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Personal Essays | Why My Dad Is the Reason I Take Care of Myself First

By Jennifer Landis

I’m an adult child of a recovered alcoholic. When I was growing up, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with my family. All I knew from the time that I was two was that my Mommy and Daddy loved us, but didn’t live together. Little did I know then that the reason was due to my father’s alcoholism. Eventually, he made the choice to get sober—and he has been ever since.

When I got older, though, I realized that there were certain tendencies in my own personality that put me at risk for following in my Dad’s footsteps. I did some homework and learned a lot about who he had been, and who I was because of it. What I learned made me realize that I needed to start putting myself first in my life—not that it meant putting my family last, but that my self-care was as important as caring for them.

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Life and families can be frustrating when you feel pulled in all different directions. As women, we tend to think that we have to do it all, and do it dancing backwards in high heels like Ginger Rogers with Fred Astaire. I discovered that part of what I inherited from my Dad, other than my blonde hair and short fuse, was  a 40-60% chance that I could become an alcoholic or an addict.

That was a wake-up call for me. My Dad became an incredible person and father after he got sober, and is someone I still look up to and go to for advice. But those early years were hard for us as a family, and I never wanted my kids to go through what I went through. I knew that I needed to make changes in my priority list so that I was taking care of myself, also.

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“When I get time, I’ll…” Have you ever said that about something that involved taking care of yourself? I must have said it a million times before I realized that self care meant I had to make time and not just try to find time. I had to take a step back from my super mom/super wife/super friend way of thinking and realize that there were some things that I didn’t always have to do, or fix or attend…well, you get the idea.

It was hard at first to schedule time in my day for myself that didn’t come loaded with guilt about the things I could have been doing in that 10-minute slot that I allotted. But I looked at how much time I’d given for everyone else in my life and realized that taking time out for me, even just 10 minutes to relax with a cup of tea, didn’t have to be something to feel guilty about. Taking care of myself just made taking care of everyone else easier.

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It wasn’t long before I realized how much I needed those 10 minute tea breaks. I became more efficient in my work, both at my job and at home. Eventually, I found that I was able to easily stretch those 10 minutes into 30 minutes when I was at home. People began to comment on how rested I looked. I hadn’t even realized that I looked tired before! I wasn’t as stressed over deadlines. I stopped mentally bringing my work home with me each night.

Gradually, I found a way to do a self-retreat one weekend a month. That first weekend, all I did was spend a few hours at a spa, getting a massage and a mani-pedi. But the difference it made in my outlook was huge.

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Before my dad got help with his drinking problems, he probably never had the opportunity to put himself first. He was working two jobs just to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. We never went without, but there were times when we didn’t have much.

When I started to take care of myself, I learned that even with my genetic potential to become an alcoholic or addict because of my Dad (and his Dad for that matter), I could break the cycle. That meant my kids had a better chance of not becoming alcoholics or addicts, and their kids, and their kids. It meant I was making a choice to make my family’s life better. I was worth those hours and minutes.

When you think about it that way, who wouldn’t want to start taking better care of themselves?

Jennifer Landis is a wife, mama, writer and healthy living blogger. She drinks tea in excess, has a collection of peanut butter, and is a super nerd at heart. Find more from Jennifer on her blog, Mindfulness Mama, or follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis. 

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