My therapist in rehab advised me to get a houseplant. She said that once I’d owned a houseplant for a year, I should consider getting a pet. Only after a year of pet ownership should I consider a romantic relationship.
At the time, this made little sense to me. It felt like a test. Like I had to prove I could keep a plant alive before moving forward with my life. She told me that it was not a test at all. Rather, it was a form of self-care.
Years later, as a dedicated plant lover, I can see how timely her advice was. Here are the reasons you should get a houseplant after leaving rehab.
Learning to care
In the midst of my addiction, my family and friends would tell me I did not care about them. I wanted to argue with them, to tell them that it was because I cared so much that I had become so overwhelmed with life. However, I have since come to understand what they meant.
Caring requires both a passive and active response. I cared in a passive way, loving and wanting the best for my nearest and dearest. But I did not actively care for them. I simply did not know how.
In the same way, I did not know how to care for myself. Self-care sounded like more of a burden than a kindness. It was in providing regular care to my houseplant that I learnt what it means to care in this sense.
My houseplant needed my care to survive, in the same way that I needed my care to survive. Taking care of a houseplant was not some sort of test, but a method of learning.
Anyone who loves houseplants knows that they are not just a part of the decor. They become entwined with your home life. Some people speak to them, others name them. You worry about them when something is wrong and are happy when they thrive.
However, the stakes are still extremely low. When a houseplant dies, you may feel sad, but it’s no disaster. The goal was not to keep a houseplant alive to prove I could take care of a pet. Rather, it was to practice caring for a living thing.
Without the practice, owning a pet would have been a very high stakes way of diving into the art of caring. This is not to say that I wouldn’t have been able to keep a pet alive. But the responsibility for doing so would have felt overwhelming at that point.
Reconnecting with life
But my houseplant provided far more than training wheels for caring. Plants are alive and as such are a means for connecting with life. When we are suffering from addiction, it is easy to become disconnected and even careless about life. The natural world can bring us back.
People definitely helped me reconnect, but it was in my interactions with my houseplant that the connection felt most intimate. I was directly interacting with life. Rather than having a sentient being meeting me halfway, I was connecting to life for the sake of living.
This may sound like I am waxing lyrical about something that isn’t really that deep. But learning to provide care during that first year really had an impact on me. I still have my first plant, having provided consistent care to it for years.