C’mon. We’re all wondering.
Self-care. It’s a term we hear bandied about the internet, in books, in apps, in therapy – but what THE HECK is it, really?! When I first started recovery, all I heard was the insistent buzz of well-meaning people telling me to practice “self-care.” When I questioned what that term actually meant, it seemed to involve taking a lot of baths. BREAKING NEWS: It’s actually not!! And, whew, am I grateful for that, because I don’t like sitting for long periods of time (read: impatient) and baths make me sweaty (read: I have no chill and am wicked hormonal).
I had to really search within myself to figure out the meaning of those two seemingly small words: self and care. Turns out for me, I needed to forget baths and strip self-care down to the basics. Did I want to shower? If so, did I carve out the time to make that happen in and amongst the other bajillion things I felt I needed to get done that day? When I took said shower, was I allowing myself to be present and mindful to enjoy it, rather than hurriedly slapping the shampoo on my head and rushing through the whole process because I don't know how to just "be"? Did I sit down to eat food when I was hungry, rather than just grabbing discards from my kids' plates before I turned on the faucet to rinse the rejected food down the drain? Did I actually stop and take the time to consider what I want, need and feel like doing as a human being? The answer to those questions was usually "no."
As I’ve spent time trying to figure out what self-care means to me, I’ve cobbled together (after much trial and error) some routines that seem to meet me right where I am on a daily basis. An arsenal of tools and tactics I use to combat my internal messiness: reconnecting me to the universe on a calming, spiritual level; managing my constant anxieties; my fanatical fixation on productivity; my incessant worries about how each and every one of my loved ones are faring; the eternal questions of “Am I not doing enough...or is it too much?” Basically, any consuming emotion I have that I don’t quite know what to do with or how to manage.
In this arsenal, I keep a few things handy:
Smooth pens with velvety ink (I could write a novel about my quest for the perfect pen)
Aromatherapy oils (citrus for cheer and energy, lavender for serenity and soothing, etc.)
Books, books, books (the daily ones, the spiritual kind, the self-help variety, earnest poetry volumes and the dive-right-in, gripping fictional stories)
Crystals (learning more every day about these)
Mood-curated playlists (I do love a good tune)
Oracle and mindfulness cards (endlessly diverting)
Blankets and pillows (everyone needs a soft, cuddly hug sometimes)
Breathing (usually, I count to myself or use a guided app)
Meditation (guided apps or music are my jams for this – trying to turn off my mind and approach internal balance)
Yoga (I perform the stretching, almost-napping kind – not the athletic kind – because I am lazy)
And the best part of these self-care practices? There. Are. No. Rules.
I can apply these tools at will, whenever and however I want. There is no “correct” way to do them. There is no “right” time or “preferred method” I need to employ. Because self-care is just taking care of yourself. Making yourself comfortable. Eating when hungry…drinking water when thirsty. It sounds basic, right? Like “Life 101: In Which I Learn to Listen to my Body.” Welp, in my experience, that’s exactly what self-care that actually works for me means.
When I’m feeling frantic, a little crazy, not-quite-myself or when my head is a lonely, dark place in which to reside, I start doing one of these activities or using one of these tools to work through my feelings in a healthy, sober livin’ kind of way. And if it doesn’t feel right – I try something else until my actions, my head and/or my heart feel better. I don’t have to force anything. I can explore and be open-minded, and pieces of the solution find their way to me when I am ready and willing to receive them.
It's pretty magical. So go forth! Explore openly. Figure out what makes you feel good – calm, peaceful, relaxed and known – and I hope this list and/or some of my go-tos help you discover the magic that resides within you, too.
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