Everyone says that self care is important. If you even think about improving your life, like at all, from whatever thing you think is impacting it, you’ll hear it. From the day to day blues and hardships, to depression, anxiety, stress, and yes, even for situations that we as partners and family members of addicts experience.
But really, what is self care, and how much is enough?
On that, you’ll also hear a variety of different topics and discussions and answers, with each person pointing to reasons why this or that is the right way to do it. Some people say that you shouldn’t practice it at all because that’s also bad.
So what should a person do? Starting the journey of inner work is hard enough with so many options, and I mean, shouldn’t caring for yourself be the easiest one?
I was overwhelmed once, and, just like usual, I’ll show you what helped me so that you can hopefully gain a little more clarity on the topic.
First, let’s define self care:
It’s “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one's own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress”, or “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health”. Basically, it’s anything that helps to maintain or even expand on your current or ideal state of ease, calm, and peace of mind.
And for different people, this can mean different things, and these can also change depending on what you feel you need at the time.
For example, I like to wind down most of the time because of my, um, high strung nature. So for self care, I like to meditate (to clear out the many open tabs of information I have in my mind at any given time), relax and watch a favorite show, or even, believe it or not, stare out into the distance in silence. It sounds weird but don’t knock it ‘till you try it (I once did it for 45 minutes and I came back a new person, I swear).
But, in other times, self care can actually be cleaning, going out with a friend or two, working out, or going shopping for clothes that make me feel excited and confident.
And that’s the cool thing about it: there’s no right or wrong way to do it. What works for one person at one time might not work for another at a different time. It’s just like recovery, for both our addicted partners and for us, where there’s no “one size fits all” rule.
If you decide that at the time you want to binge eat cookies while sitting in your pjs with a comfy blanket, have at it!
It is, however, important that you do keep in mind that it’s not an excuse or a permission slip to fall into unhealthy behaviors and habits that will end up doing more harm than good. It’s probably where the whole idea of “self soothing” came from, and why some people label self care as self soothing which they then label as bad.
In my humble opinion, while just like with most things (take unhealthy food for example) moderation is key, and as long as you don’t overdo it you’re most likely fine, the same can apply to self care. If you find that one day you just need those cookies and it helps to comfort you, fine. I’ve done it before and it was acceptable to me, and it didn't become an everyday thing. You just don’t want to make it a pattern where you do it often and under the guise of “self care”, because you’ll come to reject the idea at some point and it’s only making your situation worse.
Now, with the idea of “self soothing”, I feel like that’s given a negative connotation that isn’t quite deserved. Take my example of the cookies in moderation and the idea of not using it in a destructive way: I don’t think that really falls into self soothing, and with that term, most people use it to describe self care as a whole. In my experience, when I see people use this term, it seems to come from the place where a topic is painted with a very broad while also limiting brush.
It seems they claim that this way of taking care of yourself is negative because it covers up things you should be dealing with, and that you should be more active in your problem solving and how you live going forward. Or, there’s also the old belief that self care is selfish, and that in order to truly take care of others and do the most for everyone, you must tend to them first (you know, like parenting). Or even still, they may think that this time or money spent on self care activities is a waste, or fostering ideas of waste, that should be spent on more “important” things.
But, I disagree. I think that for anyone, not even just those like me who often try to do too much, it’s important to stop (or at least slow down) sometimes to get a feel for where you are and how you are doing. If you’re so focused on the action and the moving, it’s easy to just move your overactive and unhealthy focus from the things you shouldn’t have it on to something else, like overdoing it with your self improvement.
But wait! I can hear you say it now, because I’ve thought it, too. How can I even think about slowing down for a second when my life is like this?!
And I get it, really I do. When it seems as though your loved one is seconds from death and destruction from their addiction, taking the focus off of them might seem like the opposite of what you should do.
But from my own personal experience I can tell you that the world keeps turning no matter how much control you think you should or could have, and you shouldn’t deny yourself anything good just because of how your situation looks. You can take time to yourself, and you can even enjoy it. Even if your partner is in the worst active use of their lives. Even if you are a parent and you feel like you aren’t giving enough to your family.
For me, I can very easily go from worrying about his addiction, his recovery, and his life to worrying if I’m doing enough for me and stressing myself out by making sure I’m doing my work and recovery perfectly by reading the right books, putting my mind to good use, how to most efficiently move past triggers and such, etc. But when I finally figured out how important self care actually was, I was able to use it to help myself get some footing and balance myself out again.
When he was in the worst cycle of active addiction I had ever seen, I was able to find time to focus on myself and practice self care because I saw the benefits of it and I knew that getting overworked emotionally and mentally on his life was doing nothing but furthering the unhealthy aspects of my own life. And even now when I feel like I should be a better parent or partner, I remind myself that I can’t pour from an empty cup.
And, I don’t know about you, but I tend to put too much emphasis on not wasting time or money to the point where I’m surprised I can spend it on anything not related to saving or bills at all, so to actually use it on myself or more happiness-inducing things is both an act of self care and a lesson in itself.
But even if you aren’t so mind-and-thinking-focused, you can still start to overdo it by not paying attention to yourself inside and forgetting where to focus, and that’s the most important part of everything!
This is all about putting yourself first, after all.
When you actually allow yourself time to relax, regroup with yourself, see where you’re at, absorb what you learned and appreciate your progress, and take time to be thankful for your life (even if it’s not where you ideally want to be at the current moment), you can then feel more comfortable moving forward. From this more calm and inner-focused state, you can get more in touch with what you need to be healthy and successful, and identify things you may still need work on so that they don’t get ignored or pushed to the side by distracting yourself with more actively-focused activities or thoughts.
So, don’t knock self care until you’ve tried it for real, and don’t forget to slow down sometimes to give yourself some much deserved rest.
Even if you think you should be doing other things.
Even if you think you don’t deserve it.
Even if you think it’s selfish.
Even if those around you or society itself thinks you shouldn’t.
The best thing you can do for both yourself, and other people, is put the most care and attention into doing the best for yourself. Only then can you start to move forward, and really, what have you got to lose?