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The Importance of Self-Care in Recovery

“There is no better investment in your current and future self than to take better care of you.”

Self-care: a concept that is seemingly easy to understand but challenging to practice. Too often, it is placed very low on the totem pole of “things to do”. No one outside of yourself is holding you accountable, and there is also a tendency for people to feel more comfortable with providing love, care, and attention to others rather than themselves. Although self-care and self-love are important for all individuals to establish, they are particularly essential for people in recovery.

What is Self-Care?

By definition, self-care is “care of the self without medical or other professional consultation.” It is an opportunity to focus your attention inward and take some time to reset and recharge when feeling unstable to reach a balanced state of mind, body, and soul. The practice and action of self-care can vary greatly and include a variety of activities.

There is a common misconception that self-care is expensive, time-consuming, and selfish. However, it can be quite the opposite! 

Where Do I Start?

Beginning to practice self-care can be overwhelming. It can be especially confusing for those who have battled addiction and substance dependence to figure out where to start. While in active addiction, individuals can struggle with meeting even their most basic needs, resulting in a downward spiral of further use and declining physical and mental health as well as ongoing feelings of guilt, shame, and being unlovable.

A man writing in a journal as form of self-care.

The unhealthy and ineffective thoughts around one’s self during active addiction can follow into sobriety and recovery, making the idea of self-care and self-love feel impossible. However, by putting a few small things into practice each day, healthy habits begin to form, and a self-care routine becomes much more natural!

Dimensions of Self-Care

Self-Care can mean something different to everyone and can span across multiple dimensions including physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and professional. It is important to start out by asking yourself, “what brings me joy, happiness, and a sense of calm?” Next, brainstorm and create an ongoing list based on your response to that question. Examples of each dimension include:

Physical: eating healthy, going for a walk, doing an exercise you enjoy, enjoying a cup of coffee or tea, getting enough sleep, wearing clothes you like, limiting screen time, and taking a day trip / mini vacation

A group of friends running as a form of self-care.

Psychological: writing in a journal, reading a book, saying “no” to extra responsibilities, meditating

Emotional: setting healthy and effective boundaries, spending time with those whose company you enjoy, giving yourself positive affirmations, finding things to make you laugh, allowing yourself to cry

Spiritual: spending time in nature, connecting with a spiritual community, praying, volunteering

Professional: taking time off, setting limits, taking a break during the work day, taking time to chat with co-workers

Self-Care in Recovery

Everyone’s road to recovery looks different, but developing a self-care strategy is a vital part of creating a healthy and effective daily routine. In addition to the above examples, the following steps and areas of self-care are equally important for people in recovery:

Staying Connected

Addiction lives and breathes in isolation. Surrounding yourself with individuals and groups of people who can support and encourage you through your journey is key. Building a strong support network through AA, SMART Recovery, Refuge to Recovery, treatment groups, etc. will set you up with a solid foundation for you to begin to build your sober life on.

A man meditates as a form of self-care.

Mindfulness Practice

Remaining in the “here and now” can be uncomfortable, especially since using and abusing substances achieves the opposite state and aids in avoiding current thoughts and feelings. However, being present gives you a chance to get in touch with what is really going on in the moment. This can be achieved through a variety of activities including stretching, deep and controlled breathing, creating a gratitude journal, and yoga.

Maintaining Healthy Boundaries

Understanding what situations and individuals in your life cause distress and triggers and establishing boundaries that are comfortable for you is essential to self-care. Knowing that it is okay to say “no” and taking time for yourself when needed is okay and will go a long way. Self-care is about protecting you!

Channeling Creativity

Many of the activities and hobbies that you may have previously enjoyed were likely tossed to the side during active addiction. Take a moment to think about those things that brought you joy or an activity that you have always wanted to try but never had the opportunity to. This can include reading, writing, photography, gardening, cooking – the possibilities are endless! 

By: Kayla DonFrancesco, LPC

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