How Parents Can Practice Self-Care in Early Recovery

By: Nicole Slaughter Graham, Staff Writer

Parenting, in short, is stressful. Add in early sobriety, and parenting can feel downright impossible. Those early days and weeks of sobriety are crucial to set a solid foundation for alcohol-free living, but trying to manage what feels like a completely new way of life and parent at the same time is overwhelming. 

Self-care for parents in early recovery is crucial to maintaining sanity and ensuring you can really dig into recovery. Making time and space for self-care can also feel impossible. 

You might be thinking, self-care? Yeah right. I can barely get my kids ready in the morning and keep the house in order. Or, there’s no extra money, let alone a babysitter for a spa day.

So let’s start by debunking some myths about the term, “self-care,” which has become a sometimes annoying buzzword. 

Self-care does not have to be full-on spa days with massages, facials, a dip in a salt bath, and a nice seaweed wrap (though it can be this if you have the means and accessibility!). Self-care does not have to mean spending money. It is not selfish. And there is no one-size-fits-all approach to taking care of yourself. 

First and foremost, self-care needs to be accessible to you, personalized to your needs, and nourishing rather than just something else to add to the to-do list. 

“We don’t place any of our roles and responsibilities down when we make an active choice to live,” says Dr. Ladonna Butler, psychotherapist and founder of The Well in St. Petersburg, Fla. “Self-care is about nourishing ourselves so we can be well enough to nourish our children.”

She continues, “Being able to attend to ourselves as well as our children is one of the greatest gifts we can give.”

Here are some of the ways you can practice self-care in early recovery.

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Center Your Own Worthiness

In short, believe that you are worthy of taking care of yourself. This can be difficult in new recovery, Butler says.

“We struggle because, for some, we’ve caused so much harm or been harmed so much that we forget our real value,” she says, noting that our value is still a very real thing no matter our past. 

Butler says there are 1000 things we could do to take care of ourselves, but until we believe we deserve to do so, the effort might not have much value. 

“Start with self-forgiveness. Write out affirmations. Journal. Make amends to others, but also, make amends to yourself first. No bubble bath can wash off our guilt.”

Another part of centering your worthiness is committing to the daily actions of taking care of yourself. 

“Try to focus on the basics,” says Kelley Kitley, LCSW and owner of Serendipitous Psychotherapy in Chicago, Ill. “Adding another thing to your plate might feel overwhelming, so start with showering or eating and really paying attention to those things in the moment. When you get in the shower, really smell the soap and feel the water on your skin.”

Create New Rituals

Whether you realized it or not, drinking was likely ritualized in your life, and in order to figure out how to live without alcohol, you have to change the ritual. Finding a new, healthier ritual is a great form of self-care.

“There might be a ritual around a 5:00 pm drink,” Kitley says.

That’s a good place to start. Take a look at that ritual and figure out what could take its place. Start with some positive mantras, Kitley suggests, putting emphasis on the fact that change is hard but you’re doing your best and really working on taking care of yourself.

Then, figure out what you might do at 5:00 in the evening instead of drinking. That might be something as simple as drinking a glass of water and doing five deep breaths while sitting on the floor with the kids in the living room.

Schedule YOU

As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup, which means you have to create a window of time and space for just yourself.

“We have been taught by well-meaning people to give,” Butler says, but the problem is that we’ve been giving and giving and giving, and we forget to replenish—especially as parents.

She continues, “We will not do what we won’t plan. Literally schedule in a 30-minute block for just you.”

She also suggests scheduling larger blocks of time when the opportunity presents itself, but ideally one full day per month and one week per year. 

“You are the best mother (or parent) you can be when you have taken 30 minutes to pee, and drink water, and maybe close your eyes,” Butler said. 

Scheduling time for yourself does more than just benefit you, though, Butler says. “We model our value to our children when we take good care of ourselves.”

In early recovery, you learn much about what it looks like to take care of yourself and make time for the things that lead you to a healthier, happier lifestyle. Typically as parents, we want the best for our children, which is one of the reasons we choose to give recovery a shot, and taking care of ourselves in the meantime shows our kids what true health looks like. This gives them the example they need to model similar behavior for themselves.

Schedule Community Time

Some parents have family members or friends cheering them on as they navigate early recovery. Others have sober communities filled with people on similar paths to a more fulfilled lifestyle. 

No matter who is supporting you, that support system is vital to recovery. 

“We are as sick as our degrees of separation,” Butler says. “Spending quality time with people who are living an active life of recovery—whatever that looks like—helps us to sustain the journey.”

Whether it’s to share the happy moments, to dance, to celebrate, or to share “tears of the struggle,” Butler says, a huge part of self-care is taking the time to build and engage with others on the recovery path. And let’s face it: there’s nothing better than a fellow sober parent to connect with.

Remember That Self-Care is Personal 

The fact that self-care is a full-on buzzword can make it feel like you have to do it a certain way. This is furthest from the truth, though.

“Anyone can Google self-care ideas, but you have to find what works for you,” says Kitley. “Not all self-care is for everyone.”

We are all dealing with various degrees of financial means, time constraints, and help—all three of which are especially difficult to navigate as parents. Self-care, just like you, is not a monolith. If it works for you, that’s all that matters. No Googling can change that. 

“Find things that really speak to you rather than trying to fit into a mold.”

* * * 

Figuring out self-care isn’t easy at first. After all, as parents, many of us have signed onto the ideology that our kids come before everything because that’s largely what society teaches us. We have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of our kids though, and that’s especially true in early recovery. Give yourself some grace and some time to lean into your worthiness and figure out what works best for you.

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