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Why Self-Care Is So Important to Recovery

Yesterday I spoke to a reader who has been struggling to hang onto her sobriety. She is able to go alcohol-free for weeks at a time but then drinks for reasons she doesn’t understand. Each time it happens she can feel herself make the decision to drink again, but doesn’t know why she does it.

“I am a strong person,” she said. “I have always been strong and can handle anything. Why can’t I get this?”

Here is what I have learned about being a strong person: it’s easy to fool ourselves. We mistakenly think we are being strong when we don’t get upset, don’t let things bother us, and then press on despite discomfort. “Suck it up” we tell ourselves, and then somehow we find a way to keep going.That looks like strength on the outside, but in truth it is denial. True strength is dealing with these things, not stuffing them down and refusing to acknowledge how we really feel.

When we deny reality for the sake of appearing strong, we are destroying ourselves from within. We live with some niggling discomfort we can’t name (refusing to address the real cause), and so look for relief in some acceptable form. This is how it started for me – a glass of wine before bed worked so well at first. It relaxed me, comforted, and brought on sleep. I kicked ass in the world all day, then came home and kicked off my heels and enjoyed a lovely glass of wine – a perfectly reasonable strategy. A glass of wine a day is even said to be healthy so no need for concern.

But over the years….

One glass a night became two or three or more and the wine glasses got larger and the bottles became boxes. I couldn’t quit, or even cut back. Each morning I vowed to quit, but by mid day I’d found a reason why it was important to still drink that day: if something good happened I needed to celebrate, if something bad happened I needed comforting, and if nothing at all happened I drank out of boredom.

I felt the same bewilderment as my friend: I am so strong. Why can’t I stop drinking?

Two reasons: because the illusion of strength I’d cultivated depended on a release valve, and because the addictive nature of alcohol caused it to become the one and only release I wanted. I was caught in a vicious cycle that was camouflaged (and perpetuated) by the outward appearance of achievement and strength.

It is easy to think that life is perfect except for the black mark of the addictive element, and if we can just get rid of the wine (or drugs or roulette or shopping or Chigaco-style popcorn – whatever is being stuffed into the void) then everything will be finally, fully perfect. That’s it, that’s all.

So we quit drinking, or try to quit drinking, but then things go sideways because we no longer have any release valve – the wine goggles destroyed the ability to recognize other pleasures. “What was I thinking? Things aren’t better without alcohol! They’re WORSE! I might as well drink because this sobriety nonsense is screwing up everything.”

First, it helps to recognize that our old ways of doing things were probably not as effective as we thought, or else they wouldn’t have led us to seek ongoing relief. The idea of what strength really is must be revisited and revised. Strength is grounded in honesty, in saying “no” to the things that aren’t serving us well and dealing with painful issues instead of sweeping them under a rug. This is the work of recovery (changing for the better), which takes us past mere sobriety (abstinence from the addictive substance or behaviour). It is possible to get through life without constant discomfort.

The crucial role of self-care then, is to not only nurture ourselves through these changes but most importantly to teach ourselves how to enjoy all of the pleasures that our addiction overshadowed. A walk in the sunshine, a massage or pedicure, a cup of coffee. It is important to plan activities or pleasant actions throughout the day and especially during the “witching hour”, so when cravings for alcohol come we can recognize them as a longing for comfort and offer an alternative. The most difficult part is that in early recovery, we don’t necessarily feel like doing much and little else is appealing. Do it anyway. Try lots of different things and little by little those discoveries will come. The herbal tea I once sneered at has become an indispensable part of my evening routine. The yoga I assumed was stupid is now my favourite way to unwind. Connecting with friends is about conversation, tears or laughter, and not just an excuse to drink. I can even sit still and do nothing, which I avoided before because that’s when all the hurts I had buried in the name of strength would surface and pester.

Be open to approaching things differently and you’ll learn to avoid unnecessary discomfort. Practice self-care and you’ll find new ways to console yourself when needed (and  to celebrate the good things, too).

Undo, redo. Unlearn, retrain. Understand, rethink.

Un Un Un. Re Re Re.

This is what recovery is all about.

What are your favourite means of comfort and self-care? How has that changed throughout the course of your recovery?

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About UnPickled

I am learning to walk without the crutch of alcohol. As I begin I am 1 day sober. Gulp. I drank in private and hope to quit just as privately. The purpose of this blog is to help make me accountable - just by following you will give me enormous support and encouragement.

