Last week I had a wee revelation about what it means to take care of myself. I already thought I was pretty good at that. I let myself laze around and read mysteries when I'm stressed. I always get enough sleep. I catch myself quickly when I'm being hard on myself, and I check in with my husband or a friend when something is bothering me, so I can work it out without it dragging on and draining me. I stopped drinking. It sounds pretty good, right?
But I wasn't feeling great. I realized that, while the first time I quit drinking (back in July 2013) I felt healthy and energized, lately I was feeling a little bit logy and a little bit foggy more often than made sense. Yes, I have some stress going on, with writing a thesis and having some school applications in process, but I've had these kinds of stresses on and off since I went back to school a few years ago, and they didn't seem to have the same effect.
Might be an age thing, pre-meno, sure. But I started to think about what I could do to feel better. And I made a decision: It was time to slay the sugar monster!
After a few months getting back into the groove of not drinking again, I had found myself eating a lot of sugar. I mean, a lot! I know, lots of people go through this. But for years, I'd got used to eating a very low sugar diet, and it suited me. The first time I quit drinking, I was quite annoyed by how many people encouraged me to eat cake and ice cream, something I generally didn't do because I learned years ago that feel a bit crappy when I have too much sugar. Over time I kind of gave in. I figured some of the pleasures of sweet treats would be OK. First I was cheerfully having dessert when I ate out, which was only once in a while. But eventually, I was going to the bakery most afternoons, or grabbing a sugary trail bar or a cookie at school, or nibbling on toast at home. Since quitting drinking again this past fall, I seemed to be relying on sweets in a way that I hadn't in years.
Recently I've had a recurring eye infection that was resisting treatment. I was feeling brain foggy and slow and a bit podgy. I had even started baking, which meant licking the batter bowl, and having sweets on hand all the time, without even having to leave the house! I'd noticed that when I went to a certain bakery, I was a little too intense about wanting the golden beet cake with cream cheese icing. There were also a couple of uncomfortable incidents with almond croissants, and once I ended up apologizing to the lovely woman at the counter because she'd sold me the last one and then was letting her coworker serve it to someone else. (Imagine an otherwise pleasant middle-aged woman morphing into a cranky toddler and saying, in a sharp and not too quiet voice, "Hey, isn't that MY croissant?!!" It was, but still, there's no need to bite someone's head off about it. Jeepers.) I felt about those croissants the way I used to about my favourite wine, and seeing it served to someone else (after I'd bought it!) was like watching someone pour the last of the bottle into their own glass. Just writing it makes me feel unstable! Everything about the way I was eating sweets was looking like the way I used to drink. Except it was something I could do any time of day, not just during the evening. Dang! Last Tuesday, I decided that was enough, and I stopped.
Now I'm not trying some fancy new regime here. Just no sugar. And no bread. Easy on the fruit. Lots of veg and fish and plenty of butter and olive oil and eggs and some meat and cheese and nuts, that sort of thing. When I ate like this before, it seemed to suit me well. I know it sounds like I'm talking about restrictions, but the restrictions set me up to structure healthy meals instead of basing my food choices around sweets and convenience.
Already I feel more energized. I started running again, just a little, which suits me. And I've been cycling, something I love but had really stopped doing. And drinking lots of water, and teas. I'm down a couple of pounds and have lost a few inches off the waist already, and my eye is clearing up. It hasn't been hard, and I feel pretty good about it.
It's tricky to try to find how to take care of ourselves. In the recovery world, there are so many voices, and they all offer solutions that sound beguiling. Some advocate a treats-based regimen, others do yoga. Some people run, some meditate. People go to meetings or they don't, or they go back and forth on that one. Some people pray, others are committed atheists. Some find themselves through introspection, others lose themselves in service. I like trying new things, but it's a fine line between trying some new things to see if they suit and adopting new bad habits to replace the old ones. That's what I think I had been doing with food. So to me, these days, taking care means paying attention to what's not working, and stopping that. It means getting back to what seems to work for me, which is--it's not rocket science here--eating well and exercising enough!
On a bigger scale, I think all of my regular versions of self care fall under giving myself a break. But taking care might sometimes mean the opposite. It could be getting up early to work on my thesis so I have another page or two written. It might mean running when I'm feeling lazy (how about right now?) or cycling in the rain because I'll feel better once I do. I used to be better at all this. Somehow, I think I adopted the idea that quitting drinking was such a herculean task, so any discomfort I had about anything else had to be assuaged because I wasn't drinking and I deserved it. But that's silly. Getting sober is great, but it's something I did so I could live more fully. Letting myself off the hook once in a while when I'm feeling challenged is probably necessary. But sometimes, maybe even often, pushing myself is probably closer to what I need to do to take good care of myself.
Anyway, that's where I am these days. Just taking care, and keeping on trying to figure out what that means to me.
If you're still here, thanks for reading. I hope you're finding out how to best take care of yourself, too. Me, I'm heading out for a short run! Peace and joy and happy trails to you!