On a summer day inside a small residential home in Orange County, California, I found myself sitting in a circle surrounded by other women, all ages 18 to 25. Some sit on the couches, others on the floor, but most of us with our minds elsewhere. One woman is tapping on her forehead to calm her nerves, another is sketching in her journal, and I am sitting on the floor, irritated, just wanting this group therapy session to be over.
Our instructor introduces the day’s discussion topic: self-care. She looks at the eight of us and asks if we know what that means. Some say yes, some say maybe, and I stay silent. Self-care sounded like something I should know, but I actually had no clue what it meant. It was a foreign concept to me, made evident by the reasons I was in that group therapy session, and in treatment for addiction, to begin with.
Self-care sounded like something I should know, but I actually had no clue what it meant.
Prior to that summer, I was spinning out of control, instigated by my discovery of alcohol. It started out like a romantic comedy. Me and alcohol met at a party, and then we went out on a few dates -- some long walks on the beach, some Netflix and chill. Alcohol helped shut out all my struggles. The quiet girl in high school was now fun. My anxiety went from level 10 to zero. And I never felt more confident or at peace than when I was drinking. But this love story turned for the worse, and my constant state of blackout put me in dangerous situations. This coincided with trauma, depression and mania, culminating in my rock bottom of completely losing control over my mind and body. I had no sense of self-care, and you can forget about any semblance of self-love or self-respect.
My self-care journey started right after that group therapy session, with the daily tasks we were required to complete around the treatment facility: wake up at 6:30 a.m., brush our teeth, go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, make our beds, clean the house, eat breakfast, attend group sessions. Sure, at first, I did this just to get a few hours access to my phone before lunchtime, but all these menial tasks were building the foundation of my self-care practices -- having respect for my home, taking care of my body and prioritizing my mental health and sobriety. This all might seem very basic, but that’s how self-care starts. It is basic. It’s addressing our basic needs, and then growing and evolving from there. At that point in my life, even wanting to wake up and get out of bed was a major accomplishment. Planting my feet on the ground that day meant I was making the deliberate choice to wake up and take care of myself.
... but that’s how self-care starts. It is basic. It’s addressing our basic needs, and then growing and evolving from there.
Once I learned those self-care basics, I continued to implement small self-care tasks into my life. I found that even the simplest things, such as journaling each morning or making it to a doctor’s appointment on time, helped build up my confidence. I started to grow self-trust and self-respect. The journey wasn’t always easy, or linear. I continually had to learn, unlearn and relearn these lessons about the importance of practicing self-care. When I left Orange County and moved back home, I adopted my cat Luna, and she gave me yet another lesson in self-care. On the days when my depression kept me tethered to the couch and even the thought of walking out the front door would make me cry, I knew I had to at the very least get up and walk to the kitchen to feed her (if I didn’t, she always made sure to hold me accountable by nipping my ankles). It might seem ridiculous to say a cat taught me a lesson in self-care, but she was the small push I needed in those moments. I learned I can’t show up for others unless I take care of myself first. I need to prioritize my sobriety and my mental health, otherwise I can’t be present for those who depend on me.
It was a long, winding road to arrive at these lessons, but I’m now at the point in my life at which I understand the importance of self-care, am capable of practicing self-care and want to share my story in hopes that it can help or inspire you to take those same steps.
I’m still learning. My self-care routine is not 100 percent perfect. Far from it. Sometimes I’ll create an awesome Instagram post, encouraging the JunaBlu community to take time for themselves and practice self-care, then I realize I didn’t even take my own advice that morning and jumped straight into work (my hair needs a good wash, my face could use some exfoliating and that journal I bought last week is still empty).
Self-care is a journey. It’s about tuning into your mind and body and addressing what it is you are needing today to be your best self. For me, some days it’s curating a ‘90s pop playlist to listen to while I work or make art, others it’s pampering my body with face masks and lotions, or maybe it’s sitting out in the sun with a cup of coffee, watching our goofball dog run around with a frisbee stuck on his nose. I’m grateful that I’m alive and healthy and safe, and that I have only my own clumsiness to blame when I fall while dancing because I’m no longer impaired by alcohol.My definition of self-care changes daily, and yours might, too. But as you can see from my journey, no matter what it is that day, it needs to be a priority.