Posted on October 8, 2015, in Early Recovery, Getting Sober, How I Did It, Insights and Lessons, Insights for Supporters, My UnPickled Life, Reflections on Recovery and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 37 Comments.

  1. I am feeling rubbish again today, I am having problems getting to day1. Because of my drinking I manage to reduce for a few days to get to day1 safely then carry on drinking and the levels rise again. I desperately want to stop.

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    • Hi Jojo, I am glad you posted. You are not alone and there is so much support available to you, more than you can ever imagine. The first thing I ask you to consider is that those of us who have trouble stopping or even moderating alcohol are the ones who need to completely stop drinking altogether. Really lock in on that knowledge that addicts are best served by abstinence. Abstinence = freedom. If you decide that this is true for you, the next thing is making a plan and sticking to it. Having some support is very helpful in keeping us on track with our plan, which is exactly why meetings or support groups are so helpful. It feels just so AMAZING to spend time in the company of others who understand and who will encourage and support you. If you haven’t yet connected with a recovery community, it could be just the thing you need to get your moving from wishing for it to actually doing it. I am cheering for you, I am living proof that we can fall down 9 times and stand up 10. It is a great day to get sober Jojo!

      Like

  2. Phenomenal article. Really insightful and hits upon alot of the things I’ve felt and deal with during my sobriety journey. Appreciate you sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I know all about being strong. It was a source of pride that I could cope with anything. Until ……… Life happens. I managed but I came to realise that my strength was driven by a huge amount of fear. I was too afraid of what would happen if I did not cope to ever risk not managing every situation.

    The other thing I realised was that everything I do in life, no matter how altruistic it may seem, or I may have believed it to be, is done for myself. – To reinforce my view of myself as a certain person, or to keep myself from fear.

    Sure others are beneficiaries but would I have done it if I wasn’t driven by certain core beliefs and fears? It may seem a bit harsh because I strive to be a nice person but am I really a strong person.

    The degree of strength in any given situation has been the same as the degree of fear, the more afraid the stronger the reaction, in a very controlled way. The recent event made me realise how scary I can be and how scared I can be, when something is very important.

    So I am taking time to look at this. I don’t feel like a drink, I did have a drink two nights ago and it made me feel instantly out of control, not the feeling I wanted or expected.

    All very confusing.

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  4. Thanks, Jean – this was written for me. I know that. I haven an appointment with a Therapist and am on the road to recovery, truth. THANK YOU for taking time with me!

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  5. melissa crawford

    i found this blog early in my journey to get to a day 1, but avoided it because reading about others’ triggers even in the light of recovery just made me want to drink. and i did.
    this post is exactly what i needed to hear today. yesterday was day 3 and i had a beer. i’m not counting it as a loss, though because i seriously cannot the remember the last time i had one of anything.
    and today i am better prepared to replace that longing for alcohol with the knowledge that it is a longing for comfort and i’ll go to my list of comforting and healthy things and do one of them instead.
    this blog is helping me journey towards health and recovery and i am so grateful!!

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  6. Similar situation to mine. I went almost 3 months because I shared in a celebration with someone. I find if I have one, it leads to two, two leads to three… I hate to compare them to potato chips but If I start grabbing a handful of chips, sometimes without thinking, I can’t stop until they are gone. Need to get back on track!

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  7. You are so wise, Jean. I see so much of my own experience, and so much of what I still need to learn.

