Self-care vs Selfishness

When I was a little kid, about 7 or 8, my dad was hospitalized for a spell – long enough for me to remember visiting him on weekends and having ice cream sundaes in the hospital cafeteria with him and a bunch of my siblings. I have vague memories of whisperings about depression. Eventually he came back home and life returned to the normal day-to-day chaos that characterized my childhood, for the most part.

It wasn’t until I turned 18 that my mother sat me down and told me that Dad was an alcoholic. At the time 18 was the legal drinking age and she wanted me to know that, genetically speaking, the deck was stacked against me. I have no recollection of ever having seen either of my parents drink, so this was quite the shock for me.

My most vivid memories of my dad always revolve around his favorite pastimes: photography, building balsa-wood model airplanes, and reading – he loved science fiction and crime novels, mostly.

And hand-in-hand with that stroll down memory lane is the recollection of my mother’s disdain for and disapproval of his “hobbies.” We kids were reminded often that she only had one pair of ill-fitting shoes and a winter coat that she’d worn for years…. The unspoken message was received loud and clear: Dad was SELFISH. And I blindly, unthinkingly, silently agreed with that opinion.

Fast forward 35 years or so. I’ve struggled mightily, throughout my adult life, with the concept of self-care: what does it mean and when does it cross a line? Many of you reading this can probably relate.

I see things differently now, in the 206 days since I quit drinking. I should tell you that I’ve exercised regularly, at least three times a week, for the past 25 years. I get my nails done every two weeks. Go out to dinner a couple of times a week, on average. I like to wear comfortable, stylish clothes. I get my hair cut and colored regularly. Does that make me selfish? And since I stopped drinking, I’ve become even MORE self-indulgent. I’ve eliminated some major volunteer commitments from my personal docket. My life is far more “want to” than “have to” these days.

I think I understand my dad so much better now than I did back then – he was practicing self-care and protecting his sobriety. He should have been commended and admired.

Because if he hadn’t been sober, our family would have completely fallen apart.

As for myself, I figure anything that helps keep me on track without breaking the bank or jeopardizing my relationship with my husband is nobody’s business.

And – hot damn! That feels great.