I have been sick in bed for the last three days. I’ve been lost in flu-stupor, barely able to leave my bedroom.
But I survived. In fact, I was pretty good at caring for myself. And I am proud of that.
Home alone after my guests left on Christmas day, my vague queasiness grew until I threw up.
By that evening, I was in a hot bath with the chills. Physically weak and emotionally vulnerable, I wondered who I could I call to come take care of me. As I mentally reviewed my options, my commitment to recovery was tested.
I thought about the long-term consequences of calling each of the ex-boyfriends on my mental list. I thought about the days or weeks of drama that would result, the hurt feelings, the emotional upheaval. Then I thought about what I had been learning in my meetings and my books.
I had gone to a service the night before (Christmas Eve) at my roommate’s church. It was the first church service I had attended in a few years. It wasn’t quite my style, but it was nice. One thing from the sermon that kept coming up in my mind was when the pastor asked, “What if we trusted God to have our back; like really trusted Him, without question?”
I was also thinking about the definition of trust from a book I had just finished, Facing Love Addiction, by Pia Mellody. She says trust is not a thing you just give someone, but a process. She also says that the only person who will ever give you “consistent warm personal regard” is yourself and that’s why you have to prioritize the relationship you have with yourself.
So there I was, laying in the bathtub with the flu and meditating on issues of codependency and trust, when I decided not to call any of my ex-boyfriends.
Instead, actually prayed. It was probably my first prayer in years and it was informal:
“God,” I said. “I don’t feel very good. Please help. I’m calling you off the bench, Man. (Yes, I did make a baseball reference in my prayer. It was weird, I know.) I don’t know who else to call and I need help. Please just help me get through tonight and make this nausea go away. Please.”
Then my Higher Power and I took care of my sick body together.
I crept down the stairs and found some medicine to take and I even found an old hot water bottle and filled it with water from my tea kettle. I mixed up some electrolyte drink and brought it up to bed with me, and I monitored my own temperature. I probably took better care of myself than I could have expected from any of the men I had considered calling. I even put on some podcasts to help distract me from my nausea.
On day two, I needed medicine and some crackers or something bland for sustenance. After some thought, I called my ex-husband. He has a girlfriend and is not someone I have any flirtation going with, but he does live only two blocks away. I asked if I could call in a favor and I told him I was sick in bed. I requested some medicine and Saltine crackers and he brought them by and left. I ate half a sleeve of crackers, took some medicine, and slept the rest of the day and night.
Today, I felt much better, but still very, very tired. I stayed in bed much of the day, but I ate granola for breakfast and I cooked myself a bean burger for lunch. Normally, this ould be the perfect excuse to skip extra meals, but today, I found myself thinking that I want to get better and that means I need to eat up! It was just a completely different frame of mine. I was taking care of myself!
“In recovery, the most important person in your life […] is yourself. Your growing ability to be responsible for your own needs and wants also enhances your ability to be your authentic self with greater assurance that your needs and wants will be met, even if other people withdraw their support.”
– Pia Mellody, Facing Love Addiction
I have long struggled with my relationship with myself.
There is a familiar adage in recovery circles: “You have to love yourself first.”
I always had a hard time with that proverb. In fact, I have argued that it was stupid, and even that it shames those of us who struggle with recovery. “But I do love myself,” I told my therapist last fall, during treatment for a relapse of my eating disorder at age 35. “I think I’m awesome, actually. Maybe the problem is that no one else sees that and so I’m all alone!”
I could not see the inconsistency between my claim to self-love and my rapid backsliding into anorexia. Even as I described the self-care tasks that were vital to my recovery, such as preparing food for myself, as “inconvenient” and “a waste of my time” I did not recognize the significance of those contradictory words.
How much could I really love myself if I was unwilling to take care of myself… unwilling even to feed myself?
“As we value ourselves more, we empower ourselves. That is, our sense of competence to care for ourselves increases. As we empower ourselves, we increase our sense of value. Likewise, if we diminish our sense of power by our lack of self-care, our sense of value diminishes, and vise versa.”
– Pia Mellody, Facing Love Addiction
Not just loving myself – but caring for myself – is key to increasing my sense of self.
It’s like that saying about how “love should be a verb.” By taking care of myself through my flu, I demonstrated to myself that I don’t need anyone else to come “save me” when I’m sick of otherwise feeling vulnerable or weak. Though this was just one experience, by caring for myself in this way consistently, I will also learn to TRUST myself.
“Loving myself” is starting to make a little more sense… I show love to myself not by paying lip service to self-love, but by consistently caring for myself. Self-love is about being the person I can most depend on.