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  8. Despite being 43 years old, It seems I am only able to really enjoy myself during high levels of excitement/stimulation. I’m in good shape (for 43), have a great job in R&D at the worlds leading computer chip manufacturer, have my finances in order and keep a nice home. I enjoy, skiing, snowboarding, Kiteboarding, working out, Yoga, cycling, mountain biking, fishing, hunting and I’m rebuilding a 1969 Mach 1 mustang. And I am a high functioning alcoholic.
    My struggle with alcohol is less a daily thing and more of an all gas and no brake. I work 12hr days Sun-Tues and every other Wednesday. So my shift has our TGIF on Tues or Wed, lots of days off, then another TGIF on Friday and a party Saturday. Most of the time I don’t drink much or none at all on my work days, but my weekends can get messy. I have a reputation at parties of being too rowdy. When I start I don’t stop until I’m out or pass out. I would rather not have any at a party than try to keep it at 1 or 2. I quit once for 1.5 years but was really a dry drunk the whole time. I ended up getting a divorce during that time because I just couldn’t handle the stress of being married to my Ex and having no relief. Well the data is overwhelming that I must quit as I am headed towards a DUI or worse. My daughter, girlfriend and friends are fed up with it. I really enjoyed the highs and there were lots of them, an I’ve had my fair share of lows, which seem to be getting worse lately. But at this point there were many more highs then lows.
    This week I decided to get serious about quitting for good. Right now I’m in the dumps and I just need to blow off these cliche but very real emotions.
    Well shoot, I wrote many things down and erased them as they were all a big pity party. I know what this all means, somehow, I have to get to a place where things that currently seem dull and blaa blaa will someday be as enjoyable as I enjoy with alcohol now.
    I have done many things with and without alcohol and there is just plain more laughter with alcohol. Now I feel like the rest of my life will have less laughter. I don’t even enjoy sex as much sober. Now it is very routine and the thrill is gone, there is no more running down the hallway pealing clothes off.
    Back to my opening sentence, I am very much an outdoors/action sport kind of guy and it isn’t feasible to do an action sport all the times where the typical advise is “you just have to fill in the times you would drink with something else you enjoy”. I went sober for a quiet a while and I didn’t enjoy life as much. Everyone around me was happy about it except me, it just seemed so blaa and I never really had fun.
    My girlfriend and I went out to dinner this Friday and Saturday. In support of me she refrained from her usual cocktails or wine. Both nights we didn’t talk as much, didn’t laugh as much and went home and were in bed by 10, yaaaa, can’t wait to do that again.

    Thanks for listening.

    Like

    • Have some of those same thoughts in common with you. One other for me is that the actual alcohol buzz has itself even become a little boring. Definitely not as much fun as it used to. Yet I still roll on with it …

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    • Hang in there dude, sounds like you’re living half a life, and it’s the one society tells you is *awesome*, events, sports, high-achieving types of stuff. You’re probably pretty awesome when you’re sitting still too. It’s okay to evolve, maybe you need to be your own soul-mate for a while.

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  9. This blog has truly helped me change my life. This is day 181 for me and I am amazed after many years of trying and failing to moderate my daily wine habit. I stumbled across this blog the day after I made the decision to quit drinking for good, just as I was about to talk myself out of it. Lol. Reading your posts and comments from many women just like me kept me striving to get through just one more day without drinking. I honestly feel like I got my life back. I am truly grateful. I am now someone my 26 and 16 year old daughters can be proud of. There’s not a drink in the world I’d trade this feeling for.

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    • Oh Coco, this is so wonderful! Congratulations on 6 months, that’s a big milestone and you should celebrate! Treat yourself to something special. And I so agree with the importance of mentoring our family – it’s one of the greatest gifts. So glad you’re here.

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      • Thank you so much for the encouragement. I celebrated 6 months by going Roller skating with my daughters. I hadn’t had a pair of skates on in 20 years! It was great to wobble around ( and fall a few times) completely sober. Lots of laughs. Fun does exist without alcohol!

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  10. My nemesis. Hyphens. Self-care, alcohol-free, Chicago-style. I miss them every time I write, thank goodness for spell-check. hahea
    STRONG – you put into words what I have not been able to process. I love this. Redefining what strong means to me. I hope you do the every day writing challenge again that you did last year. Your writing is so powerful.

    P.S. add Orphan Train to your stack of books to read Lori

    Like

    • Hi Lori, nice to hear from you. I’m contemplating the November writing challenge but not 100% sure I can do it this year. Thanks for the encouragement. I think I have that book in a stack somewhere. I’ll move it to the top of the pile!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Initially I ate a lot of sugar, it was a treat that I felt I really needed. It may not exactly seem like self care, but allowing myself cookies and chocolate without guilt, helped a lot. I also did yoga, meditated and took walks. I have cut back on sugar, but still do yoga, meditate, take walks and with all the money I don’t spend on wine, I get a facial or massage every month.
    I now think about myself differently, I used to feel that I didn’t deserve pleasure, as if I wasn’t good enough, but without drinking I have much less guilt and when the guilt fell away, the feelings of not being good enough faded away. So instead of thinking of not drinking as a burden, it is part of self care; something I do to take care of myself.

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  12. Day 30 for me today! Never thought I’ll make it, my confidence in me was zero. But then I found the online sober community (blogs, podcasts…etc). I posted in early July on Unpickled, wanting that day to my day 1 (I had another of my terrible night of drinking/blackout…etc) but I relapsed. I continued reading as well as listening and eventually heed one of your advice : Reach Out. I joined a wonderful AA group in Mauritius and they welcomed me and took me under their wings. With their help and my newly found Higher Power, today I am celebrating my 1 month sobriety. I am so grateful.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I am on day 400!
    I am learning how to be alone but not lonely!
    That is the hardest for me, because I was used to being around tons of people all day when I was teaching.

