Happy Friday everyone! More importantly, happy Small Lights Friday! I gotta tell you all, I missed being here while I was gone. I can’t stay away from my love for writing. So, I’m back in it, full of piss and vinegar and chicken salad, which brings me to our Small Lights topic for today: Self care!
I know – there has been a lot of self care buzz all around us the past year. It almost seems like the topic has been infused into our lavender bubble bath or hidden in our peanut butter. (Is it in the vaccine? Do you think telling people that would help?) But I do think it’s important to talk about, especially after the collective trauma we’ve all experienced with Covid-19. Especially since we may be facing another mask mandate.
I wanted to use this Small Lights to talk about the difference between self care, and self medication. Believe me, baby, I’ve done both, and I’ve labeled it all as “self care.” Grab your Pinocchio dolls, ladies. Today, we’re gonna get real.
Content warning: substance abuse. This is a judgement free space, and I will never use this platform to promote any sort of ignorance about addiction, nor will there ever be even a drop of judgement. However, we will be talking about it, and if you are sensitive to the subject, you may want to skip this week and wait for the absolutely incredible piece I have planned for next Friday.
Self care versus self medication
Wine is a big hit right now, perhaps for the first time ever in the history of the world. Women everywhere (and men – scandal!) are discovering this incredible and 100% brand new trend – the elation elixir. I’ve seen everything from doing wine push ups, to straight up promoting alcoholism.
Look, I drink. I used to drink a lot. When I was younger and unsure how to navigate my genetic disposition, it was a topic I discussed with my therapist often. Alcoholism is incredibly common and, with the pandemic, drinking has increased even more. Nearly 15 million Americans over the age of 12 suffer from Alcohol Use Disorder. There is no shame in this. We have all been through a wild time. I actually started drinking gin during this pandemic. Gin! Have you ever had gin? Gin is a watered down pine tree sat overnight in a hamster cage. And I drank it, hamster wheel and all (citation needed).
What I have noticed is the normalization of drinking as a form of self care. I feel a personal responsibility to address this, as someone who used to self medicate quite often. Binge drinking is not self care. And in that same vein, smoking an 8th of pot a day is not self care. It may feel that way in the moment, but we all know, deep down, it’s not. We are not bettering ourselves with this behavior. (Okay, maybe sometimes, an 8th of pot in one day is self care. But these are RARE occasions). Self care should propel you forward, not halt your progress (or worse, move you in the wrong direction).
Shabangover* over Hangover
*Okay, I know we need to address shabangover before we move any further. It’s a word I made up, okay? I literally just made it up; it wasn’t even in the outline of this piece. Because you know what’s better than a hangover? Anything that would call for someone saying “Shabang!” So just accept it, alright? I mean, come on, you probably accepted Inception. You can accept Shabangover. You’re welcome.
In the meat of the Shabangover lies its true benefit. The bliss of the hangover antithesis. Waking up bright eyed and bushy tailed, having set your alarm early enough to squeeze in a good stretch, your morning skin care routine, and a hearty breakfast. I’m a big fan of staying away from high horses (back off Clydesdales), and I’m not going to tell you not to drink. I’m just going to advise that it’s always better when you don’t drink every night.
Your heart will thank you, your head will thank you and, eventually, your liver will thank you. I know what it feels like – at the end of a rough day, you want to pour a drink, feel the warm burn, and numb those feelings. But I have bad news that you already know: just because it’s numbed for now, doesn’t mean it’s gone away for ever. Ask any dentist.
If you had a really bad day, and you have to pour yourself a glass, by all means pour that glass. But be mindful that glass does not become your nightly routine. Long term drinking exacerbates depression, can cause cancer and diabetes. It can also lead to embarrassing situations, which are almost always funny later, but never funny in the moment. In this world of instant gratification, we simply cannot afford to wait for something to become funny. The Earth is on fire; we do not have time.
So what is self care, genius?
Thank you so much for calling me a genius; I’m doing my best. Let’s focus on what truly is self care.
I am using myself as an example here for two reasons. The first is that I think it’s important we are open about these issues in order to break the stigma against them and, secondly, it’s too good of an example not to share. I do depression expertly.
The picture on the left is my desk when I’m engaging in the self medicating side of self care – you know, the wrong one. You’ll notice a dirty ashtray, a PBR (gross), medications strewn about, trash, Dante’s the Inferno (WHY?), just a total mess. This is what my nightstand looks like when I’m having an episode of what I like to call the Big Sad: Hey, I’m so sad, I deserve a drink. Why should I have to feel like this? I can make myself feel better. Anything is better than this.”
Sound familiar? The left picture is the result of drinking to cope. That’s late night munching (without cleaning the trash), unorganized meds, and an open tube of lipstick. Again – why?
The picture on the right is when I am truly engaging in self care. (I still don’t have an answer for Dante’s the Inferno.) And yes, my self care almost always includes bubble baths and a favorite comfort food, but there is much more to taking care of yourself than bundling up in a cocoon.
Real Self Care
This Monday, I engaged in self care. True self care. Let me paint a picture: It was a Monday morning and I knew it would be a busy day at work, and I also had business with both my bank and my job.
I did not drink the night before, as much as I wanted to. I was anxious about the Monday that lay ahead. I did my best to suck it up and go to sleep anyway.
I woke up early and spent some time stretching. Afterwards, I did my skin care routine, even though I was tired and I’d much rather have been browsing my phone. Once I was back to looking like I was 19, I went to feed Queen Dolly and make a smoothie for myself.
Throughout the day on Monday, I experienced a few stressors. Instead of telling myself to walk away from the situation, I chose to face the situation. After all, we choose how we can react to situations and make the best of them. This took years for me to learn, and I am still learning every day. There are still a lot of days I choose to walk away, but self care is a learning process.
Forcing myself to stick through the stressors, recalibrate my attitude towards positivity, and taking reality head on was my self care for that day. Yes, it was hard. And no, it was not comforting. But I gained so much. I gained confidence in myself, I gained the pride that comes with overcoming obstacles, and I am in a much better headspace as a result.
Self Care is different for everyone
Everyone leads a unique life, so of course, not all self care will look the same for everyone. I found this helpful information chart on the CDC website:
I would also encourage everyone to look into practicing mindfulness. I practice mindfulness almost every day, and it’s like an instant quick fix for small stressors. And it’s a much healthier quick fix than a shot of whiskey.
Are You Self Medicating?
Sometimes, we don’t even realize we’re engaging in self medicating. Take a look here to see what forms it can take:
This resource has a lot of helpful information. You can check it out and go over the signs of self medicating. If you find that you are, I want you to know that’s okay, and nothing to feel bad about. It’s something we all do. However, I hope that sharing my personal experience on the matter will bring you comfort, and the knowledge that you are not alone.
If you need outside help, there are resources:
SAMHSA National Helpline 1-800-662-4357
Peer Recovery Support Centers in Massachusetts
National Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-8255
Be a Small Light for yourself this weekend. Engage in some real self care. Nature is beautiful in July, and so are you.