One of the most important concepts in early recovery from addiction is that of self care. If you are not taking care of yourself and taking extra measures to insure your sanity then life in early recovery can quickly become overwhelming. So how do you take care of yourself from the perspective of emotional and mental wellness? What actions can you take in order to find balance and peace in your life?
My first tip is to incorporate some sort of physical exercise into your weekly routine. Even better, find a way to exercise every single day. Check with your doctor first, of course, but if you can find a way to get into shape and keep working out on a consistent basis, this will do wonders for your emotional balance.
How does physical exercise accomplish this? It is difficult to describe the exact benefits that you get from an intense workout, especially since many of those benefits are subtle changes that happen for you mentally and emotionally. For example, if you go walk for 40 minutes, you can notice that you definitely get some mental clarity from doing this. Deliberately walking for 40 minutes with no purpose other than to be outside and do the walk will allow your brain to shut off for a while. Of course it doesn’t actually shut off, but your thoughts wander for a while, and then eventually you drop into this mental state that can only be described as being “the zone.” You are in the zone and you don’t necessarily think about anything specific and you just let your mind wander.
The benefit of this is huge. Or rather, if you never do this, you are not giving your brain the rest and relaxation time that it so desperately needs. If you are trapped in your head thinking all day with no relief, with no “zoning out,” the kind that you get from a long walk, then you are not going to be at your mental peak in terms of mental health and clarity of thought.
Now if you engage in vigorous exercise, such as jogging or doing a workout at a gym, then you can get even more benefit than what was just described. Not only do you seem to get the mental benefits that you get from meditation, but you also seem to get an emotional boost of sorts, in which the volume on all of the drama in your life is suddenly turned down a few notches.
How does this happen? For me, it is the combination of two things: One, during a vigorous workout, I get an endorphin rush that makes me feel good, period. But second of all, if I have a truly intense workout and I push myself really hard and work out for a long chunk of time, it has a similar effect–at least emotionally–as that of getting intoxicated on drugs or alcohol.
Now that probably sounds like a bad thing, but it is not. When you combine the workout with the feel-good endorphin rush, and the fact that you are not actually getting drunk or high, the benefits are massive. And a super intense workout still has the ability to almost magically transport you emotionally to another plane of existence. In other words, you may have problems or drama “in the real world,” but when you go out and run six miles and you are huffing and puffing for all you are worth, those problems go on the back burner. Way on the back burner. The intense presence that you get from the vigorous workout overrides a lot of those negative emotions in a very positive way.
This has been, for me, a great way to keep things in perspective. Vigorous exercise helps to even me out emotionally. And as far as self care goes, I think that engaging in vigorous exercise has the most bang for the buck over any other activity that you might engage in, just shy of something like one on one counseling with a therapist. If your doctor approves it you really should give it an honest try, such that you might experience these benefits too.
Now another important area of self care, in my opinion, has to do with relationships and toxic people. If you are getting stressed out in your recovery then it is very likely the result of other people around you. You may need to talk with your sponsor or therapist in order to see what you may need to do in order to create healthy boundaries with toxic people, or to distance yourself from them entirely. They say that “you are the average of the 5 people that you spend the most time with,” and that is certainly true in addiction recovery. If you are hanging out with negative people or “energy vampires” then this will just take away from your ability to focus on positive changes in recovery.
Part of self care is in moving forward, in seeking personal growth, in seeking self improvement. You cannot sit by idle in recovery, hit a few AA meetings, and think that everything will turn out fine. You must take an active role in your own personal growth in order to truly succeed in recovery. Most people relapse within the first few months of their recovery, and you do not want to become a statistic. Connecting with a good therapist or a sponsor in the 12 step program could be part of what pushes you forward and challenges you. But a certain amount of motivation has to come from within as well. It is up to you to take the initiative to look after your own progress and personal growth in recovery. If it doesn’t feel like you have made much progress lately, that’s probably because you haven’t. You have to find a way to motivate yourself to seek out positive changes.
Addiction recovery is all about seeking solutions. There are a million and one excuses that all lead back to the path of relapse, which was just our way of running away from life and all its problems. We cannot afford to run away from our problems any more in recovery. You either face your problems and find new solutions, or you end relapsing. Therefore you have to keep taking responsibility, keep doing the next right thing, and keep seeking new solutions in your recovery journey.
It is also important to note that there are always going to be new problems to face in life. There is another challenge up ahead of you, and you can count on this. You are going to need new information and you are going to have to push yourself to be responsible and look for the right solution, for the next right thing. Part of self care is in accepting the responsibility for this, to know that you have to look for solutions from now on, you have to make an effort to figure things out and do the next right thing. This is how self care will prevent your next relapse from ever happening.