Human beings are precious. Every single one of us matters in life. We have the misfortune of not being able to understand that about ourselves and, often, other people.
And while we are resilient and able to endure and recover from the most mind-boggling array of assaults on human consciousness, we are not immune to the ravages and damages of long-term maltreatment in the form of self-neglect.
Even though we cannot always recognize and validate that we treat ourselves relatively poorly, because to us it’s just how it’s always been (water to the fish), the atrophy to our health is real when we withhold love from ourselves.
Many of us treat ourselves with shocking contempt and utter ignorance of true human needs, essentially carrying on the abuse we grew up with.
Those of us with a tendency towards addiction are guilty of deep self-rejection of our real self and what it needs to thrive. Not only have we abused our physical bodies through repeated destructive behavior, but we have also deprived and mistreated our emotions and denied the soul’s needs.
Many people end up with addiction problems because they don’t know how to care for themselves, treat themselves with love, respect, tenderness, self-support, and so on. Many of us are essentially feral before we learn otherwise, like animals that grew up on the streets and have no idea what it would be like to be genuinely wanted, cherished, and valued.
We replaced actual care of ourselves with addiction, relying on substances to manage our symptoms of emotional pain, our varying states and moods, to get the many jobs of life done.
When we get into recovery many of us learn how to care for human life for the first time, perhaps by watching those around us who have more sobriety under their belt. Healthy meals, sleep, exercise, mutual love, and friendship are new, learned behaviors for us. We gradually realize that much of what we lived without for so long, in terms of emotional support and self-care, is necessary to live soberly.
Here are three self-care and addiction recovery tips to help you along your journey.
1. Accept your Needs
Practice the point of view that human needs are neither good nor bad, they just are. Plants need sunlight, soil, water, and that is not a moral issue, it is simply what it takes for plants to thrive.
We human beings need a lot of forms of nourishment – nutrients for every layer of our being. Since we are not only physical beings, but also emotional, mental, and spiritual ones, we have many different kinds of needs. And that’s ok.
Rather than drawing up a balance sheet in your mind of which of your needs you do or do not deserve to have met, consider that all needs can be accepted, just as they are, whether or not they’re being met at the moment. Declare full amnesty for all sides of your humanity.
2. Get to Know Your Needs
With the understanding that needs are neither good nor bad, just a fact of life, write out all the things you need, whether or not you are able to have them in your life at this time.
Don’t be conservative, but rather generous with this list. Try not to worry about how you might meet those needs, focusing instead on merely naming what they are. For example, I need affection, attention, support, people to listen to me, people to have fun with, creative outlets. And more.
For inspiration, you can look at the following list of universal human needs: https://www.cnvc.org/training/resource/needs-inventory. Perhaps there’s something on this list you didn’t know you were allowed to want. You are!
3. Put Your Needs on the Schedule
Using your generous list of needs, make a sample self-care schedule, starting with all the needs of the body (healthy food, exercise, sleep, physical affection, etc), and gradually adding needs of the other layers of your being. What emotional needs do you also need to regularly meet? What mental, spiritual, sexual, relationship, friendship, or creative needs do you have?
It can be helpful when doing the exercise to do two versions of the schedule: one is a realistic, grounded schedule based on your life as it is right now, in which you envision how you might meet your needs given your current circumstances. The second exercise is to allow your imagination to run wild with picturing all the beautiful ways these needs could get met, in an alternate reality free of restrictions. Using your creative imagination to fantasize about meeting your needs will help you experience these needs being met in the real world.