8 Ways to Practise Self-Care in Addiction Recovery
One of the keys to experiencing growth and healing in addiction recovery lies in practising self-care.
Contrary to popular belief, self-care isn’t just about bubble baths and face masks.
It’s about really nourishing yourself, mind, body, and spirit.
It’s about honouring your own truths and living a life of alignment.
Finally, it’s about allowing yourself to have fun, and making the time to enjoy life.
Read on to learn about our top 8 ways to start incorporating self-care into your recovery journey.
What is self-care?
Part of self-care comes down to foundational things like getting enough sleep, moving your body throughout the day, and eating well. The other aspect of self-care is about filling your needs emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
One part of self-care is about putting your own needs first, which some may deem as sounding selfish. However, if you’ve ever heard the phrase “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” you may have an inkling as to how practising self-care benefits everyone around you.
A great way to conceptualise self-care is to view it as treating yourself the way you would treat someone you love, whether it’s your best friend, your parent, or your child. For many people in recovery, there’s a narrative we play through our minds that widely consists of us generally being mean to ourselves.
However, we would never say these things to someone we love. If we wouldn’t say them to someone we love, why are we saying them to ourselves?
Self-care teaches us how to be kind to ourselves, which has the power to change how we experience all aspects of our lives.
Why is self-care in addiction recovery so important?
To put it bluntly, self-care isn’t optional when it comes to experiencing a healthy, long-standing recovery from addiction. Taking care of ourselves in mind, body, and spirit, is critical when trying to experience true healing.
Practising self-care in recovery from addiction is essential when it comes to reducing stress. Engaging in self-care practises helps to not only manage stress better when triggering situations do arise, but also allows us to become less prone to becoming stressed out because of external circumstances. The reason this is so important in recovery is that stress is a major trigger for use.
Reducing the risk of relapse
Many people in recovery may experience fleeting thoughts of using again. Although this is normal, it can be dangerous when paired up with a lack of emotional and mental grounding. This is because relapse is not a single, random event, but rather a process that is catalysed by emotional and mental turbulence. Practising self-care helps you foster emotional and mental stability and increases your ability to regulate your own emotions and challenge your own negative thoughts.
When your emotional needs are met and you’re feeling grounded mentally and spiritually, you are far less likely to re-engage in substance use because the emotional trigger to engage in use is nonexistent. In this way, practising self-care regularly can help reduce the risk of relapse.
Nurturing yourself emotionally
Practising self-care regularly creates a gateway for you to observe and access your own emotions. As you can see by the previous points mentioned, our emotions are at the cornerstone of our use. When engaging in substance use for a long period of time, it becomes challenging to understand or even face difficult emotions whilst in recovery. The truth of the matter is, facing difficult emotions is challenging, for anyone. However, it is essential for true, deep healing and growth.
Practising self-care can teach us how to give ourselves emotionally what we never received from others growing up. It can teach us how to regulate our emotions so we don’t act impulsively and make decisions we might later regret. It can also teach us how to embody characteristics we want to have, such as patience and courage. All of these things can be learned by integrating self-care practices that focus on filling your emotional needs.
Restoring your physical health
Self-care is so important when it comes to healing our bodies after the damage they have taken from long-term substance use. During active use, our sleep patterns aren’t our priority, but because we let this fall by the wayside, our body’s internal systems suffer. Alongside this, eating well and exercising also falls off the radar whilst in active addiction. This leaves many people in early recovery malnourished, lacking in essential vitamins and minerals, and struggling with health conditions.
Fortunately, these things can be repaired by including healthy meals into your day. This doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy foods that you love, as foods aren’t inherently good or bad. It simply means incorporating more nutritious foods within your meals, so you can take care of your body’s needs.
Signs of lack of self-care
There are many signs that indicate whether you may be lacking in the self-care department.
Below are just some of the signs of lack of self-care:
- You’re isolated
- You’re moody
- You feel like you’re on autopilot
- You’re neglecting your basic needs
- You feel tired all the time
- You’re always putting everyone else’s needs before your own
- You experience brain fog
- You’re eating poorly all the time
- You don’t sleep well
- You’re struggling with symptoms of depression
There are many signs of lack of self-care, but these are just a few to give you an idea of what neglecting self-care may look like.
It also demonstrates how important self-care is, as practising self-care regularly can help with all of the aforementioned struggles.
8 ways to practise self-care in addiction recovery
Something that may be identified as self-care by someone may be an utter bore to someone else. Self-care practises are so unique to each person’s interests and needs.
Be sure to try different things out to see what feels most filling to you.
1. Maintain physical wellness
Physical health is so important, especially for those in recovery from addiction. Addiction does so much physical damage to the body that it becomes important to prioritise this in recovery in a way that feels enjoyable for you.
- Make sleep a priority. Try getting to bed early and creating a consistent sleep schedule.
- Eat well. Again, this doesn’t mean switching to “only clean” foods overnight or going on a super strict diet. Begin by simply incorporating nutritious foods into your daily meals.
- Practise good hygiene. Shower regularly, and take care of your physical body. This will not only keep you healthier, but it makes a difference in how you feel about yourself.
- Exercise regularly. Similar to eating well, this doesn’t mean you need to start going to the gym 7x a week or train to become an Olympic athlete. Simply try incorporating more movement into your day. This can be as simple as taking a 30-minute walk. A fun way to incorporate movement into your day and meet new people can also be to join a fitness class.
