Editor's note: While this article is written for mothers of young children, many of these self-care tips can be applied to anyone—in recovery or not.
Have you ever reached the point of complete exhaustion? Of course you have—you're a woman. And as a mother, you are an expert in the exhaustion department. Add to that being a mother trying to recover from addiction, and exhaustion becomes a way of life. If you're like me, a lot of this comes from our tendency to overdo everything to prove to ourselves (and everybody else) we're okay, we're competent, and we aren't going to screw things up the way we did when we were drinking and using.
Being a sober mom is my greatest blessing, and it can also be my most challenging endeavor. In all my years of motherhood, not once did I hear my children say, "Hey, Mom, why don't you sit down and relax? Let me bring you a cup of tea!" Nor did Mary Poppins or Alice from The Brady Bunch ever appear at the door to help out.
I don't know about you, but for me, staying sober AND trying to raise children often feels like "Mr. Toads Wild Ride" at Disneyland—and sometimes it's not a whole lot of fun.
Are you barely hanging on, throwing your hands up, and screaming? A bottle of wine used to work to relax me and help me escape from the stress, but in sobriety I had to find substitutes for the wine.
The following are some quick self-care life saving tools I learned, which allowed me to take care of myself so I could take care of my kids. I realized, as the saying goes: "If Momma ain't happy—ain't nobody happy!"
In my book, A Sober Mom's Guide to Recovery (it's a quick read because I know moms usually don't have time to read), at the end of each chapter I suggest to the readers some of these quick tips that actually work. I have over 100 tips in the book, and here are 10 of them.
- Make a "God to Do for Me Today" list. Most of our "To Do" lists are actually a list so long it would take five women to complete! Here is a solution: Take a sheet of paper and draw a line vertically down the middle to make two columns. On the left side, write: "For Me to Do Today." On the right side write: "God to Do for Me Today." Now, only the most necessary items—those that have to be done today or people will die—go in your "For Me" column. Everything else has to go in God's column. The things in God's column will be things that need to be done, but not necessarily this very day. You can also add things that you wish for in God's column; you won't know how these will manifest themselves, but you've given your Higher Power the job. If you do this exercise every day, it will relieve stress so you are not carrying the world on your shoulders. You will notice that the items in God's column frequently get done in ways you could never have imagined.
- There are so many things we have no control over. Practice releasing people, situations, and things by repeating, "That’s not in my job description!" You will gain freedom and some time for yourself when you quit worrying about everything you can't do in the first place.
- Learn to laugh and try not to take life so seriously. Watch some comedy, read funny books, hang out with funny people, get together with some girlfriends, and laugh until your belly hurts.
- Make a list of five things that rejuvenate your spirit. For me, it was bubble baths. Bubble baths became my refuge at the end of the day. Sometimes the day seemed so unbearable that I took what I call a "Double-Bubble Day"—two baths in one day. Choose one of those things and do it twice a week. Continue doing this until it becomes a habit and a part of your regular routine.
- Find a creative outlet. At first I had no idea what I could even do creatively, but I asked myself what I had liked to do as a child. I remembered I enjoyed painting, dancing, and writing, so I started with those activities. Other than the paint supplies, none of these creative outlets cost me any money.
- Shake your booty and get out of the house to exercise. It's no secret that exercise benefits the body and sharpens the mind. It relieves stress and helps to sweat toxins out of the body. Even short walks can relieve stress very quickly. If it's difficult to get motivated, enlist a friend to go with you. Play sports with your kids, take them out of the house, and run all that energy out of them. Not only will they will be less cranky and sleep better, so will you! For me, running and walking was a form of meditation before I learned to sit still.
- Eat three healthy meals a day with two small high protein snacks in between. I use to drink coffee all day long with very little food. At about two in the afternoon, I'd crave sugar. In recovery, I needed to learn to nourish my body with healthy food, which meant sitting down to eat real food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chowing down a granola bar and a cup of coffee in my car while driving between client meetings did not constitute a meal. I learned the brain needs protein, vegetables, fruits and a lot of water.
- Beg a friend to take your kids for an hour, and then move. (Just kidding about moving, but perhaps you can get a babysitter or trade babysitting with a trusted friend. Note to self: trade with someone who has quiet, well-behaved children!) Surrender the Martha Stewart cape: tear one of her pictures into tiny little pieces.
- NAP, NAP, NAP—YES YOU CAN! One day when I was newly sober and working full-time, going through a divorce, and raising three small kids, I was complaining to my therapist about how tired I was. He suggested I take a 20-minute nap in the afternoon, between work and picking up the kids. I truly thought this man was from Mars. He might as well suggest I fly to the moon. The concept of a nap was totally foreign to me. My mother used to take naps when we were kids, and I thought she was crazy. Well, she had seven kids, so I'm sure naps saved her. The 20-minute nap became a lifesaver for me. Three o'clock was always a low energy time in my day. In recovery, I learned to replace that extra cup of coffee and sugar bomb with a power nap. I would set my alarm for 20 minutes and just rest. Today, I am still the queen of power naps. (Thank you, Mom, for teaching me the art of napping!)
- Prayer and meditation. For some, this is difficult, so to make it simple I suggest you find a place where you feel peace. Maybe it's at a church, in nature, or at a Twelve Step meeting. I learned to rejuvenate my spirit and replenish my soul, unplug from the world and get quiet. It took a lot of practice, but I finally learned to pray throughout the day, take time for reflection, and enjoy meditation. I started to listen to the sounds of waves, feel the breeze blowing through the trees, watch birds soaring in the air, and feel the power of God in the majestic mountains surrounding the place I live. Occasionally, I'd have a day when I was pulling my hair out, cursing at my Higher Power, and screaming, "Hey, I could use a little help down here!" More than a few times there were those miracles where someone would show up at my door, or call and offer to take my kids for a while. Those were the days when I was sure there was a Higher Power watching over me, and that prayer really does work.
All of this self-care was vital to my sanity and helped me be a mother who was present and loving towards my children. There were many days when I was so distraught and exhausted that I literally had no energy. I often thought to myself, "If I'm this miserable, why stay sober?" Instead of drinking I would call another sober mom, and she would give me a simple suggestion for self-care along with permission to take care of myself. Taking care of myself was the key to not drinking one moment at a time. Once I learned to take care of myself, the desire to drink was removed.
Overall I have learned that radical self-care means treating myself with the utmost respect, compassion and love. Most importantly, I learned I am a work in progress, and I thank God for the recovery slogan: "Progress, not perfection."
When I am practicing self-care, I am in a much better position to take care of my children and be a good, healthy role model for them.