On Self Care

My mother hasn’t spoken to me for nearly two weeks due to my attempt at setting boundaries with her and suggesting she attend Al-Anon meetings. Having spent the past 58 years with an alcoholic husband (who died nearly four months ago) as well as two alcoholic sons (one died ten months ago; the other entered rehab just over a month ago), it seemed like a good idea. I thought it might help her learn to focus on herself, now that she has no one left to take care of. Apparently she disagrees.

My therapist has given me lots of ideas and suggestions about dealing with my mother. She’s impressing upon me that it’s okay to set boundaries. In fact, rather than being selfish, it’s healthy. Here’s a simple diagram she gave me the last time we met:

Looks fairly simple. Unless "Other" is "Mother."

My mother refuses to go to Al-Anon. There’s nothing I can do about that. So it’s time I stop focusing on her, and redirect my efforts to my self. As the book says: Codependent No More.

I want to get off the antidepressants, which I’ve been on a little over a year now. I don’t have anything against pharmaceutical assistance. In fact, they’ve helped tremendously. I was able to work through the effects of being in an abusive relationship and get out from under the black cloud (mostly) before my brother died. I was able to resist the quicksand after his death and work on my recovery through October, when my father died. I was able to be present with my father in hospice. I didn’t numb myself with food or alcohol (unlike the rest of my family). I’m grieving, but I have managed to keep the depression at bay. But if I can keep the depression at bay without the drugs, I’m all for it.

Dr. McEnroe (my psychiatrist) says he’d like me to have one good, relatively unstressful, uneventful year under my belt before I taper off the drugs. What do I need to do to accomplish this? Nobody dying would be great. But I cannot control that. What can I control? Self care.

What does self care mean to me?

  • Moving my body in ways that nurture myself, rather than punishing my body for having more flesh than I’d like. Walking, throwing in jogging when it feels good. Running gave me plantar fasciitis, which took nearly a year to resolve fully. So now I am mindful when I lace up my shoes and head out the door. I’m moving toward replacing lifting weights with Pilates. Muscles are good, but more is not always better. And the way I lift feels a lot like punishment to me. No Ashtanga yoga. I’ve seen too many injuries, including my shoulder.
  • Nature. Hiking in the woods. Walking down by the river. Outdoorsy vacations. I’m thinking the Great Bear Rainforest, this year.
  • Regular massage.
  • Plenty of sleep.
  • Cuddling and playing with my cats.
  • Seeing my therapist regularly.
  • Eating healthfully.
  • Writing.
  • Reading your blogs.
  • Avoiding emotional eating. And drinking. Being mindful with both. Using healthier ways of coping.

The last bullet point is the most difficult for me. In fact, all the previous bullet points support the last.

I’m guessing many of you have similar challenges. What helps you cope? I’d love to hear what’s on your list.


  • Well done you! You’re setting a lot of things in place for recovery. Although you haven’t spoken with your mother in a while, do you have a coping mechanism ready for when you do? That could throw you back a few steps.


    • I’ll tell her I can’t talk long. I have to go out and feed the stray kitty. 😉 But seriously, when next we speak, I’ll talk with her about what’s new, and if she steers the conversation in the direction of guilt-peddling or my needing to make sure my brother stays sober, I’ll suggest Al-Anon again and tell her I’ve got to hang up to feed the stray cat.

      I think I need to do some more work on this.


  • Looks like you are on a good road. Cuddling with kitties is a great coping strategy and I do love my cats. However, what helps me cope is my dog. She’s right here, right now, ready to listen. She likes to cook with me, hike with me, ride in the car with me, watch TV with me, and really whatever I want. So what if she needs a haircut (and a breath mint)? She has unknowingly helped me through so many things. Not that I’m suggesting you get a dog or anything.


    • I love dogs! My dad was crazy about his Labs. All of them were right there when I needed some fur to cry on. But to give my pup enough attention, I feel there should be two of us. And for now, it’s me and the kitties.


  • I like to sleep! Does that count as coping or escaping? 🙂 Seriously, before I sleep I try to focus on my breathing and go into a state of mindful meditation. I observe what made me stressed out and I acknowledge it. I become a witness rather than letting it take me over. Then I release those feelings because they are not me. I try to imagine I am a blank slate and whatever fills my slate during the day, I give it its due and then wipe the slate clean. Doesn’t always work but most mornings I wake up refreshed and calmer.


    • Oh, that’s an excellent point, Fern. I slept a lot in the midst of the depression. That, and staring at the tv, were pretty much all I was interested in. I like your thoughts on meditation. That’s something I’d like to add to my list.


  • Wow. I have very little contact with my mother. She is not able to love me unconditionally, which, in turn, makes it difficult for me to love her unconditionally. My condition is contingent upon her taking away her conditions, it seems. 😉

    Although my mother is the alcoholic, I urged my bother and her sister (my aunt) to seek Al Anon since it helped me tremendously. Then I learned that Al Anon is a program of attraction rather than promotion. I can tell everyone about it, but until they see my recovery in action, they aren’t very well going to believe me. Most people view living with the effects of alcoholism as hopeless. There isn’t much hope in talking when they aren’t listening. So, I stopped talking about it as a possibility for them. I shifted the focus to myself, and that is when my recovery really began to take shape.

    My advice is continue to focus on yourself. But let her see your recovery. At first, she won’t really look closely, but after awhile she will find that change is working quite well for you and want that, too.

    Keep your chin up! You’re on to bigger things!


    • Thank you, Noel. I see the challenge as even greater: No one thinks they’ve been affected by alcoholism. They think this is just how life is. How their lives are. They think they’re just fine. Which has had me keeping my distance for many years. I’d hoped we could reestablish closer relationships after my father died. But it’s just undoing lots of hard work. So I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I can be closer. And that makes me sad.


  • Good for you. You’ve been through a lot, and are obviously working hard to take care of yourself. I share many things on your list, though I am not that good yet at following through. But I think it is so important not to let ourselves fall into “quicksand”, as you called it (great description!), so as long as I’m not falling toward any extremes, especially drinking/poor eating habits, I consider it an accomplishment. I also allow myself to watch crappy TV & cheesy movies. And sometimes I spritz the air with lavender mist. Sound goofy? The scent is actually very soothing 🙂 or any scent that you really like.


    • I love lavender! I’m adding this to my list. I don’t have a spritz, but I do have the oil so I’ve sprinkled a few drops on my pillow case. Next weekend, I think I’ll watch a cheesy movie. Something with Meg Ryan. Thanks for the ideas!


  • love the diagram! healthy boundaries abound! you are doing right for yourself and your mother, your thoughts about wanting to adjust your own ‘helps’ is also right, we all need help once in awhile…’with a little help from our friends’…and we know when we need to ‘let that go’…

    your self-care plan looks wonderful to me (personally I love my ashtanga yoga, but it’s not for everyone nor if you have an injury, in fact having been ill with respiratory infections for the past month I haven’t been fully engaged, but will try again and again) bottom line is…you do what you like and are able to do, at any given moment.

    what do I do to help myself cope? making sure that I don’t beat myself up!
    you are doing just fine!


  • First, looks like you have a good therapist and that helps enormously.. Second, you already have some strong life tools in place so I forsee nothing but a positive outcome here. While I agree with setting boundaries, don’t let too much time go between chats with Mum.. All she knows has been upended and at her age, this must be quite lonely and scary for her ..
    Keep moving forward m’dear!!


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