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Is Our Perception of Self-Care Distorted?

Self-care is a crucial element of a successful and sustained recovery. It allows us to function effectively as human-beings and shows us the love and compassion that we desperately need, given we neglected ourselves for years in active addiction. Yet, over recent years with the introduction of yoga retreats, sanctuaries, and expensive spas, has our perception of self-care become somewhat distorted? Do we now associate self-care with a retreat?

I think too often we try to achieve this almost unattainable level of self-care and don’t give ourselves credit for the everyday activities we do to take care of ourselves like setting boundaries and taking care of our body. These everyday self-care activities are just as valid as the expensive and, for some, prohibitive retreats.

Taking Stock of What We Do

Perhaps it’s time that we take stock of everything that we do, rather than setting the bar so high and thinking anything less isn’t investing in ourselves enough.

So often I beat myself up for not going to yoga. Don’t get me wrong, I adore it and I see its great benefits, but my life is such that it isn’t always logistically possible to make it. As well as having never-ending work commitments, I struggle to stop and take time out. Even though I’m  exhausted and burned out, I beat myself up too. How helpful is that?!

Rather than spend time looking at how I care for myself and my recovery, I instead continue to plan an unachievable number of yoga and gym sessions. I get annoyed with myself if I don’t keep up regular massages and facials – frankly, they’re too expensive and I’m too busy.

It occurred to me recently, when I was coaching a client on her health goals, that I could benefit from taking some of my own advice. I told her that she should give herself credit for all that she does and focus on small achievable goals, rather than set unrealistic goals that amount to perfectionism.

Sometimes It’s Harder Than Getting Sober

I’ve spent a long time this year working harder than I have ever worked and with more stress than I’ve experienced in my entire life. In some ways, moving to America and setting up an entirely new life – a new home, starting a business, making new friends, and starting a new modality of recovery – has been harder than getting sober. While also exhilarating, it has felt like jumping out of a plane every single day. I have felt great highs and also great depression and palpable anxiety.

I made it, though. In fact, I did more than make it – I was successful. Yet, I hadn’t really taken much opportunity to sit back and absorb just what I’ve achieved.-Olivia Pennelle

I made it, though. In fact, I did more than make it – I was successful. Yet, I hadn’t really taken much opportunity to sit back and absorb just what I’ve achieved. I just kept on going. And I kept telling myself that I wasn’t doing enough and wasn’t practicing enough self-care.

It was only in traveling back to the UK for the holidays, that I saw it was a great opportunity to reflect on the past year. When I arrived, I couldn’t help being confronted with my old life and with the woman I used to be: miserable, in a job I hated, and feeling like my life was too small. I was lost and glum. That is the opposite description of the woman I have become.

Every friend and family member who saw me told me not only how proud they were, but also stopped me, mid-conversation, to make me pause for a moment and acknowledge all that I have achieved. One friend said, “Liv, last year we were sitting here and wondering how on earth you would survive. In fact, I thought you were overly-optimistic with how you would manage the relocation. But you’ve not only shown your true grit and determination, you’ve beyond made it. You’re looking at expanding your business. That is incredible.” Rather coyly, it occurred to me that he’s right. I have achieved an incredible amount this year.

I say all this not to tell you how amazing I am; I tell you that I couldn’t have possibly achieved all of this – and stayed sober – were I not caring for myself. I have kept myself sane, stable, safe, nurtured, and cared for; that is self-care in its most basic sense, not attending an expensive yoga retreat.

How Have You Cared For Yourself?

Over the last year, there are many, many ways that I have cared for myself: I enforced boundaries; I learned how the American healthcare system works and regularly checked in with my doctor; I saw a therapist regularly; I attended many yoga classes (even if it was less  than I’d hoped for); I cycled between 30 and 70 miles a week; I took regular Epsom baths; I consistently worked out four times a week for seven months; I visited friends and family across the globe; I regularly checked in with friends in recovery; I attended regular meetings; I found a new recovery support group; I made a very difficult decision to leave AA because it no longer worked for me; I meditated (most days); I frequently journaled; I ate lots of nutritious food and drank lots of water; I spent a lot of my time sitting in my pajamas and resting.

While I didn’t attend a retreat, I attended one meditation workshop and several recovery events. Oh, and I had the occasional massage and pedicure, too.

Sure, I would’ve loved to incorporate more self-care and attend a yoga workshop or retreat – I’m confident that will be in my future – but I have absolutely cared for myself and, by extension, maintained my recovery. Let’s start to give ourselves more credit for the everyday self-care we undertake, rather than trying to achieve the unrealistic.



Images Courtesy of iStock

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