Throughout our lives, we likely have been told to be kind and loving, to show compassion to others, to be generous to those in need, and to have empathy for those around us. Before entering alcohol addiction treatment, we may have even been caregivers to children or our parents. Our lives often center around caring for and loving other people.
One area we often fall short of, however, is taking care of ourselves. While we might have been taught that everyone is worthy of love, it can be hard to accept that we too are worthy. Whether we think we simply don’t have time to take care of ourselves or we have gotten into the habit of believing that we don’t deserve the same love and care we offer to others, it can be difficult for us to accept the need to take the time to care for ourselves. Yet, self-care is one of the most essential steps in our recovery from alcohol addiction.
What is Self-Care?
Many of us know what it means to care for others, but the concept of self-care might be more difficult to understand. Self-care means to make a deliberate effort to care for our own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Self-care involves making healthy decisions to care for ourselves. It is not self-medication, self-indulgence, or self-harm, which is a pattern that many who struggle with addictions are used to. Self-care is planned, deliberate, and healthy. If something you’re doing is harmful to your body or mind then it is not self-care, even if you find it pleasurable.
Why is Self-Care Essential for Addiction Recovery?
Oftentimes, substance abuse and poor mental health go hand-in-hand. Many receiving alcohol addiction treatment also meet criteria for a diagnosis of anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses. Self-care, on the other hand, has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and to boost overall mood.
Many times, before and during alcohol addiction, our needs go unmet. We may be using our money for alcohol rather than healthy foods, impacting our nutrition. Instead of going out with friends, we are staying in and drinking. We stop participating in our hobbies, in exercise, and in other things we enjoy. Soon, it becomes clear that caring for our own needs is not a priority.
With addiction, oftentimes, alcohol is used as a way to cope with unmet needs and being overwhelmed with our responsibilities or life situation. However, during alcohol treatment, we learn the importance of prioritizing our own needs and care and making healthy choices for our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. Those in treatment are also given the tools to develop healthy and safe coping mechanisms to deal with stress, anxiety, and feelings of being overwhelmed.
These coping mechanisms and ways to meet our needs are all part of self-care. Learning to love and care for yourself can also help you become more resilient as you begin to understand that you are a strong, capable, and worthy person. Practicing self-care also allows you to be more mindful and aware of your actions and thoughts, helping you to make healthier and better choices during and after your recovery.
Finally, self-care can also help you learn to love and empathize with those around you, which is key in beginning to rebuild the relationships that were fractured because of your addiction.
Ideas for Self-Care
There are several ways to practice self-care, both now during alcohol rehab and when active treatment is finished and you continue your long-term recovery from alcohol addiction.
- Eat a nutritious and well-rounded diet
- Create a healthy pre-bed routine and aim for 7–8 hours of good-quality sleep each night
- See your doctor and dentist about medical issues that you’ve been ignoring or simply for an annual checkup
- Participate in exercise you enjoy
- Do one thing each day that you enjoy, such as reading, cooking, taking a hot bath, or calling a friend
- Practice meditation, tai chi, yoga, or deep breathing for relaxation–even 10 minutes a day helps!
- Take a walk in the woods, in a park, or even around your neighborhood
- Explore different activities to find one you might like as a hobby
- Pray, read religious texts, or attend a religious service. If you do not have religious beliefs, seek out inspirational books or podcasts that are meaningful to you.
It is important to plan self-care activities into your daily routine rather than simply waiting for the opportunity to arise. One of the most important parts of your alcohol addiction treatment process is to learn to take care of yourself and your needs and to prioritize making healthy choices. It can be difficult to find the motivation or desire to care for yourself and to prioritize your own needs. However, ensuring that you schedule time for yourself each day, even if it’s only 10 or 15 minutes, can help you in your recovery.