Taking care of your mind, body, and spirit is no easy task in this crazy rat race of life. Effective self-care is especially difficult in recovery when one has grown so accustomed to abusing the body. For most, the dysfunctional feelings of being malnourished, sleep deprived, and exposure to harmful chemicals can become somewhat normal. It is not unusual for an individual in recovery to struggle as the body detoxes and begins to return to a normal state of homeostasis. What one must remember is that proper self-care requires patience, consistency, and a “can do” attitude.
Now, understandably so, self-care is one of those areas of life that is much easier in theory than in practice. Let’s face it. Recovery in and of itself is a full-time job, so adding one more thing to the mix can seem overwhelming at times; however, this does not have to be the case. Once we have learned to love ourselves, then caring for ourselves becomes a priority in our recovery. As we leave the old behind, we leave with it, the neglected self, the apathy, the self-hatred, and the unmotivated self. With this new forward-thinking attitude, self-care no longer exists outside of the recovery continuum, but meshes and becomes part of the whole.
I can personally understand the need for self-care, both from years of school, work, and a recent battle with a nasty virus. Now before you begin to think “What does a virus have to do with recovery or self-care?” Let me explain. Addiction can be something that comes on suddenly or slowly, just like a virus. For me, this virus began on a Sunday afternoon and by Monday I was down for the count. Super high fevers, chills, and all the other nasty stuff a norovirus brings went on for days. By Wednesday I thought I was on the mend. A little weak but fever free, I planned to return to work on Thursday. So, today is Thursday and I am sitting in my home office writing a blog about self-care. Why? Because I did not listen to others or my body. I go into work, spike a fever on the way and by the time I got home, I have not moved from my chair. Now, feeling as if I have just finished a marathon and still running a low-grade fever, I begin to think I should have listened.
So what does my issue with a Norovirus and stubborn attitude have to do with self-care and recovery? I’m glad you asked. When we are in the midst of our dysfunction we believe that we are ten feet tall and bulletproof. Unfortunately, when we move into active recovery it is difficult to change that mindset. What we must understand is that recovery is a process. What may have seemed like a distant memory or something that may have not been “so bad” truly takes a toll on the mind, body, and soul. When we try to get ahead of ourselves and do more than what we should, we risk both our sobriety and our health. It is important to understand that everyone recovers at a different rate and in different ways. Your journey will be different, so you must listen to those who have your best interests at heart, your own body, and implement a self-care plan.
One may ask what a self-care plan includes. Although each plan is different, there are some basics that must be present. Now one must remember that even though I am a licensed therapist, I also practice from a Christian worldview, so in my opinion, no good self-care plan can be implemented unless it begins with Christ. The following paragraphs will give a starting point to what I believe to be a wonderful outline of a successful self-care plan that will lead to lasting recovery.
The first step in developing a solid self-care plan is to include time for worship, the study of Scripture, and prayer. These “devotions” not only nourish the soul, they have the power to change one’s perspective of self and the world around them. It is from the soul that true recovery and healing flow. The Bible tells us in III John 2, “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” (ESV). It is during our time spent with Christ that we come to the next part of our plan, taking care of our mind.
Taking care of the mind includes our beliefs, cognitions, and emotions. I will unashamedly advise everyone that can, to continue in ongoing individual therapy. Some call this maintenance therapy. This type of therapy gives the individual a safe and confidential environment to express his or her cognitions and emotions without judgment. It is also imperative as with the first step, to take those troublesome cognitions that cause us to be drawn back to a dark place and place them next to the Word of God. The Bible tells us that we receive a spiritual transformation when our minds or thoughts are renewed to align with those of Christ. When we begin to love Christ, we learn to love others which includes loving yourself enough to take care of your health.
Finally, in recovery, it is imperative to care for our bodies. This isn’t just about diet and exercise, but about sufficient rest, relaxation, recreational time, and reflecting on each day that you have remained sober. The body continues to detox over months and even a year or more at times without our knowledge. There may be obvious symptoms that are present from abusing the body or some symptoms may be quite obscure. Either way, we must be proactive about our health. My first word of advice is to see your primary care provider for a full physical. Then, start slow, but incorporate a daily exercise regimen and healthy eating plan. The way we treat our bodies in recovery will depend on how fast we find our new normal. Finally, if your body tells you that it is tired, then listen. Rest when you are tired. Aim for a consistent time to end your day. Give yourself at least an hour before bed to turn off the television, detach from social media, put down the phone and the tablet and relax. Prepare for the next day and spend some time reflecting on how good life can be sober.
I encourage you to reach out to a sponsor, trainer, counselor, pastor, or friend who will help you with this vital part of recovery. Find someone who will partner with you on this journey and hold you accountable. Make those goals SMART and celebrate each milestone in a healthy way.
Jarod Cruthis, MA, Ed.D, LCAS, CSI
Loaves and Fishes Counseling