The Fine Line Between Self-Care & Self-Indulgence

A former addict finds peace in Sades sensualR&B.

The Fine Line Between Self-Care & Self-Indulgence

Dave Maher

A former addict finds peace in Sade’s sensual R&B.

Sade’s pulsating R&B hits a button on the back of my neck that lights up my whole brain. I told my current partner this the night I met her—that my musical tastes coincide with other people’s sex music. I am slightly ashamed to say this was a line I’ve used before and entirely ashamed that I thought it was a good line in the first place.

But it’s true. I’m not above playing Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat” — with its persistent extended metaphor (“rock the boat, work the middle, change positions”) — while doing something mundane, like driving to Chipotle.

Sade clicked for me—I mean really clicked—one Friday night a few months ago. I was exhausted and in need of a night alone, but promised to help a friend with his show at the Laugh Factory. My presence wasn’t vital, but it was an opportunity to socialize with other comedians and to show my face at one of the only places in Chicago that pays you to do comedy.

I powered through internal guilt and canceled my plans.

I turned off all the lights except for a lamp and gathered a stack of books— some poetry, a novel, an autobiography, some nonfiction. I filled the diffuser with water and peppermint oil and put on my bathrobe. Intuitively, I started listening to Sade—specifically her fourth album, Love Deluxe. And for the entire record, I was in heaven. The next day, I woke up more refreshed than I had been in years. I became a Sade fan for life.

Before that night, I’d only found that level of relaxation in massive amounts of weed. Why had I not discovered this before? Could I have saved myself years of drug and alcohol abuse if I had only substituted Bulleit bourbon for peppermint oil?

As a recovering addict, I’ve focused on natural self-care for the past two years. Prior to recovery, I’d never heard the phrase “self-care.” Now there’s TED talks, countless articles, even video games about this suddenly essential practice. Is self-care a new health and wellness trend, or have I only recently become aware of it by that name?

A little of both. According to an article in The FADER titled “What Does ‘Self-Care’ Really Mean?” a 1983 report from the World Health Organization first defined ‘self-care’ simply as ‘the activities individuals, families, and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health.’ Since then, psychologists, activists and new age practitioners have expanded the concept to emphasize me-time amidst our bustling work and social obligations.

But when does self-care become self-indulgence? My inability to identify that fine line is why I spent a decade self-medicating with more wake-and-bake sessions than daily showers.

Since I clearly can’t be trusted to get to the bottom of this matter on my own, I asked Amy Kaskie, LPC, RYT and Reiki Practitioner at Begin Within Therapy Services, Inc. in Chicago. She defines self-care as:

“…an intentional act one takes to reflect and pay close attention to their internal needs. It is a time to center and connect with the present, while doing something that brings joy, calm and healing to the mind, body or both. It involves having a practice, and it might not always provide instant gratification.”

It’s that instant gratification piece that’s toughest for me, so I asked her to elaborate on the specific differences between self-care and self-indulgence.

According to Kaskie, self-indulgence is:

“…excessive or unrestrained gratification of one’s own appetites, desires or whims.’ The differences between self-care and self-indulgence, then, are simply the emotions that drive the behavior. Self-indulgence is often driven by a deep need to fill some sort of empty space that exists within each of us. It is a quick fix that more often than not leaves us feeling worse.”

My fear is that true self-care is boringly “adult” in every negative sense of the word. Everyone knows basic hygiene is important, but are we really supposed to replace our vices with taking long showers, cleaning our homes and brushing our teeth all the time?

Kaskie had an answer for that, too:

“I think the question here is, ‘Can I still go out and party but maintain a self-care practice?’ We have to find balance in caring for ourselves while also letting loose and enjoying life in whatever way that means to us. Knowing yourself and caring for yourself while also realizing your boundaries and priorities is not inherently adult. It’s inherently mature.”

Here lies the big revelation: “Self-care” is not a set of behaviors that nurture us equally. Sure, getting enough sleep applies across the board, but individual mileage on certain activities vary.

My partner practices self-care with a glass of wine and a bath. As an alcoholic, that doesn’t work for me. That’s okay, because I’ve got Sade and the oil diffuser to press that button on the back of my neck. What’s important is not what’s pressing the button, but that you find that button and press it yourself— not excessively, but consistently.