There are more than 23 million Americans struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, and millions more with compulsive behaviors such as gambling, gaming and sex addiction. Struggling along with them are the millions of people who love them. Partners, parents, children, close relatives and friends deal every day with the same problem as the addict, but from a different perspective. While the addicted person is lost to their disease we are faced with the problems created in the wake of their illness as we do our best to help them. What we sometimes lose sight of is the importance of helping ourselves too. Self-care strategies that can give any family dealing with addiction the strength to fight this disease:
#1 Make Your Health a Priority
We often put our own well-being on the back burner to deal with a family crisis. People in caregiver roles with an addicted loved one can suffer the maladies of caregiver burnout. These include physical health problems such as headaches, pain, insomnia and weight changes as well as mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Check in with yourself to see if you’re losing interest in things you used to love or feeling hopeless, irritable or fatigued, and get help if you notice changes in these areas. Medical care and keeping follow-up appointments are an essential part of self-care. On a daily basis, nourishing foods, exercise and sleep can help us feel physically and emotionally strong and replenished.
#2 Create Boundaries
One of our greatest challenges is learning to distinguish between supportive behaviors and enabling behavior. It’s necessary to have some separation between ourselves and the addicted loved one. As much as we may feel responsible, we cannot be responsible for every area of their lives. Of course, we want to help, but we aren’t solving any problems if our help shields them from the consequences of their drug or alcohol abuse. As much as we want to fix this, we can’t. The best we can do is try to assist our loved one in getting help and encourage them into treatment. We also have to protect ourselves, our finances, our families and our homes. This may require leaving relationships behind, cutting off access to resources and valuables, as well as protective measures for family safety.
#3 Tell the Truth
Every family member can be impacted by addiction in different ways and any family dealing with addiction has their own struggles. We feel just as much shame and guilt as the addict does, and may have the added burden of feeling we have failed them if we cannot get them to accept help or if they do not maintain sobriety. We often go out of our way to cover up what we’ve been living with, but secrecy and unexpressed feelings can have devastating effects. Being at odds with family members still in denial can hurt. It is important we have a safe space to share our stories.
#4 Lean on Others for Support
To understand our enemy, we need to learn about our loved one’s disease and also the ways in which families are disrupted and hurt. There are many online resources, books and experts that can help, but many families find the most powerful source of support is hearing other loved ones’ stories and insights. Attending Al-Anon meetings or other support groups offers the peace of mind of realizing that we are not alone.
#5 Do Things You Enjoy
We have the right to work on our own recovery. It helps to make a list of things that give us pleasure and help us feel relaxed. It could be a movie or a dinner out with friends. Maybe it’s a manicure, a round of golf, a walk through a favorite museum, or a massage. When daily life is filled with stress, it’s more important than ever to find ways to nurture ourselves. It may take a while to make a habit out of healthy self-care, but if we can remember our own needs even in the face of a crisis, we’re in the best position to help our loved ones now and with any other challenges coming our way.