By Robert Rubinow, LPC
My experience with many folks in recovery is that they struggle most with taking care of themselves—physically, emotionally, relationally, and mentally. Often lacking sufficient sleep, rest, and recreation, eating poorly on the go (or forgetting to eat!), not exercising their bodies, forgetting to stay hydrated throughout the day, overworking, and feeling guilty for spending time engaging healthy people and activities they enjoy, people can easily become fatigued, irritable, moody, depressed, and resentful. Slowly, the energy drains from all the demands of recovery without daily renewal and replenishment.
Usually beneath this struggle lies a lifetime of shaming messages that prevent people from understanding they are worthy of care; messages of guilt that tell them they are selfish for thinking of themselves at all. Many of these messages are deep and insidious:
- Others are more important than you.
- Stop thinking of yourself.
- You are not important.
- What you want doesn’t matter.
- You aren’t worthy of good things.
- You really ought to do more.
- What is your problem?
- Why can’t you lose the weight? Are you lazy?
As if that is not enough, self-care can feel overwhelming to folks in recovery because they have never been taught how to care for themselves properly. They swing the pendulum from unhealthy self-indulgence and excess, to extreme denial and cold-turkey abstinence that jars the nervous system into fight-or-flight mode. Not only this, they tend to be unrealistic with good and healthy goals, opting for severe fitness programs, rigorous spiritual disciplines, and the latest unsustainable fads that promise improved performance and success, but which only lead only to more personal failure and shame.
But if you stop and think about it, caring for ourselves is the best way we can care for those we love. Loving ourselves enough to appreciate that we are both exquisitely designed, yet also mortal, helps us gain the perspective of making the most of the limited days we have on earth to love others, to enjoy life, and to leave our unique and influential legacy behind.
Fortunately, there are many great helps from wise people who can teach us to stay balanced, focus on what is important, keep first things first, and slow our pace enough to catch our breath and notice all that we can be grateful for.
One such resource, is Tom Rath’s book, Eat, Move, Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes. Filled with practical tips to make small changes daily, rather than tackle unrealistic goals, Rath leads us to understand the interconnectedness of eating properly, moving frequently, and getting regular, sound sleep with our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Taking us on a 30-day adventure to incorporate simple, natural, and mindful modifications in how we go about our day, Rath’s suggestions are very helpful to those who find it hard to get started. This book is an easy-read resource; not an overwhelming textbook of health information. Here’s just a small sample of some of the helpful topics:
- Make inactivity your enemy
- Sleep longer to get more done
- Big changes through small adjustments
- One good choice at a time
- Staying healthy while you work
- Living in the now
- Take your brain for a walk
Are you having trouble with caring for your most important asset—you? I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you are like me, and have an aversion to fads, gimmicks, and health gurus making money from our addictions, then check out this book, and remember, stay balanced and keep it simple: one healthy choice, one day at a time.