The idea of wellness has taken me a while to understand. It is not enough to just have our needs met. We also need to be well. Our needs cannot TRULY be fulfilled if we are sick. The body and mind have a wonderful way of establishing an equilibrium. How many times have you gotten up to go to work or an event when you did not feel well? Your body and mind make it possible to still function. The ability to make good enough seem normal really underlines the relativity of “normal”. So how do we know when we are well?
I first heard about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs years ago. It describes our basic needs to grow as individuals. The idea is that once you have fulfilled those needs, starting at the bottom, you can achieve this growth. I admit I glomed onto this idea. I referenced it with hubris and used it as a yardstick to measure my own self-worth. In hindsight, I have been all over the scale. At times, not able to even provide shelter or food for myself and at times believing I had achieved the highest levels. Right before I entered treatment, I recall bragging that I had fulfilled all my needs and was going to reach a Zen-like state. I did not realize how unwell I really was.
In recovery there is a lot of talk about self-care. I did not know what that looked like. I started with a basic idea of getting better. For me, that meant physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. I had no idea there was more to it. Imagine my surprise when I found out there were eight areas I had to work on! Some of these are easy. Others, not so much. I enjoy gardening, so I volunteered to take care of the community garden, which was nice for about five minutes, and then the joy of it dwindled.
Now, the obvious way to start was with physical. It is easy to say that we will eat better and exercise more. Then, surely, we must be healthy! I tried that too. The issue for me was that it did not seem genuine. I was miserable. Forcing myself to do something that I did not particularly enjoy was a trap waiting for me to fall in. I was still a wreck, but now I was a wreck who did not eat sugar and performed sit-ups.
In the end, the answer came to me. A counselor told me I had control issues and they were right. This may not be everyone’s hurdle, but when I stopped trying to control everything around me, I started to feel better. I started to look deeper into myself and learned to just let things be. As I got into contact with who I was and stopped worrying about things I could not control, my emotional and spiritual wellness improved.
As my body and mind adjusted to this new way of being, I was smiling more and gaining confidence. I was being honest with myself. I did not notice these things at first. The pivotal moment was when I realized I had been sitting down for an hour all by myself, reading a book and I felt completely at peace. I could not remember another moment like that. I was exploring new ideas, new skills. I decided to challenge myself by looking for a more meaningful job, rather than just anyone who would hire me.
Social wellness is also hard for me. My addiction had made short work of any friendships I tried to cultivate along the way. In early recovery, I tried hard to connect with others, but it just was not working out. A few times, this instinctual need to be accepted nearly led me down the wrong path. It was hard to try and let go of the feeling of rejection. I had to accept that I could not just make others like me. Turns out there is truth in the cliché, I had to begin liking myself first. I had to stop seeking validation through the eyes of others.
Environment is another tricky factor in establishing your wellness. When most people hear environmental wellness, we think of trees or flowers or global warming. For me, it is much closer to home. I think of MY environment. Am I surrounding myself with people, places and things that lift me up rather than drag me down? I never realized how much a messy living space could stress me out. It has taken months to establish routines that I can stick to that will mitigate that anxiety. Something as simple as putting a dish away, or finishing my laundry, is refreshingly cathartic. One guilty pleasure I have found is that I enjoy is making fake flower arrangements. A trip to the dollar store really brightens up the room!
These days I have tasks that challenge me, and I am developing relationships. I pray. I try to think about how I am feeling and why I am feeling it, instead of just reacting. I surround myself with an environment that brings me peace, if I can help it. By putting together the idea of meeting needs with wellness, I have found I appreciate the result so much more. There is a quality of life that I have never felt before. I like this balance. I notice when I start to feel unwell by staying in tune with who I am and who I want to be. I also know what to do about it.
This is what recovery offers us. A chance to live better lives. It comes slowly. There are still hard times. I must stick to my program and find what works for me. Recovery has given me an insight into the different areas I should concentrate on. I believe if we just keep trying, things can only get better. That is a new “normal” that I can get used to!
by Dustin Smith