    And in order for me to get and stay sober, I hired a life coach, went to a therapist, yoga, AA, WFS, started a blog, told al my family and friends.
    And I still do all these things!!!
    xo
    Wendy

    Like

  14. At over seven months sober now, I’ve made self-care a top priority. It has included everything from seeing a great counselor, joining an online support group, exercise, meditation and giving myself special treats like manicures and cappucino’s. I too thought I was strong because I didn’t let things bother me and I could “handle” so much, but I realized that I was actually not handling anything at all, just numbing it out. I feel so much stronger and capable now that I recognize my emotions and thoughts and have begun to develop healthy tools to manage them. I’m in love with my life now.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. DAY 80.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m still so up and down. I get a few sober days, then I crash. I have been struggling for so long. Thank you for this post; I found it really interesting. I definitely think of myself as a ‘strong’ person, but my inability to stop drinking makes me feel useless, and weak. Annie x

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I’ve been reading your blog (and others) off and on over the course of the last 7 months. I’ve gone a few days without drinking several times over these months, but haven’t fully committed to completely quitting. Until tonight, when I had a bit of a meltdown while making dinner and decided it was the only choice I had. I interrupted my boyfriend while he was cutting his hair and told him I had a pretty bad problem and that I have to quit. He was more supportive than I could have imagined and we talked about it all night (after he finished cutting his hair). It feels really good to have it out there, although I don’t plan to tell anyone else for a while.

    I am looking forward to becoming a “regular” blog reader. And thank you for this post today, perfect timing for good advice. Even on my short breaks from wine, I have noticed how much I enjoy giving myself a facial or even just putting on a nice smelling body lotion. I definitely plan to make a point to have these small treats as part of my recovery plan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have done the same. One thing is my husband great at being the accountability person. I do feel he is supportive but he doesn’t know how to be. I feel I can do it and by evening and he is gone I drink. I hate myself for it later.

      Like

  18. This makes so much sense to me. Thanks, just what I needed on day 24.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I’m trying everything. A bike group. Joining lots of meet up groups. Meditating. Facials etc. then I go to a bottle shop and drink. Get up the next day and work out how to stop.

    I know I drink at home because I am lonely.etc. so I moved to a new town, for a new start on life. I did have a great AA group in Sydney and I didn’t drink for almost a year!. Then that group dismantled and things changed. The worst thing is I am a ‘secret’ drinker. I only drink in private. I don’t need to drink in the company of others. I never desire a drink in the company of others.

    To all people I am happy, healthy and alive. But I’m not. I’ve put on 20kg because of my drinking and I have developed back problems. Weirdly enough, I eat organic sugar free food! Just 2 bottles of champagne everynight after that. Then the champagne makes me crave carbohydrates. Breads all high fat, sugar products.

    Like

    • I think many of us can identify with the urge to drink in isolation – away from judgement, prying eyes, and having to share! Now that I have some space from those days, I can see that the isolating was the addiction gaining speed and it should be seen as a warning sign. Do you find that you have trouble being alone with yourself, and you are drinking to avoid that? Or is it that your happy face all day is a mask and you drink afterward to find comfort in removing it? Maybe you could find a therapist, counsellor, or program that might help you explore this more. You deserve to be free and TRULY happy though and through!!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you UnPickled 🙂 I do enjoy my own company. I think the real reason I drink in isolation is that I feel unloved and lonely in my heart. Thank you again for allowing us all to share in private.

        Like

  20. Awesome post. I still try to stuff emotions down. And to hustle my way through problems. But I see it.
    Embracing extra self care and kindness.

    Like

  21. Time and the Bottle

    I also always thought about myself as strong and determined. Until I decided to quit drinking. Then the constant struggle started. And alcohol always wins. But one day I should be able to win. Over the course of this struggle I learned to let go, I learned to listen to my body and not pressure myself as much. I fell in love with acupuncture. It taught me patience and relaxation. But there is still so much to learn about myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Thank you so much for this, it came at the perfect time and was just what I needed to hear. I’m almost 3 months sober and desperately seeking a new release valve

    Liked by 2 people

  1. Pingback: Why Self-Care Is So Important to Recovery | sobrietybox

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