by Tim Ryan
Sitting in a hospital room with my son and ex-wife in Virginia a few weeks ago, stress flooded me. I had been on the road for what felt like months, doing everything I could to help those still in struggling with addiction to find hope and lasting recovery. When I finally returned home for a long, restful weekend, a family emergency put me right back on a plane halfway across the country.
During those few days, I never felt the urge to use. But I did feel many other things—emotions ranging from sadness to relief, and gratitude to anger.
As the emergency subsided, I had to remind myself of a concept that is at the heart of my recovery: I am not a victim. So I don’t need to act like one.
A victim says to himself, “This isn’t fair!” and “I shouldn’t have to put up with this crap!” Before long, a voice tells the victim, “Things can’t get any worse. Maybe you should get some relief by (insert drug of choice here.)”
But I am not a victim. Circumstances, neither good nor bad, don’t control me and my recovery.
So when I’m temporarily triggered or overwhelmed, I don’t let the situations win. Instead, I use healthy self-care as part of my lasting recovery.
Here’s what you need to know about self-care so you can practice it regularly to stay strong—
Self-care is part of your recovery
I’ve heard some people say—
- I don’t have time to focus on myself
- When I step out of the battle, there is no one who will step up for me
- If I’m not tired all of the time, I’m not giving enough
That’s garbage, nothing more than ego talking. Don’t confuse self-care with selfishness.
For many of us, recovery involves working a 12-step program. Step 12 is all about taking your gift of recovery and paying it forward. Here’s the kicker: you can’t pay forward what you don’t first possess! Unless you prioritize your own recovery, you can never help another person. Self-care is like putting gas in your car. By keeping your tank full, you’re able to help others. After all, helping others starts with you taking care of yourself.
The right people feed your soul
Think back to the people you spent time with when you were active in your addiction. Fellow addicts, right? It’s nearly impossible to get and stay clean when those around you are using.
Meaningful self-care requires us to surround ourselves with the right people, those that give more than they take. Two of those people for me are my wife, Kirsten, and my youngest daughter, MacKenzie, who I call Princess Mac. No, I don’t expect them to serve me. Kirsten gives to me by simply sitting and sharing a cup of coffee with me, being my sounding-board, or putting up with my erratic schedule. Princess Mac gives to me by laughing, falling asleep on my lap, or playing on her yard swing.
You know you are surrounded by the right people when you are able to relax, be yourself, and stay in the moment without getting pulled into conflict.
Part of recharging involves unplugging
Our lives are full of incessant noise: social media updates from our friends, 24/7 media coverage, requests for help, phone calls, etc. How can we find a slice of quiet in a noisy world? Unplug.
When I returned from Virginia, I called my boss and told him that I would be out for a week. Then I shut off my phones (yes, I have more than one!), turning them on only when I wanted to call someone or take a picture. I kept my focus on two things only: matters requiring urgent attention (like family emergencies) and my family.
Guess what happened? I didn’t miss anything. By taking the time away from all of the noise, I got to invest in my wife, children, parents, loved ones, and closest friends. Instead of being connected to everything and everyone screaming for my attention, I reconnected to those who charge my battery.
No, it’s not always possible to take a day or week off from work to regain your charge. But you can do it in small ways like hitting a meeting, joining a friend first thing in the morning for coffee, or practicing deep breathing. Just make sure you’re phone is off. Stay in the moment. Really be with the people in front of you. Phones have become like new limbs. We’ve become dependent on them to fight boredom, learn new things, and stay connected. Some replace cocaine with a cell phone. Don’t be afraid to disconnect with the virtual world so you can reconnect with the real one.
Every time you get into an airplane, the flight attendants tell you that if the oxygen masks deploys, put your own on first. Why? If you don’t, you become a liability instead of an asset. And if you don’t stay strong, how will you be of any use to anyone else?
By the way, these concepts apply whether or not you’re an addict. Reach out and raise your hand if you need help.