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Years ago when I heard people got massages, or went to meditation, or took a “me” day I would scoff. How do they have time or money to do that? Seems like a complete waste of time to me. No one takes bubble baths in their 20s. Sure a massage might be nice, but it’s a luxury of the rich and famous. Pedicures? Those aren’t an act of self-care, they’re a necessity before a vacation, right? I didn’t have any knowledge around the true and real concept of self-care. I literally had never heard of it. I thought it was a joke. To me, people who needed self-care were weak. They couldn’t handle the ins and outs of life. They wouldn’t be able to handle my crazy life, that’s for sure.

How naïve I was. It wouldn’t be until I got sober that I finally learned what self-care actually is and that it’s not silly, it’s necessary. Growing up, I wasn’t taught to take care of myself. I mean obviously, my parents taught me how to brush my teeth, took me to doctor check-ups, and I went to school, but I wasn’t taught there was another way to take care of myself. An inner self. Those acts of relaxation, of personal time and reflection were foreign to me. I didn’t do these things. I wasn’t taught that you should be alone with yourself and as time went on during my younger years, the last thing I wanted to do was be alone with or without my thoughts. That was due in large part to alcohol. I never explored spirituality, my soul, or listened to my inner voice when I was deep in my addiction. I tried as hard as I could to drown those things out. At the time, I wasn’t aware that I was doing this. I wasn’t aware that everyone has an inner voice inside that they should communicate with, a light that shines, and an innate spirituality.

I also didn’t know that self-care was a thing. Even during my first year of sobriety, I didn’t know much about self-care. I knew that I was going to bed early at night, exercising, and feeding myself some healthy foods, but I didn’t know these were all acts of self-care. I didn’t know something as simple as a bubble bath could be a heroic act for my recovery. I didn’t realize taking time out of the day to sit quietly with myself was self-care. It wasn’t until I started reading and learning about addiction that I found out self-care was real and necessary.

I don’t think I’m alone in my old thoughts. I know quite a few people who aren’t aware of self-care and don’t think it’s very important, my parents included. It’s not always a conscious fault. If people aren’t aware, they can’t participate, right? Or they are misinformed. They believe self-care is a luxury, or something glamorous that you can only do on pay day. Something that gets done when there is nothing left to do. But that just isn’t the case.

Now that I am in the know about self-care, I believe it’s an essential part of everyday life. I learned this because I got sober. I saw other sober people taking care of themselves. I saw them talking about self-care and self-love. I knew that sobriety was the first action I had taken in years that was truly an act of self-care. I had done a number on my spirit and my body. I always pushed myself to the limits. I didn’t give a thought about my spirit or myself because I didn’t care. I didn’t believe I deserved relaxation, a massage, or 20 minutes of meditation. I didn’t realize I was pumping my body full of alcohol and drugs because I had lost my connection with myself.

That’s why the slogan for my website is “sobriety is self-love.” Something clicked in me when I finally learned about self-care and self-love. It made me realize that is exactly why I’m sober. I’m finally learning how to love myself and the first and best way I can do that is to not put alcohol or drugs into my body. Now I understand why bath bombs, essential oils, and naps are considered “self-care.” Now I know why treating myself to the hardcover copy of a crisp new book is one way to love myself.

Of course, it’s all about balance. Early in my sobriety I was self-loving myself far too often by treating myself to cupcakes, candy, and soda all the time. Then I realized that anything on that extreme end of a spectrum isn’t self-care. If I was really going to do this thing, love myself and quit bad habits I couldn’t feed my body candy and soda all the time either.

Today self-care is an essential part of my recovery program and my everyday life. My first step of self-care was quitting drugs and alcohol, my second was finding an exercise routine that works for me: CrossFit. I also have to give myself days to rest, relax, and be quiet. I learned how to say no to the things I don’t really want to do. I respect the fact that I need to rest and reboot after being social. I even pay for massages.

I understand that self-care isn’t a luxury, it’s a right, and it’s absolutely needed in order to thrive in recovery.

Kelly Fitzgerald is a person in long-term recovery from a substance use disorder. Her goal is to help break the stigma of addiction by talking about her struggles openly. Her work has been published across the web including sites like Medium, The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, SheKnows, The Fix, AfterParty Magazine, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, and Ravishly. She is best known for her blog The Adventures of a Sober Señorita where she writes about her experiences as a former party girl living in recovery. She is currently writing her memoir. Kelly is also a member of the She Recovers in NYC Sober Blogger Team!