Simplifying Self Care

By Sarah Siegel

A must during the COVID 19 Pandemic

For me and countless others, self-care practices have been a crucial component of building and maintaining a life of recovery. Today, as our nation and our world face the Corona virus pandemic, it has never been more critical to take care of ourselves. Self-care doesn’t need to be complicated; in fact, it shouldn’t be. In times of great upheaval, less is more. Years ago, when I was trapped in the cycle of active addiction, homeless, and living out of my car, I had no understanding of how to care for myself. I would wake up sick, needing to find heroin, and my day would consist of doing whatever was necessary to quell the discomfort. If I had time or energy, I would find a soup kitchen. Otherwise, I would “fly a sign” on the edge of the street to beg for spare change. I “lived to use and used to live.” Everything else was unimportant in comparison.

When I entered recovery, I had to learn how to take care of myself in basic ways. Implementing these new skills was a process, and it didn’t happen overnight. Instead, I relied on support from others and the guidance of a few trusted people, until I was able to consistently care for myself. I also found encouragement for building a self-care practice through reading about the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970).

Over the years, Maslow’s hierarchy has helped me prioritize where to put my energy and attention in taking care of myself. His premise is that a person can only meet his or her full potential once basic needs are met. At the base level of the hierarchy are our physical needs--food, water, warmth, rest and exercise. With those met, we can focus on safety and security, and then belonging and connectedness.

Amidst all the uncertainty of these times of worldwide crisis, Maslow’s work helps to remind me that in order to feel safe and secure, I first need to make sure I am taking care of myself in the most foundational sense: eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, breathing fresh air, and not consuming too much media.

Then I can focus on security, by being consistent with work and finances, and doing everything I possibly can to stop the spread of this virus (especially by staying home as much as possible, washing hands, and not touching my face). With that foundation laid, I can focus on making and maintaining healthy connections with others in my life. Beyond this, I save trying to fulfill the more complex needs of feeling a sense of accomplishment and fulfilling my life’s purpose for the less intense times that will return.

Simplifying daily life and making sure my fundamental needs are met helps me weather difficult times without reaching for substances or engaging in other addictive behaviors to cope.

This pandemic won’t last forever. We can use this time to cultivate a simple yet profound practice of self-care. By doing so, we can come out on the other side of this experience more connected to ourselves and, despite social distancing, more emotionally connected to others.

What can you do today to meet your basic needs? If you’re struggling to do so, can you take small steps in the direction of healing, starting with feeding yourself and getting more rest? Can you let go of excess worries, take a walk, and get some fresh air? Can you call a supportive person and connect?

Even now, recovery is not only possible, it is probable! There are so many people willing and ready to help. If you are struggling, please know that even in this time of physical separation you are not alone. Reach out--not only to the people who were already in your life but to people you meet in online recovery meetings.

When you are overwhelmed, tired, or just distracted, try simplifying things and focusing on meeting your basic, daily needs first. Above all, remember we do recover and there is always hope!

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