‘Self’ care? Can’t someone else do it?

I am losing my glow.

Now that I no longer need a drink in hand throughout the entire evening, I am no longer drinking the gallons of peppermint tea, flavoured mineral waters and hot chocolates that marked the hours until bedtime only months ago.

Now that I am no longer desperate for evening distractions, I am not taking the long baths of early sobriety.  I am not painting my nails as a way to stop my hands from picking up a glass.  I am not taking long walks on dark evenings, puffing out cravings into frigid air.

I no longer fear late-night alcohol cravings, and so my bedtime has shifted back to where it was pre-sobriety; every morning I wake, reluctantly and with a mild sense of outrage that I am expected to, and swear to myself that tonight I will go to bed at 9pm, with a mug of tea.  Come 11pm, I just need to finish reading this one blog post and it’s my turn on Words With Friends, because honestly, I was still cleaning the kitchen at 9pm and I want some time to myself, dammit.

Dieting, I can get to dinnertime fuelled only by coffee.  The chocolate mud cake of the weekend resides in the stomachs of my family, and not in mine.  Cake was good for my temperament, but now my skirts fit again.

When I first gave up alcohol, I treated myself like an invalid. Early nights, cheering-up gifts, whatever food I fancied. Once it became routine not to drink, the world crept back in. Women aren’t good at putting themselves first, second, or even third.

One of the reasons for that is that we don’t have a model for it. Early on in this sobriety lark, I complained, fairly regularly, about the fact that I had inexplicably failed to transform into an early-rising paragon of clean eating and marathon running, a model parent suddenly whipping up handmade shawls whilst rising to the top of her career between the school-friendly hours of 9 and 3.  I did so ruefully, self-deprecatingly.  Oh, look at little imperfect me with my ten extra pounds and crows’ feet, shoving a plastic bag of books into my daughter’s backpack because reading Marian Keyes is more fun than hand-stitching, oops I’m just so hopeless

It strikes me, suddenly, that almost all of the things that I chastise myself for being or not being, doing or not doing, are not things that benefit me very much at all.  In fact I am just as healthy as a size 12 as I would be at a size 10, and I do my job just as efficiently with no make-up and cursorily brushed hair as I would if I’d got up earlier to primp and straighten.  I am relatively confident that Big Girl will learn to read just as well without a hand-stitched patchwork library bag (why yes I am a bit hung up on this one, why do you ask?) and baked beans on a potato with some cheese on top is a perfectly well balanced meal and saves on washing up.  It is, in fact, far more fun to sit on my couch with a geriatric cat as a blanket, reading This Charming Man, than it is to go down to my dark and freezing-cold basement laundry and sort out a uniform wash.  And I really, really like sleeping.

Women judge themselves by a series of actions and characteristics that benefit other people.  When we talk about being ‘good’ we are thinking about acts of service and self-sacrifice.  And what that means is that we find it very easy to slip away from looking after ourselves.  Even the language around ‘self care’ for women is problematic.  ‘I like a woman who takes care of herself’, proclaims many a man, but it’s a safe bet that he’s not talking about women who make time for a long bath or nurture a fulfilling hobby.  He doesn’t care whether the woman in question can wield a power drill, and he probably hasn’t thought about whether her superannuation contributions are adequate to sustain her old age.  He just means he likes a woman who doesn’t eat very much.  

Think about the marketing of ‘pamper packages’ to women as a reward; as if nothing in the world could be more relaxing and self-indulgent than having hair ripped out of its follicles before being punched repeatedly on the back and then slathered in mud and left to set like a commemorative plaque.  

So when I look at myself, dry-skinned and shadow-eyed, and I think ‘I must start taking care of myself again’, I don’t really know what that looks like. I know what it isn’t; it isn’t staying up late folding laundry, and it isn’t spending a fortune on uncomfortable beauty treatments, and it certainly isn’t drinking a litre of Diet Coke in substitution for breakfast and two coffees instead of lunch. I’m happy when my home is sparkling and my freezer is full, I’m happier still when I’m cosy with a great book and a hot drink, and I’m the happiest I can be when I’m writing. But the days are short and the evenings are shorter and my retinue of staff haven’t shown up for work for … well, ever. So I neglect the easiest thing to neglect, and that’s me.


15 thoughts on “‘Self’ care? Can’t someone else do it?

  1. Aghh! I know this feeling. I’m exhausted this weekend after a week of going to bed too late and not getting enough sleep, because I want “my time”. I don’t know how to rope of some time to do the things I want (reading and writing, checking on my sober blogs, the long bubble bath), it feels selfish and as if I’m letting other people down. So I do it when I should be sleeping. This plan is not working too well either. Good luck with sorting this one out! xx

  2. I love your comment about men meaning a woman looks after herself actually means she doesn’t eat very much !! It made me roar with laughter. Thank you. I also know what you mean about assuming sobriety would turn you into an early morning riser, marathoner etc. Whenever I restart (!!!!) sober living, I always assume it will solve all my health and beauty and organisational problems, and I am gutted when it doesn’t. It does give a lovely sense of peace and self esteem though.

  3. Just subscribed, I can so relate! I’ve been in physical health recovery also simultaneous, not much time for primping. Hardest is cold turkey on booze and sweets 😮 but try to get in a wee treat ea day without worrying about the scale. Glad I found your blog here.

  4. It’s all about balance. I sometimes don’t put myself first. I have to check my motives and make sure that I am not playing martyr either. For me, that’s a form of ego and self-pity (“look at me, working so hard for all of YOU”…lol). Obviously there are things I need to do – clean the back, take out garbage, dishes, cooking, etc. But balance is the key. I can’t avoid all those things either and claim “me time” as well 🙂

    Balance, balance, balance. We need to care for others and care for ourselves too. 🙂

  5. I am kind of annoyed with myself by saying this, as it’s become my go to response for practically everything about quitting drinking, but it takes time to figure out the self-care thing. I think the fact that you are thinking about it means that you are on the right path towards finding what works for you. Time, time, time. Ha. Hugs!

  6. my favourite piece of parenting advice? that the best way to show children the importance of reading is for them to see you doing it as often as possible. so that sofa time may be doing more for your darlings than a hand stitched library bag.

    self care after the invalid stage is different, yes. I have stages of self-imposed self-care boot camp. because otherwise I don’t bloody do it. and when I do do it, often it is the bare minimum.

    it is as if I am walking along a path, with a wall protecting me from a ferocious dog on the other side. and I keep an wary eye on the wall, as it gets lower, and lower still. can he reach me yet? no, not yet. keep going, you can get away with it a bit longer… whereas in fact if I keep laying certain courses of bricks (seven hours sleep a night, four runs a week, coffee with a friend every so often…) the wall will be high enough all the time, and I won’t have to build crenellations on the top of it using over-priced scented candles…

  7. I am 58 years old and have finally taken a vacation BY MYSELF, FOR ME to mark my six month sobriety, and I did not leave food in the freezer for the family or particularly care. It’s MY turn.

  8. I did a 30-day challenge a few months ago where I did something nice for myself every day. It was generally something little (on a nice day I’d ride my bike the long way home and stop to smell the lilacs instead of going right home and getting work/chores done) but it made a big impact. I realized that I was constantly saying “no” to the kid inside me that wanted to do those tiny little things that made me happy. I also think jenisthesoberist has a good point. Time, time, time.

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