see what others might casually identify as obvious ways to feel better about myself. I think it all boils down to self-esteem. I get ahead of myself when I compare my journey to another person’s who has had different experiences than I have. I know groups of women who were (and still are) fitness instructors, yoga teachers, non-smokers, juicers, gluten-free, vegan activists who are at their core alcoholics, just as I am. These women are people I love and admire, not only for their healthy lifestyles, but also for the ways they bring honesty to our friendships and to the group. My ears perk up when I hear them share about the feelings that come along with being walking, talking paradoxes: healthy people with inherently unhealthy addictions.
And so I ask myself: is it possible for me to be an addict AND a healthy person? I still smoke cigarettes–much to the chagrin of myself and my mother–and I have made countless failed attempts to give that shit up once and for all. I have not been willing to give up one of the two things (cigs and nicotine) that “help” me manage my anxiety. I have the unhealthy habits of a drunk person, but I am as sober as the day is long. I have been smoking on and off for 10 years, mostly because I was always wasted and wanted as many crutches as I could utilize before my addictions became totally socially unacceptable (I toed that line more times than I care to admit). I want to quit smoking, limit my caffeine intake to two gallons of coffee per day, take up my beloved yoga practice again, cook for myself and my loved ones and sleep more than four hours a night. These are tall orders for someone like me who hasn’t considered that maybe it would be worth it–that I would be worth it–in the end. The more I try to think myself out of doing the very things I know will make me feel better, the less excited I feel about taking really good care of myself. In my experience being sober, whatever I resist, persists. The more I neglect the things I love, the more my self-esteem will take a hit. I can’t consciously accept this kind of denial as a conscious person, it just doesn’t sit right with me anymore.
I know my days as a smoker who doesn’t sleep and rarely exercises more than a couple times a month are swiftly coming to a close. I predict that posting this will attract the expertise of women and men in my social media networks who have some success at practicing self-care in a sustainable manner. I welcome any and all feedback from all of you who have found a harmonious balance to a healthy life. I know it’s possible…show me your ways!