Anyone with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or substance use disorder (SUD) knows that addiction can quickly take over your life. Getting your substance of choice becomes the primary concern and all other priorities fall by the wayside. Many in active addiction neglect work, family, school, relationships, and themselves. Driven to find relief from a drink or another substance, that becomes all that matters.
During these darker times, caring for oneself is forgotten. In fact, for many in recovery, this is the first time they are actually practicing self-care. And as recovery begins, learning to take care of oneself also starts. After years of self-neglect, this can be a bumpy road. Many who have a substance abuse issue don’t even know where to begin. But it’s important to learn to practice self-care in order to progress in recovery and heal.
Self-care is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as simply ‘caring for oneself.’ And while this sounds simple, it can be a challenge for people both in and out of recovery to make part of their daily lives. However, learning to love and care for oneself is vital to long-term recovery.
Types of Self-Care
Often when it comes to self-care people think about taking a bubble bath with candles, getting a relaxing manicure, or even taking a long nap. These are all forms of self-care, however, there is much more to self-care than doing something ‘nice’ for yourself once or twice a month.
Self-care involves taking care and nurturing oneself in many ways. This article discusses self-care in the following areas:
This can truly be a daunting thought for those who are in early recovery. Years of neglect and even self-abuse can be difficult patterns to change. But just as these harmful patterns were learned, healthier self-care habits can be formed too. The first step is to keep an open mind and be willing to try.
Self-Care for the Body
Addiction to any substance—alcohol or legal or illicit drugs—can wreak havoc on the body. Often when a person enters rehab they have a picture taken. Weeks or months later when they leave treatment, they often look at this image and are shocked by how bad they look. When they compare those images to themselves now, they can truly see the punishment put on their bodies.
Just as recovery begins with putting the substance of choice down, self-care must begin with the healing of the body. Self-care for the body can begin with the following:
- Getting a good night’s sleep
- Making healthier eating choices
- Beginning to incorporate exercise
- Taking care of one’s physical appearance
- Practicing good hygiene
- Drinking water daily
These may seem like very basic tips for self-care for the body, however, many who are in early recovery have let many of these go. People who get sober come from all different places in life. For some, their first night in rehab is their first night sleeping in a bed in a very long time. For others, they have been very high functioning in their addiction and from the outside look well kept. This can be deceiving. The high-functioning addict and alcoholic have also often neglected their physical health simply by the ongoing use and abuse of alcohol or drugs.
For the high-functioning person, they may be in high profile jobs where they are traveling a lot, eating on the road, and getting less than adequate sleep. Beginning to take care of oneself by eating healthy and getting proper rest can be an important first step for both the high-functioning addict or alcoholic, the person who has hit their bottom, and everyone in between.
When we think of self-care people often think it has to be complicated. This isn’t true. Getting back to the basics of self-care by practicing these tips above can make a big difference for most.
Alcohol and drug use can detrimentally affect the body. It’s vital to begin healing the body by practicing self-care on a regular basis.
Self-Care for the Mind
According to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, alcoholism (and addiction) is a disease that centers in the mind. In Chapter 2 There is a Solution page 23 it states,
“Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than his body.”
It is vital in recovery to also heal the mind. This can mean different things for different people. But for anyone with an AUD or SUD or both, this means learning different ways of thinking and responding. There are various ways to practice self-care for the mind. Here are a few:
- Engaging in evidence-based therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or dialectical-behavior therapy
- Attending 12-Step groups, getting a sponsor, and working through the 12-Steps of the program
- Taking time to pray and meditate to clear one’s mind and give the thinking mind a break
- Taking medications regularly if you have a mental health issue that requires it
- Saying no when you are feeling overwhelmed
- Setting boundaries with others
- Focusing on the positive
- Letting go of resentment and guilt
These are just a few ways to care for and heal one’s mind after years of abuse from toxic patterns and addiction. And while these tips aren’t a substitute for seeking professional help for any mental health issue, they can be helpful in replacing old, unhealthy patterns with new, healthier ones.
Another crucial aspect of recovery is developing and enriching one’s spiritual life. In fact, according to the Big Book of AA, a spiritual experience is vital to recovery.
Self-Care for the Spirit
As mentioned, 12-Step programs say that a spiritual experience or a spiritual awakening is essential in order for the alcoholic (or addict) to truly recover. This is mentioned numerous times in the Big Book. A spiritual experience or awakening is defined in the Fourth Edition of the Big Book on pages 567-568 as the following:
- “…a profound alteration in his reaction to life; that such a change could hardly have been brought about by himself alone.
- “…our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves. Most of us think this awareness of a Power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience.”
So how do you first achieve a spiritual awakening and how do you then continue to grow spiritually? According to the Big Book, there are different ways to have the desired spiritual experience. And those in recovery can testify to this.
For some, they have a sudden moment of overwhelming belief in a Higher Power and feel that the burden of addiction is lifted from them. For others, the spiritual experience takes longer to happen and isn’t of the ‘burning bush’ variety. However, either way, learning to believe in a power greater than oneself and continuing to develop and grow spiritually is essential to long-term recovery, peace of mind, and true freedom from addiction.
Spirituality is highly personal to many and the journey of spiritual growth and related self-care of the spirit can be different from one person to the next. It’s important not to compare your spirituality with others. As long as you are progressing and making an effort to grow spiritually, that’s all that matters.
Here are some tips to help with spiritual self-care:
- Praying and/or meditating
- Taking time for gratitude
- Spending time in nature
- Connecting with others particularly those in recovery
- Attending 12-Step meetings and practicing the 12-Steps
- Giving back to others
- Practicing positive affirmations
- Reading spiritual or religious books
- Engaging in creative projects or hobbies
- Talking with a spiritual advisor
- Attending church or spiritual events
Self-care, particularly spiritual self-care, is a very personal journey. For many with religious upbringings, they easily connect with a Higher Power. For others, either their religious upbringings have made them prejudiced against spirituality or they have had no religious or spiritual exposure. No matter what, everyone can find a Higher Power they believe in and can come to rely on through the good and bad of life.
Just as recovery is a journey unique to each person, so too is self-care. What works for one person may not for the next. And that’s okay. The goal is to learn to love, nurture, and care for one’s self. Then you can truly begin to love and care for others in your life.
Recovery from an AUD or SUD doesn’t happen overnight. It is truly a journey. Embracing all aspects of this journey can make it the best part of your life yet. Try one or two tips from each of these three discussed types of self-care and see how you begin to transform.
If you or someone you love needs help with a problem with alcohol, legal or illicit drugs, or a mental health issue, Futures Recovery Healthcare is here for you. Futures’ compassionate team utilizes comprehensive care to treat the whole person—body, mind, and soul. Contact us today to learn more. Remember, recovery and a life beyond your wildest dreams are possible. Call 866-804-2098