The Workit team asked if I could write an article on self-care because articles on self-care aren’t written by men often. My instinct told me they were right about that.
Self-care sounds soft, too vulnerable a topic for a man to tackle.
But just to make sure, I googled the term and clicked around. Sure enough, every article on the self-care search list was written by a woman, although the top hit was the song of the same name by Mac Miller. It’s hard to tell what that song is about, but I know getting high is important to him. The video is of Miller hot-boxing a coffin. This is eerie to watch with the knowledge that Mac Miller died of an overdose in 2018.
Self-destruction is more popular for males than self-care. We love the Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club mentality: “Maybe self-improvement wasn’t the answer. Maybe self-destruction was the answer.” That story taps into something I appreciate very much, the need for reckless abandon. I was a heavy drinker and drug user. I played football and rugby. I enjoy the release of the senses, the feeling of oblivion.
In fact, getting sober hasn’t changed my need for self-destruction.
I continue to abuse my body—playing pickup basketball until my leg muscles fail or depriving myself of sleep in order to complete projects around the house. I need challenges and higher callings in my sober life. And sometimes achieving goals conflicts with basic self-care.
With that being said, here are some manly ways to practice self-care in recovery:
1. Care for your word
Recovery has taught me to be as impeccable with my word as possible. This was a big change for me. Normally, words were primarily used to get the things I needed. And, as my addiction spiraled, my needs became more and more immediate. Carefully doing what I say I will do and not making promises to do things I might not be able to do has revolutionized my existence. I no longer second guess myself. The more I practice this form of self-care, the more I am able to recount the things I say and do. I’m getting to know myself so well, in fact, that I can think that doesn’t sound like something I’d say and be right the vast majority of the time. Before getting sober, there was no telling (or remembering) what I’d say.
2. Show Up
My late sponsor had a nifty saying. He’d tell me, “Ninety percent of life is showing up. The other ten percent? Showing up.” Obviously, he was a big believer in the power of being there. And I am beginning to understand why. Showing up may not be so revolutionary for people who haven’t experienced the throes of alcoholism. There is a lack of control that accompanies this mental illness, a compulsion that is all-consuming.
It is a gift to know where I am going to sleep tonight and that I will wake up in the morning refreshed and energized. A result of self-care for someone in recovery is establishing or re-establishing self-trust. Doing what I say I will do and showing up when I say I will show up develops self-esteem and meaning in life.
3. Give away what you’ve been given
A great paradox in recovery is that giving it away increases your share. It is a paradox because the world operates according to the opposite principle. Under normal circumstances, we are encouraged to earn and save. And if we give something away, make sure what we give is tax-deductible. Recovery teaches a different sort of charity. In order to stay sober myself, I have to give away freely the wisdom others have imparted to me. I believe this is the key to long-term sobriety. After a few years, the desperation to stay clean and sober can lose its edge. But when you help someone who is early on in his sober journey, you are reminded of where you were when you started. It is a humbling experience and can serve as a constant reminder that sobriety has to be a top priority in your life.
4. Love yourself in order to love others
The process of recovery means learning to love yourself. When it comes to self-care, it’s hard to be motivated to do what is right if you don’t believe you deserve it. Loving myself allowed me to truly love others. I can’t say this would be the case for everyone. I’m sure there are people who can experience love by loving another first. In my case, my addiction and alcoholism carried a mix of selfishness and self-loathing—a deadly concoction. Proof was everywhere. I wasn’t seeking out good relationships because I felt undeserving and I believed love meant heartbreak. I had to learn to take care of myself first. I’ve since learned how to care for others.
5. Practice humility
My interpretation of humility needed an overhaul when I got clean and sober. Before then, my best definition of practicing humility was being humiliated. As it turns out, humiliation is just the underside of ego. Whether I’m thinking too much of myself or too little of myself, it is thinking of myself that is the bad practice. Humility involves thinking of myself less often. This requires a dedicated effort. I’m not wired to consider others first. I must actively engage my concern for others. But when I do, magic happens. My world, all my petty concerns, shrinks. It is quite a relief to know that I am not responsible for things like other people’s opinions of me or, in the more extreme case, the fate of the universe.
6. Don’t apologize; act differently
Part of my recovery included an amends process. I seek out those I’ve harmed for restitution. My mentor advised me not to apologize. In fact, it was a rule. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry,” I was told to vow a change in behavior. See self-care tip number one. If I am impeccable with my word, then I have to live up to that vow. He explained that apologies were excuses that didn’t change the course of action. By dedicating to a different line of behavior, I could make the amends necessary to maintain sobriety and experience the bliss of living without regret.
And the self-care of recovery continues. After making amends, we learn to not repeat the behaviors that brought on apologies in the first place. Better than having to say, “I’m sorry,” is not enacting the behavior that brought the apology on in the first place.
So there you have it, folks. Self-care for men. I don’t know much about skin exfoliation or yoga, but I do know this when it comes to self: it is an inside job. Changing what is on the outside will never fulfill me. It’s who I am on the inside that ultimately counts.
Mark David Goodson is a writer whose debut novel is in the works. He maintains a popular recovery blog called the Miracle of the Mundane, which celebrates the simple sober life. His writing has been featured in The Fix, After Party Magazine, and Recovery Today. An English Teacher by day, he lives with his wife and soon-to-be three children in Maryland.