It's been three weeks since I last had a glass of wine, sip of bourbon, or anything stronger than coffee. Three weeks in, and I felt like something was missing, but what? It hit me that, at the end of the week, or a long day, a glass of wine had come to signify relaxation. It meant the work day was done, and I could now settle in with the cat, watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer reruns, and recharge. I realized I needed to find other roads to relaxation, and different means to care for and treat myself. What better way to talk about week three than combine two buzzy (pun fully intended) ideas, Dry January, and self-care!
- The actual meaning of self-care is incredibly unclear to most people: It's become a phrase that everyone from therapists, to yoga instructors, to the guy at the deli like to throw around. "You gotta take care of yourself!" "You can't get water from a dry well!" "Nourish your soul!" But, what on earth does that all mean? Where do I get this water? I didn't realize that souls ate, will this require extra food shopping? Let's break this down and demystify self-care once and for all.
- Self-care is different for everyone, and depends on what you want and need: To understand how to care for your body and your mind, you need to get to know them first. Oftentimes, people use drugs, alcohol, shopping, gambling, as a means to detach from themselves. It's no wonder that in early sobriety, it's difficult to care for yourself. Once you stop numbing yourself with your substance or activity of choice, you'll find that feelings you may have been avoiding for years rush to the surface. What are they telling you? Are you anxious? Angry? Sad? Lonely? Are you tired? Hungry? Filled with aches and pains? Once you are able to check in with your body and mind to see how exactly you're feeling, it will be much easier to figure out the type of self-care that you need. Have no idea how to begin figuring out what you're feeling? Mindfulness is a great place to start!
- "To thine own self be true:" Once I checked in with my mind and body, I realized that I needed a couple of things at the end of the day; an activity that marked the transition between work life and home life, and a way to relax my muscles (by the end of the day, my shoulders were usually hovering somewhere around my ears). I still wanted a beverage, and played around with a couple before settling on lemon-ginger herbal tea. Did I just catch you mid eye-roll with your finger hovering on the close out button? Of course drinking herbal tea is not going to be as immediately relaxing as a glass of wine, it's about the habit. Over time, that glass of wine had come to symbolize stress relief, freedom from responsibility, and fun. I've been forming a new habit over the past three weeks, and slowly, I'm starting to experience that same sense when I'm preparing my tea. The awareness of my body has also led me back to yoga, and to an appointment with an Orthopedist. That's my self care. You might realize that your clothing feels uncomfortable, and your self-care might involve getting some better fitting underwear! Feeling hunger at the end of the day may lead to preparing your evening meal the day before. Base your self care on your needs, and not what everyone else tells you it is! If someone tried to put cucumbers over my eyes, I'd probably eat them.
- You cannot take care of your mind without tending to your body: I like to think of mental health as a pyramid; you need a firm base that starts with taking care of your body. Now that you've increased your awareness - how are you sleeping? Are you eating enough? Are you eating too much? Have you been putting off doctor's visits? A solid base of physical self care won't solve your mental health concerns, but it will certainly put you in a stronger position to address them.
- Did I forget to mention that this may not be easy? It seems straightforward; have a cup of tea, get a massage, buy some new underwear, but actually putting these things into practice can be incredibly difficult, especially if you have an underlying mental health concern, are in the early states of sobriety, or both. Be kind to yourself, and remember to celebrate small wins. If you find that the difficulties you're experiencing are so great that self-care seems like an impossibility, an evaluation with a licensed mental health professional might be helpful.
Are you in the early stages of sobriety and learning to care for yourself in other ways? Do you have any tips about self-care that you'd like to share? Comment below!
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol and/or substance abuse, there is help out there. Check out this link to find out information about treatment programs and providers in your area. Click here if you require urgent or crisis resources. Help is available 24/7 by calling the National Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Dr. Scrivani specializes in the Cognitive Behavioral treatment of anxiety and related disorders, behavioral parent training, and provides tele-mental health services to residents of New York, Florida, and internationally. Call (888) 535-5671 or email [email protected] to set up a free consultation. Visit my website for more information.