Self-care. You hear the term all the time. Most recently, NPR published an article about the millennial obsession with self-care, as if taking care of yourself was a bad thing. And it’s not just a Millennial thing. Self-care is well documented as being an important part of addiction recovery and codependency.
When I first started attending the family program at Keith’s rehab facility, I heard from my counselors that I needed to focus on myself. As someone who is codependent, that was the hardest thing for me to do. I had a million excuses as to why I had to do something for Keith or for a friend but didn’t have time for myself. Self-care was the last thing on my mind because I thought that putting myself first was selfish and rude. I kept thinking of the phrase I heard repeatedly growing up from teachers, family, and other adults, “Put others first.” It was never meant to be taken so literally, it was more vaguely referring to helping others because I am more fortunate than some, but of course, I clinched onto those three words.
Put others first. That was my motto. I was convinced it made me a better person: morally, spiritually, and emotionally. I’m sure it did to some degree. But more than a motto, it was an excuse for not taking care of myself. It’s not like it isn’t obvious at times. My appearance can be a dead giveaway on how well I’m taking care of myself. Even if I was maintaining a put-together physical appearance, my body language, and facial expressions gave me up. Constantly putting Keith before me was taking a toll on me, but I didn’t notice.
Hearing that I needed to put myself first was a shock to me. How could I care for Keith and make sure he was okay, whether in active addiction or recovery if I was putting myself first? It took awhile for it to click: how could I take care of Keith or anyone else if I wasn’t taking care of myself? Why did I make it my burden to take care of Keith? That was all the codependency talking so I embraced the idea of self-care.
Self-care is what I think of as the foundation of recovery. Putting your time and energy into yourself is going to be what helps you live life more independently. Self-care doesn’t have to be a shopping spree, spending money on materialistic things, or going above and beyond your means to preserve your self-worth. Self-care is paying attention to what you need physically and emotionally. If you are tired, go to sleep instead of picking up the pieces of someone else’s mess. Replace bad habits like smoking or nail biting with healthier alternatives like working out or crafting. Get back on the treadmill, start attending church again, and get involved in Al-Anon. Anything that you start doing for yourself, and no one else, is all self-care is.
Stand up for yourself. Self-care is just as much physiological as it is physical. One of the recovery steps when addressing codependency is setting boundaries, not only for the addict or alcoholic but for ourselves as well. And it’s not enough to just set the boundaries but follow through with them as well. You are worth the respect of others to honor the boundaries you set. If your loved one is in active addiction, enforcing boundaries are even more important because we tend to absorb the consequences of our loved ones. Did your boyfriend get arrested? If you say you won’t bail him out again, don’t. Did your son come home drunk again? If you told him he could only be at your house if he was sober, kick him out. Upholding these boundaries puts the burden back on the addict so you aren’t enabling the damaging behavior. If your loved one is in recovery, your boundaries may be different as there are many different stages to recovery and everyone’s journey is different. There are certain things I enforced with Keith when he came home such as sticking to a schedule and keeping me in the loop on things. When he neglects these, I don’t back down on being irritated or upset because I deserve that respect.
This isn’t easy. But it’s necessary.
Self-care is not self-obsession. Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is necessary.
I’m still learning to love myself. I’m still learning to put myself first. And that’s okay.