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The Value of Self-Care

by Robert G. Waldvogel


Self-care, which is both a logical and necessary aspect of a person’s life, is often disregarded by those who have been affected by the disease of alcoholism, para-alcoholism, or dysfunction. Stripped of that very “self” half of the equation, they focus more on others than on themselves.

To compare the concept with a car, they may ignore low oil or tire air levels and “check engine” lights and continue to drive, provided that the vehicle keeps moving. Operating themselves on low levels of self-esteem, devoid of positive feelings, and functional in the midst of adversity and pain, they forge ahead, sometimes unable to read their own “check engine” lights when they become illuminated and ignoring the signs that call for attention.

Often crossing the line between that proverbial “human doing” and “human being,” I sometimes think that I live to work as opposed to working to live, and have occasionally been prompted by others, “Don’t you think you should take a little break?”

I once worked with a girl who suffered from the disease of dysfunction and she periodically used to say to me, “I’m not taking care of myself.” Disregarding the areas that she needed to address, she often spiraled to a sputtering car, barely creeping through her day.

Self-care is not singularly-directed. Since a person consists of body, mind, and soul, rest, recreation, preventative maintenance, and corrective maintenance may occasionally be needed in all three areas.

Sloth, which is one of the seven deadly sins, implies a laziness. While this could be viewed as the opposite of a treadmill-running adult child’s life, it implies a disregard for the attention needed to feed the soul with worship, prayer, and meditation, or one of his three fundamental parts. He may also be “slothy” when it comes to exercise, bodily care, relationships, and leisure. Failure to provide proper care to any of the three aspects leads to their decline and even ultimate breakdown.

“Al-Anon has taught me a gentler, simpler way of caring for myself,” a member shared in its Hope for Today text (Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 2002, p. 96). “I find it of great benefit to have a brief list of the most basic ones in which I neglect my own well-being: nourishment, emotional wellness, fellowship, and physical rest.”

The more I value myself, the more likely I am to occasionally pull off of life’s highway and give myself the nurturing, restorative care it needs, paying particular attention to the spiritual, emotional, and physical warning signs.

During a recent visit to a lake-dotted park on a pristine, early-spring day, I came to an unexpected conclusion.

Between the crystal blue of Belmont Lake and that of the sky it reflected, life slowly returned from its winter hibernation. The gray branches, for so long bare, were threaded with coats, sown by nature’s buds—an irony, since they had shed them during the season that they had most needed them.

The ducks lapped on the water’s surface and flapped above it. The kids aimed for their beaks with the crumbs from their lunch. And the dogs held at bay by leashes experienced the world through scent, sniffing the grass and trees.

Bench-bound, I only observed and contemplated it all. Sometimes it’s not what you do, but the serenity of soul you achieve when you don’t, I concluded.

Robert G. Waldvogel has earned the Interdisciplinary Certificate in Behavioral Health for Late Adolescence and the Emerging Adult and a Postgraduate Certificate in the Fundamentals of Cognitive Behavioral Treatment at Adelphi University’s School of Social Work. He has led Twelve-Step support groups on Long Island for the past decade, and created the Adult Child Recovery-through-Writing, and the Strengthening Our Spirituality Programs taught at the Thrive Recovery Community and Outreach Center in Westbury. He is a frequent contributor to Wisdom Magazine.


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