Welcome to the second in our two-part series on life after treatment!
You’ve heard it said before: treatment is just the beginning. When our bodies and minds have been pummeled and warped by addiction, rebuilding takes time. Most people discoverer that even once clean and sober, they are a long way off from good health and any real “wellness.” That word is thrown around a lot lately, so for the purpose of this blog, we’ll define it as all-around wellbeing—physically, mentally, and spiritually. For most of us—this is a lifelong journey.
Once we put down the substances, a natural tendency arises to use other things to comfort or numb ourselves. Things like food, insane amounts of caffeine or binging on video games or social media. Learning to get comfortable in one’s own skin without “self-medicating” in itself is a process. Hopefully, we eventually discover that being good to our bodies leads to increased feelings of well being. Even though it feels like kindergarten, mastering the basics of eating, sleeping and exercise can confound many of us. Here are some starting points:
Spoiler alert: what we eat, and how we eat it, matters. Most of us have missed the memo. Either we’ve barely eaten at all, overeaten terrifically, or only eat things that nominally resemble food. What we are working on here is beginning to get some sanity around eating. We are aiming for nutrition and nourishment, but in the beginning, we will settle for non-harm.
Unfortunately, this is where it gets confusing. There are so many different food programs and diets out there, trying to make sense of them can bring people to tears. Vegan, Paleo, Omnivore, Keto – trendy eating habits abound, and drop off as quickly as they appear. The truth is, researchers are constantly refining their understanding of eating for optimal health. While they are figuring it out, we can offer some common-sense guidelines.
- You should eat. Seems obvious, but often we neglect it until the last minute, and then get into a frenzied panic, surprised at how crazy we feel. Making a concerted effort to eat several proper meals throughout the day – preferably sitting down in the company of others – is a powerful practice. We learn to taste our food and make time to take care of ourselves. These can be revolutionary activities.
- But not just protein bars and candy. No one is asking you to become a chef, but making an effort to eat some whole foods each day can make the difference between feeling like garbage or feeling energized. This tip isn’t about what not to eat, but more about what to No surprise here, but fresh fruits and vegetables make the top of the list. Foods with minimal processing are next. A good rule of thumb is to stick to the outer aisles of the grocery store. That’s where you are most likely to find foods the healthiest foods – while the cookies and chips linger in the middle of the store.
Caveat: we are not speaking as qualified nutritionists. If you have an eating disorder, developing a plan for healthy eating is probably best done with the aid of a professional.
Get Some Sleep
This seems like it should go without saying, yet somehow, here we are. Often, sane sleep habits are an area where most people need rehab. From struggling to get to sleep to sleeping 15 hours a day – some balance is usually called for. Here are a few suggestions:
- Avoid excessive caffeine. Often the newly sober will drink coffee or energy drinks around the clock and then seem baffled at their inability fall asleep at night. This is hard, we know. If you’re unable to cut back, cutting yourself off after 3 or 4 pm can help your body recalibrate before bedtime.
- Quiet your mind. If endless mental chatter is keeping you up at night, you aren’t alone. This gets addicts and non-addicts alike. Meditation can be a good remedy for this. Other things that work well are chamomile tea, avoiding screen time before bed, and trying to have a consistent bedtime.
- Waking up. Some of us struggle not with insomnia, but with oversleeping. If this is an issue for you, getting a sleep routine can help. Try to wake up go to bed at the same time every day – it works wonders to get the body to cooperate.
There is an ever-growing body of research about the effects of exercise on overall wellness. It affects mood, physical health, and energy levels. Often, for people whose brains are re-adjusting to sober living, exercise can offer a great mental uplift and get our dopamine levels (the chemical responsible for feeling good) back on track.
- There’s nothing wrong with starting small. Most people seem to think that if they aren’t going to run 10 miles, there is no point in exercising at all. Not so! Studies have shown that even twenty minutes of low-key walking has benefits. The “Go big or go home” mentality often defeats us before we even start.
- Bring a friend. Getting someone to exercise with both increases your likelihood of following through and makes it more pleasurable. Plus, it helps grow the connections we so need for contented living! Finding a physical activity that you enjoy can be free – from running, walking or calisthenics in the park – or organized, through a yoga studio or gym. There is truly something for everyone if you’re willing to look.
Good luck on your journey to wellness! Remember, we are trying to form lifelong good habits and learn to truly take care of ourselves. This is not about trying to be perfect. Be gentle with yourself and stay on the path!
Christina Rock is a Seattle-based writer and photographer.