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Building Self-Awareness During Quarantine

By The Fix staff 05/18/20

Many people with a history of substance use disorder don’t have healthy habits when it comes to looking after their physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental health.

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Right now, most of us are stuck at home for the foreseeable future. It’s easy to focus on what we’re missing out on: the graduations, the trips, the dinners and laughter with friends. Thinking about all of those things can make you overlook the fact that quarantine is a good opportunity to spend time with yourself, building your self-awareness and learning how to engage in self-care that works for you.

“Healthy people rely on themselves for direction. Those vulnerable to addiction, however, rely on the external world to keep them amused,” says Geoff Thompson, program director at Sunshine Coast Health Centre, a rehab in British Columbia, Canada.

And yet, you can’t always rely on the outside world. It’s important to be comfortable being alone with yourself. This can help build your awareness of who you really are, when the external world is stripped away.

Expect to be uncomfortable

If you’re used to constantly being surrounded by other people and obligations, being still and alone can be uncomfortable. Thompson sees this at Sunshine Coast Health Centre, where clients often complain that there’s not enough programming on the weekends.

“It’s a common saying among those in addiction that ‘Sundays are boring,’ with the curious implication that Sundays should get their act together and be more interesting,” Thompson says.

Really, though, people don’t need more activities or programming, they need to adjust to having downtime and quiet space. That will take some time, so don’t give up if it feels awkward to start.

Study yourself

Who are you? Most of us answer these question with external references: We’re a teacher, an athlete, a dancer. But who are you when you can’t do any of those things? Knowing that can help strengthen your resiliency to deal with challenging times, like the ones we’re in right now.

“By far, the best protection against any form of adversity—a diagnosis of cancer, loss of family in an accident, and so on—is self-awareness: having an authentic awareness of personal values, beliefs, strengths, limitations, desires and wants,” Thompson says. “Those vulnerable to addiction have very weak self-awareness.”

Take this time to build your self-awareness. Thompson suggests keeping a journal. Spend two weeks asking yourself multiple times per day: ‘What is it like to be me right now?’ and briefly writing about the answer.

Or, reflect on the movies and art that you love. What about them draws you in? What engages you?

“Each of these exercises is simply about paying attention to yourself,” Thompson says.

Recognize the value of self-care

Once you start to delve into who you are, you’ll have a better idea of what makes you feel cared for and loved. Then, you can do these things to keep connected to your true self, even when life eventually returns to normal.

It sounds simple, but many people with a history of substance use disorder don’t have healthy habits when it comes to looking after their physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental health.

“Those vulnerable to addiction have little experience practicing self-care,” Thompson says. “A colleague of mine stated that the most common defense mechanism for those who suffer from substance use disorders is the ‘F-it attitude,’ which really means ‘F-me.’”

When you put in effort and strive for something, you make yourself vulnerable because it’s possible you’ll fail. So, it’s tempting to say “f-it” and just not try. But really, that only hurts you, and keeps you from fulfilling your full potential.

Instead of pushing away opportunities for self-care, open yourself up to giving them a try. This can be indulgent and frivolous things, like a long, warm bath or a freshly-baked cookie. But self-care also means doing the hard work to keep yourself physically and mentally healthy. Now, more than ever, that’s important.

Few people would choose to be in quarantine, but it’s our reality for now. Since we’re in this situation, we might as well make the best of it. If you can emerge from isolation with a more robust understanding of who you are and a better ability to take care of yourself, you’ll be able to meet the challenges of your new life in recovery.

Sunshine Coast Health Centre is a non 12-step drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in British Columbia. Learn more here.

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