What Do I Need? Really?

One of the most important questions we need to keep asking ourselves on our road to recovery is this, ‘what do I need?’ Then we should probably follow that up with ‘No, what do I REALLY need?’ because if we are in the early days of living without an addictive behavior, the first answer might just be that thing that we’re moving away from. Either a drink, or some ice cream (come on I can’t be the only one that’s switched alcohol for ice cream in the evenings), maybe another Netflix show to binge, or the pull towards social media so we can erase the current discomfort we’re feeling in the moment with another dopamine hit… yes I do that too.

Maintaining either sobriety or holistic well-being is not just about having a shiny new toolbox of activities like yoga, meditation, a new vegan diet or exercise regimen. We need to be able to tune in to our bodies and listen. What is our body trying to tell us, what are the messages it’s sending out and when we receive the message, are we acting on it, or are we pushing it away in denial because we’re still being driven by an old belief that we’ve been operating from all our lives?

It is so common that when we first give up an addictive pattern of behavior like grey area drinking, we lean in to a new behavior that replaces it. Now in the early days I would always say don’t worry too much, think of it as harm reduction… providing its not hurting you or anyone else and it’s a lesser problem than the original habit, just relax; you’ll be able to come back and address that one when you’re feeling stronger and have the first thing under control, but do remember to keep checking in. Is it taking over, is it in balance and within your control or is it running away with you?

I’m writing this blog post today because this week I’ve had a wake up call. I have not been listening to my body. Here I am, 4.5 years sober, coaching other women, thinking I was on top of my own lifestyle and habits and I’ve had a sudden awareness that I just haven’t looked after my physical body that well over the last year.

It’s been an emotionally and mentally demanding year, I’ve been doing my own inner healing, working through my trauma and on a rigorous experiential one year training in Compassionate Inquiry https://compassionateinquiry.com/the-approach/ Then there’s life on top of that, the usual caring roles we tend to have in mid life: teenagers one end, parents the other. I’ve been having therapy and I’m looking after my mental health as a consequence of the training program, but I have not looked after my physical health as well as I’ve needed to.

I took this photo of myself over two weeks ago and did a post on Instagram saying i just wanted to paint and ‘be’… I wanted to withdraw and go inwards. The message was clear, I even said it and put it out there in to the universe. The very next day I woke up with a horrid cold virus and I kept telling myself ‘its just a cold’. All three of my kids had the same cold.

So what did I do? I may have had a day or two where I didn’t engage with social media or the rest of the world, I did a little bit of painting but what I didn’t do was listen to my body and rest. I didn’t take any action to make sure I would slow down, turn inward and nurture myself, I just kept going. All my kids recovered from the same cold virus in one week, mine was still going after week two and it was getting worse.

I’d committed to dancing every morning in December as part of my new morning routine: Meditation, movement and mindset. I got to day 5 and I literally conked out half way through a song. I thought it was funny at first ‘oooh I’m old I’ve got no stamina’, but then it hit me. I felt fatigued, shaky and chilly, I was still full of snot and I wasn’t helping myself at all. I needed to rest and I’d completely ignored the fact I was ill. It should have been very obvious to me, but it wasn’t and why is that?

It was because of my unconscious beliefs that my needs don’t matter, that as long as every one else is okay I will be fine. Time and again this has tripped me up and meant I’ve taken less than optimal care of myself, I will discuss how I got to this belief and my ability to understand it in my next post.

For now I’ve come up with a quick and easy acronym for self care, just a quick mental check list you can go through when you become aware that something is up. The signs might be that you have cravings for alcohol or old habits, you might be getting irritable and short tempered with those you love, you might start isolating and disconnecting from your loved ones, have tension headaches, feel more anxious or depressed than usual, stop attending activities or doing things that you usually have the time and energy for. Check in with yourself and see.

Be CARING towards yourself this festive period and beyond, it doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. I’m just covering the absolute basics here, the need for self compassion, the right amount of activity, rest and good nutrition, letting go and ignoring whatever tasks are pushing to the edge of overwhelm, and generously giving yourself the love and care you deserve.

Today I will be mostly in bed, staying warm and doing the bare minimum required!

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