A reader has asked me for some input on self-care.
When introduced to "HALT" (Hungry/Angry/Lonely/Tired) in Al-Anon, I had no way of understanding what was being offered to me. I thought I was being told how to behave in a more responsible and mature way by not indulging in conflict under those circumstances; I couldn't begin to grasp the wisdom contained in that little shorthand formula.
Over time, I have gained an understanding of just how vulnerable I am in any of those conditions, and how easily able to be manipulated. I didn't believe, at first, that being hungry, angry, lonely or tired could make much difference as long as I were more aware. Over time, I've come around to the opposing viewpoint on this - I now know that being in any one of those states reduces my ability to put my awareness to good use, because it will override my higher learning, and bring me down to a more primitive level of functioning, one in which I am far more likely to react, rather than respond.
Self-care means that I need to look after not only my mental self, but that my physical being is also of importance, if I am to fully benefit from the gifts of this program. I need regular meals, a good night's sleep, friends with whom to talk, laugh, and share, and I need to make sure that I am not indulging in people-pleasing to the extent that I am feeling angry, but am not admitting or identifying this emotion honestly to myself, or to another.
When I feel hunger pangs, it's not self-care to think, "I'll eat later." If I'm too fatigued to cook, there are many healthy things I can eat which don't require much time or effort, but will restore my energy, and maintain my health.
When I'm feeling angry, it's not self-care to tell myself, "It doesn't matter." That's very different from "How Important Is It?" The former is negating my feelings, the latter asks me to balance them against the rest of the equation.
When I'm lonely, and I do nothing to relieve my loneliness, I'm not practising self-care. A short phone call may be all I'm in need of, to remember that I'm not alone in my journey, and I have many loving, caring people who will happily give me a little of their time to cheer me up, and remind me of program.
When I'm tired, driving myself to accomplish more in this day is not self-care. It's not laziness to rest when I need rest, or sleep when sleep is what I require - my Higher Power has granted me relative health, and for that I'm grateful, but I need to give this corporal body the same attention that I would give any machine in my care. When the vacuum overheats, I shut it off and allow it to cool down, I don't try to keep on vacuuming until the motor blows. Yet how many times have I tried to drive myself past overwhelming fatigue, determined to conquer the annoying needs of this body which carries me around?
Self-care is not selfishness, it's good sense, and it feels good to give ourselves some pampering and loving.