Some addiction specialists compare early recovery to childhood; much as you once learned to walk, step by often-shaky step, so, too, are you relearning to value and love yourself in your new sober life. During those first few crucial months, you’ll focus heavily on your recovery plan and work to develop a strong support network that will lift you up when times get tough.
For many recovering addicts, it is also a time to relearn basic emotional and physical self-care. Addiction takes us to places where we often neglect our diet, personal hygiene, or mental well-being; we trade it off for “just one more” of our drug or behavior, damaging our health and sanity in the process. Once the substance or behavior is removed, we must replace negative habits with a healthier lifestyle.
If you find yourself thinking, “That’s easy for you to say,” we understand. You may be feeling tired, depressed, or anxious – certainly not the best motivation to take care of yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos and let things slide. But that’s precisely the time when good self-care is needed the most! If you’ve been struggling to get back to the basics, print out this list and keep it close. Use it to guide yourself into self-love and self-care when you’re having difficulty staying on track.
Eat Properly (and Regularly)
Food. It’s a contentious topic for some. It’s also one of the largest facets of an overall self-care plan, especially if you struggle with fatigue and/or depression. Eating healthy provides your body with the fuel needed to balance not only your physical health but your emotional health, too. Eat too little (or too much of the wrong thing) and you may find yourself edgy and crabby. Eat too much and you’re likely to feel sluggish and sleepy all throughout the day.
Healthy diet is especially important for the recovering addict. According to Medline, people in recovery often present as deficient in certain nutrients – primarily iron, potassium, protein, fiber, and important energy-boosting vitamins like:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
Each of these plays a crucial role in keeping you healthy, priming your body to work like the efficient machine it really is and keeping you from getting sick. But if you’ve been living off of alcohol or fast food, figuring out how to nourish yourself properly isn’t always easy.
Start by planning out six small meals per day that follow the Food Guide Pyramid. This prevents energy crashes between meals and provides more reliable nourishment for the healing body without needing to binge. Skip the sugary, processed foods for cleaner options like oranges, apples, and avocados instead. If you’re struggling at first, a basic multivitamin will help.
Certain food substances, including protein, amino acids, and carbohydrates, may have special benefits for the recovering addict. Healthy protein – like peanut butter, lean meats like chicken, and beans – is important as it provides your body with the building blocks needed to heal from damage. Likewise, salmon and other oily fishes are loaded with DHA and other healthy, brain-boosting fats that reduce brain fog and improve energy. Feeling snackish? Prevent overeating by keeping healthy trail mixes, chopped vegetables, or fresh fruit on hand.
Shower or Bathe Daily
For some people, showering or bathing daily may seem overly obvious, but depression and anxiety can have a negative impact on regular personal hygiene. Make a commitment to shower or bathe once per day even if you’re not leaving the house. Allow at least 30 minutes, if not an hour, for cleaning your body, putting on makeup, brushing your hair, etc. When you look better, you’ll feel better, too.
Make tub time more inviting by keeping your favorite body washes, perfumes, shampoos, and conditioners on hand, or indulge yourself in a deliciously scented bubble bath instead. If you’ve been struggling with aches and pains (very common in opiate recovery), try a daily hot bath with Epsom salts. The magnesium content will help to relax the muscles, reducing soreness and relaxing your mind. Scatter a few rose petals over the bubbles or drop in a bath bomb to make your hygiene routine special. Treat tub time like a daily at-home spa; it’s a chance to escape everything and just let go of your stress, if only for a few minutes per day.
If you’re in early detox and struggling with just getting out of bed, or if you’re sick, it’s okay to truncate your shower time. Just be sure to get clean in whatever way you can.
The positive benefits of meditation on the recovering mind and body cannot be understated. Studies have shown that it can reduce depression, ameliorate anxiety, and even help you to deal with cravings and other impulsive thoughts. Better yet, it’s a drug-free way to manage stress that’s accessible from pretty much anywhere. That’s why making time to meditate each day – in whatever way works best for you – is such a vital facet of your self-care plan.
If you don’t have experience with meditation, try this routine. When you first wake up, get up and out of bed completely. Find a comfortable spot on your bed or on the floor. Sit cross-legged and gently lay your forearms on your thighs with your hands resting just above your knees. Close your eyes and breath in slowly to the count of three or four – whichever is most comfortable for you. Then, breathe out to the same count, gently guiding your attention to your out-breath. Start with just 10 minutes a day to boost positivity, lower blood pressure, and reduce negative emotions. Increase your meditation time as needed or desired.
Commune with Nature
Once you’re out of medical detox and can safely venture out into the world, it’s time to get reacquainted with nature. So many of us get caught up in our busy daily lives that we neglect our most basic selves – the self that comes from, and will likely one day return to, the greater natural world around us. Laying on your back gazing at the stars, climbing to the top of a local mountain, and swimming in the sea – these are all activities that remind us of how we are all part of something much bigger than ourselves.
If you’re not feeling up to a full hike just yet, or if you’re a bit out of shape, start with a five or 10-minute walk around the block. Feeling more ambitious? Head out to a local park or hiking trail and hoof it while paying close attention to the beauty and joy all around you. Buried in the city and don’t have easy access to nature? Find a rooftop patio and watch the sun come up or start an herb garden right in your apartment instead.
Move Your Body
Daily exercise is an excellent treatment for Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome and stress, but it isn’t always easy to see. When you’re sore, tired, depressed, or anxious, it’s easy to slip into negative thought patterns and the belief that exercise will only make it worse. Naps and couch potato marathons can begin to seem all the more inviting, as can just lounging around all day. After all, rest is important in recovery, right?
Well, that’s only part of the story, unfortunately.
Make no mistake: rest is important in recovery. That’s why most addictions specialists recommend at least 8 hours of sleep per night. But there is a big difference between allowing yourself to rest and over-indulging. Sleeping all day or lounging around watching Netflix reruns for weeks may actually have negative consequences over time.
Research shows that neglecting to move your body regularly comes with great negative consequence. It has ties to increased stress, higher blood pressure, more aches and pains, and even a greater risk for physical illnesses like colds, flues, and infections.
If you can’t leave the house, or if you’re still in residential treatment, you can reconnect with your body right in your room. Start with a simple yoga or Tai Chi routine. Both of these offer the same benefits as regular exercise, yet they’re gentle and easy on the recovering body. Running, swimming, and sports – especially if you play with a recovery buddy – can also help to boost endorphins and improve your physical health, all without drugs.
Self-care, self-love, and self-worth – these three individual facets of recovery carry immense benefits for the recovering addict, both physically and mentally. Utilize them correctly and you’ll improve your chances of maintaining long-lasting sobriety. Struggling with even the most basic self-care activities on this list? It’s okay to dial everything back a notch and start small. Even just making a commitment to shower and eat will help. Once doing so becomes a habit, improve your self-care plan with additional nourishing activities that help you to remember just how special you are and how worthy of sobriety you really are.