2. Prioritise you
A big part of self-care is about being aware of your own needs, and then actually allowing yourself to fill them or stand by them. This is about looking at what your priorities are and what you want versus what you think you “should” be doing. Oftentimes, especially if you’re a people-pleaser, it becomes second nature to put your own needs, wants, and desires last. You may find yourself always putting the needs of others before your own.
The thing is, when we do this, we aren’t taking care of ourselves. We’re ignoring the things we need, and by doing so, our emotional, mental, and spiritual health suffers. When we prioritise what our own needs actually are, we can feel a sense of fulfilment mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Prioritising you is all about looking at your own goals, values, and desires, and then allowing your actions to follow through on these things. It’s about putting up healthy boundaries and living a truly aligned life.
3. Develop a new social life
The benefits of social connectedness are countless. Having social connections makes a huge difference when it comes to your wellbeing, even for the most introverted of people. Recovery can be an extremely isolating place if we allow it to be, but it doesn’t have to be this way. It can be challenging connecting with people, as the people you previously connected with are most likely not going to be healthy or conducive to have in your future.
When you connect with others who are also in recovery, you’ll feel so much less isolated and alone. You’ll feel a sense of community as you realise so many others are sharing in your struggles. You can also meet people outside of the world of recovery, who have the same passions, interests, or hobbies as you do. Recovery is truly a time to learn about who you are, and to share that with people who get it.
4. Incorporate fun
Self-care is all about feeling good, and having fun is a direct line to that feeling. Since different things are fun for different people, this tip is truly based on your unique interests.
Some people have fun binge-watching their favourite Netflix reality show, while others have fun playing a sport or hanging out with friends.
Some things that may be fun for you are...
- going on hikes
- reading a book
- cooking or baking
- spending time with friends
- relaxing after a busy day
- playing with your pet
- taking an online class
- making crafts
- joining a dance class
- taking on a new hobby
If you have truly no idea what you find enjoyable, think about what you loved to do when you were a kid, and try that out.
5. Write it out
After long-term substance use, our emotions become so numbed out that after gaining sobriety, it can be difficult to understand or identify how we’re feeling. A great way to help navigate this is by writing it out in a notebook. As we write out the things that are going on in our minds, we’re able to pull that chaos outside of us and put it down somewhere that is separate from us. This in and of itself helps to create a sense of clarity and takes a weight off of us.
Additionally, as we journal about what’s going on with us or what we’ve been thinking about or feeling, we learn so much about ourselves that we wouldn't have otherwise been able to if we kept everything muddled up in our minds.
Doing this daily would be wonderful, but even doing it a few times a week or on a weekly basis can do wonders for your mental and emotional wellbeing.
This tip may sound cliché, but there’s a reason meditation is so widely suggested as a means of practising self-care.
Meditation allows you to realise that you are not your thoughts. It allows you to develop patience and teaches you how to foster inner peace. There are many different forms of meditation you can try out, to see what kind resonates with you the most. You may find that body-scan meditation isn't enjoyable for you, but that you can’t get enough of visualisation meditation.
When it comes to meditation, it’s important to remember to be easy on yourself. It isn’t easy the first time around, or the first few times around for that matter, but like anything else, becomes much easier with practice. After you’ve found a form of meditation you enjoy, try incorporating it into your day a few times a week. Even practising a 5-minute meditation can work wonders for your mind, body, and soul.
7. Talk to someone
When you’re in recovery, you may come to find that you have a lot of mixed emotions and a lot of chaotic or negative thoughts. Holding everything in is only going to make this worse, and can so easily lead to relapse if you don’t get a hold of it.
Talking to someone regularly is a great way to let out your emotions without causing harm to yourself or someone else. You can explore talking to a therapist or counsellor. You can try talking in a support group or meeting, either in person or virtually. Additionally, you can even try venting to a trusted friend or family member. Talking about how you’re feeling and what you’ve been thinking allows you to check in with yourself and is a critical part of self-care, especially in recovery from addiction.
8. Make time for yourself
Make sure to always set aside time for yourself to assess how things are going for you. Take the time to discern whether the decisions you’ve been making in life are aligned with what you really want or if they’re more based on making other people happy.
When coming out of active addiction and stepping into recovery, it’s common to harbour a lot of guilt and even a sense of obligation to do right by others. Although it is important to treat others well and with compassion and kindness, it is just as important to honour your own needs and desires and to not sacrifice them for other people. This is one of the best things you can do, not only for yourself but also for the people who love you.
Benefits of self-care for mind, body, and spirit
The benefits of integrating self-care practise into your life are truly endless.
Below are just some of the many benefits you’ll experience when you start taking care of you:
- become a better version of yourself
- understand your triggers on a deeper level
- feel good
- reduce the risk of experiencing a relapse
- cultivate more patience
- be more present
- honour your own needs and desires
- experience a truly fulfilling life
Practising self-care regularly, however, it looks like, creates a pathway to having peace of mind, true empowerment, and an internal sense of freedom.
A final note on self-care in addiction recovery
Remember, self-care isn’t just about bubble baths and face masks. Well, unless that’s what you love!
Self-care is all about figuring out what makes you feel good, and taking the time to do those things.
It’s about taking care of yourself first, mind, body, and spirit, so you can show up fully for others.
It’s about setting yourself for a long-standing, healthy recovery from addiction.
If you’re looking for ideas on where to get started, Recoverlution offers a wide range of resources on meditation, yoga, and eating well. You can also jump into a Circle or create your own to swap self-care ideas from peers who know exactly what you’re going through.
Author - Thurga
1. A Guide to self care in addiction recovery - https://www.rehab4addiction.co.uk/guides/self-care-addiction-recovery