I basically called my mom for help. Except when I say mom, I mean an esthetician.
I’ve never made a secret of my history with mind and mood altering substances on XO. I feel like my love of beauty products has a lot to do with my recovery from what was, for me, a deeply damaging way of life; it is my way of introducing loving behavior and self-care into my life, a life that used to revolve around instant gratification and self-hatred.
I’ve become one of those hippie-dippy spiritual types that I once both pitied and loathed, lighting candles and running baths instead of pumping opiates into my system or cramming as many benzos as I could into my mouth. My bedside drawers are filled with balms and pillow sprays where they were once filled with pills and powders. When I wake up in the night in anxiety, I no longer reach for a bottle to knock myself back out; instead, I try and check in to see what is going on for me, whether my blood sugar has dropped, to hear what is going on in my body.
I can’t emphasize enough what a difference it is for me to acknowledge my body and feelings, to hear what I am often crying out for internally rather than subdue my instincts. I look after myself these days, I try to get into bed feeling like I have treated myself well, I try to rest when appropriate or necessary rather than constantly or never at all.
I am trying to see my greys rather than living in black and white. I read a book of daily meditations called Journey to the Heart, for God’s sake. I hardly recognize myself in a lot of ways. I am not necessarily the person I thought I wanted to be, or thought I would be, but at the end of that part of my life, I wanted to be dead.
When I started an epically long stint in various treatment centres, I was painfully confused around the notion of "self-care." I literally didn’t understand what it meant to brush my hair for myself, to bathe to make myself feel good rather than to look good. In one of the places I lived in, I devoted myself to nail art, using it as a way to connect with the other women living there (something that I deeply struggled with).
Through nail art, I formed connections that I had never wanted but always needed. Some of those women are no longer around, but the conversations we would have before group therapy over which combination of two-for-one nail polishes from the local pound store worked best will stay with me in a way that I can’t explain.
This is one of the reasons I love writing about beauty. It is a way for me to connect with other women, and myself, on a way that extends beyond how I appear. When I get emails or comments or tweets from people who have read my stuff and felt something, or just really liked whatever face mask I suggested, it makes my day, because I never had those connections before, with anyone, let alone women.
This stuff isn’t for men, it isn’t for sex; I have reclaimed beauty into my personal domain, and it means something different to me than it meant 20 months ago. (Two years in the middle of September, bitches!)
A big part of beauty for me is learning how to relax. When I got clean, I was paralysed with anxiety: I could hardly breathe, let alone have a conversation, or even think about my hopes and fears and how to engage with them. I had never learnt how to soothe my anxiety without something outside of myself, be that drugs, food or sex.
So, I have tried and tested as many products as it is humanly possible to in 20 months of sobriety, and I’m gonna share my secrets with you guys and save you 10 months of live-in therapy. Remember, these things are a hell of a lot cheaper than a nervous breakdown (in every regard).
I used to like wherever I was sleeping to feel like a brothel and I felt like the smell of wine, cigarettes and heavy perfume was my perfect vibe. Now, I’m all about white linen and big, expensive candles that will burn for hours whilst I read self-help books.
At the moment, my absolute favourite is Neom: They have huge candles with multiple wicks. Supe-luxe. I just got a new one: their Real Luxury Candle, which is jasmine, French lavender and Brazilian rosewood; and it is fragrant enough to be worthwhile without being overpoweringly heavy.
Also, the candles come with little phrases that are so my vibe right now. This one came with: "Life is always about choices, even when it doesn’t feel that way. Attitude is a choice." Amen, Neom. You are a wise candle. It cost me about ten grand in therapy bills before I even started achieving that level of clarity.
I’m lucky enough to have a bathtub where I live at the moment, so I obviously love a bubble bath. I adore Kiehl’s Lavender Foaming-Relaxing Bath, which contains sea salts and aloe vera so it simultaneously makes you soft and lovely. You only need a little squirt and it’s a delicate and complex lavender vibe rather than that gross-out Radox lavender smell that lingers with an after-scent of chemicals. I mean, I’m sure this has a chemical in it--isn’t everything technically a chemical unless you are inside a vacuum? But you know what I mean--a bad-smelling chemical.
However, my first halfway house did not half a bath. It scarcely had a sink. It was awful, and I needed soothing products more than ever to keep my metaphorical head above water. So I used Aromatherapy Associates Bath & Shower Oil, which is absolutely divine in the bath, but you can also rub it all over your body before you shower for a similar effect.
I am completely obsessed with Aromatherapy Associates. They are my favourite aromatherapy brand, and their products come in these beautiful, heavy, frosted glass bottles. At the moment, I’m working tons (er, you might have noticed I’m around here a lot) so I’m using their De-Stress Mind version, which is chamomile-y and rosemary-smelling and divine. Also, they make the best gifts EVER. Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day? Sorted.
I’m also really into their massage and body oils for when I just feel too gross to even bathe, which is disgustingly often. They have a Support Body Oil that is not only exceptionally rich and conditioning for your skin (with apricot kernels, which I love in products, although I don’t quite know what they are) but smells like how I feel a really good therapy session should feel--not those ones where you come out feeling like your inner child is running riot, but those ones where you feel held and loved and cared for. Must be the chamomile in it.
The pillow spray is so delicious, it makes me feel like I’m living in a hotel (again, but without all the opiates). I mean, how grown-up is having a spray for your pillows? Mine usually just smell like Marlboro Reds, but now I feel like a lady who uses linen water, whatever the hell you do with that. Does anyone use linen water? Is that the next step for my wellness? Anyway, it smells like lavender, on your pillow, mmmmmmmm.
Relax Serum is relaxing in that, yet again, it smells like lavender but it is also designed to soothe allergy-prone or stressed skin. It contains hyaluronic acid, which is naturally produced in our skin and keeps our skin plump and smooth. It’s one of those things that depletes with age or stress, so between that and the collagen-stimulating tripeptides, I should be looking 15 when I wake up, but with all the insight of the past nine years. WINNER!
Um, now I feel like I’ve been talking for nine years about the stuff I like to pour on my body. So, tell me: What do you do when you feel stressed? Does beauty stuff soothe you, too? I mean, I have an almost infinite inventory of these sorts of products, but I always like to add a new one to the pile. As I said, they’re cheaper than (even more) therapy.