Due to the nature of addiction, drug recovery is a long journey. It’s not easy to overcome an addiction with support, let alone on your own. Yet after the initial stages of recovery, it becomes more and more important to learn how to take care of yourself, rather than relying solely on the support of those around you.
Regardless of how you first began your recovery – through AA meetings, drug rehab, or therapy – there will come a time when professional treatment simply isn’t financially feasible anymore, nor strictly necessary.
While recovery is a life-long process, only a portion of it occurs at rehab facilities and sober living homes. Most of the recovery process is about learning to be comfortable and content with sobriety and finding ways to avoid and overcome drug use. An important part of that life-long process is establishing your own brand of self-care.
Why Self-Care is Important in Recovery
Self-care is not unduly selfish. At its core, it’s about working to reduce excess stress and properly manage your life, while managing a healthy sense of self-worth. While it’s a fairly recent buzzword, self-care is not a new concept. Work-life balance, philautia, or self-love. Greek philosophers wrote about self-love and its double-edged nature, and how a positive self-image can lead the greatest good, just as self-conceit can drive a person to moral bankruptcy.
If we’re overworked, overwrought, and incapable of functioning properly, we become a shadow of what we might be. Everything we do is overcast by a feeling of constant fatigue and cynicism, and even mild depression.
This is doubly important for addiction recovery. There’s little sense in fighting to maintain your own sobriety and continue staying clean if you don’t have a healthy sense of self-worth. Why bother committing to avoiding drugs if you don’t feel you can amount to anything?
On the other hand, beyond understanding that there’s an inherent value in who you are and what you can achieve, self-care is specifically about keeping yourself mentally and physically prepared to function both for yourself and those around you. Regardless of whether you’re individualistically or collectivistically inclined, the value of self-care lies in the potential of any one person to do great things, so long as they aren’t inundated by constant self-doubt and stress.
It’s easy to succumb to the challenges and stresses of addiction. Self-care is critical to preserving your ability to deal with these challenges and withstand the risk of relapse in the long-term.
Early Recovery Is All About Help
While the theme of self-care in addiction is self-reliance, it’s important to note that this isn’t meant to try and convince people in early recovery that it’s solely their responsibility to fight against relapses and overcome addiction.
Addiction is a disease and requires treatment. In early recovery, a person’s best chance at moving past addiction begins with professional help. When the brain and body are still entrenched in addiction, relying on yourself is often fruitless.
While some people manage to grow out of their addiction without professional help, many others are stuck in a chronic cycle of recovery and relapse. Rehab and long-term sober living communities exist to provide drug-free environments for people who need time away from the temptations of drug use, in order to build and nurture the means to avoid drugs in the long-term.
Individual therapy and family therapy can be crucial as well, helping recovering addicts work through the issues that might have potentially led them to develop an addiction to begin with, or work through problems that arose as a result of their drug use, while helping their family learn how to best support their loved one in long-term sobriety.
Long-Term Recovery and Self-Reliance
Early recovery represents the first few months after going sober, when the brain and body begin to heal. These first few months are often described as chaotic, hallmarked by emotional rollercoasters and new experiences. For some, they represent the first time in years that they’ve been able to truly confront their feelings, which can be overwhelming. Professional care in the first months of recovery helps recovering addicts develop the toolkit needed to continue recovery into the long-term.
For those who feel uncomfortable transitioning from rehab into their own live, sober living homes exist as an effective steppingstone, providing a drug-free and recovery-centered environment while encouraging tenants to seek out work or school, maintain employment, and go to therapy.
Yet after the initial stages of recovery, it is up to each person to continue living a clean and addiction-free life for decades to come. Doing so can be very difficult, requiring mental stability and a strong sense of self separate from all the drug use. Long-term recovery is where you learn to test the limits of your self-love, exercise basic self-care to overcome excess stress, and find ways to continue enjoying life and finding joy in every day without resorting to drug use.
How you go about doing so is entirely up to you. Some people find joy in focusing on a single thing, defining themselves around it. Others stay on their toes, always learning, always trying out something different. There is no one best way to take care of yourself or manage your stress.
Balancing Self-Reliance and Support
While the first few months of recovery are highlighted by learning to work with others and trust others to continue your recovery, and the next few years are about defining who you are as a sober person and understanding where your limits lie, the long-term is about balancing between managing your own problems, and understanding when it’s warranted to ask for help.
At the end of the day, recovery is a lifelong journey. No one fully figures out what it means to live, but being in recovery means living mindfully – being mindful of the past and the mistakes you’ve made, as well as the difficult circumstances you’ve faced, as well as being mindful of the present, of your responsibilities and the importance of maintaining a sense of gratitude for the positive parts of your life and being at peace with the resentful and the negative.
Being aware of what you can achieve for yourself and understanding when it’s prudent to ask for help is a difficult yet important part of recovery, as it truly signifies that you’ve become secure with your new sober self, and you know your limits. While most people struggle with a rocky start with relapses and bouts of anger, it’s the long-term that truly matters. If you’re still on your way to figuring out how to enjoy life while sober, be patient.