Many of our blog entries are written for individuals who are struggling with drugs or alcohol or who are in recovery from a substance use disorder. That makes sense given that our work is helping people regain and maintain their sobriety. But we are mindful of the fact that many other people besides the staff of a treatment center provide essential and often ongoing support to a person with a substance use disorder to help them reclaim their life.
In this blog entry, we would like to focus on dedicated helpers—especially those who may be feeling worn out, frustrated, or ineffectual.
The recovery journey often has its ups and downs, ranging from facing down cravings to starting over again after a relapse. Those ups and downs do not just affect the person with the substance use disorder. They also have a real impact on the people in that person’s life who have been working hard to provide support through thick and thin.
If you are one of those people who steadfastly supports someone with a substance use disorder, you have our admiration. And we offer up these tips—which, to be honest, bear a strong resemblance to the advice we give to those in recovery—for taking care of yourself even (or especially) when you are taking care of someone else.
Take Care of Your Physical Health
When we are physically well, we tend to be more resilient. On the flip side, when stress mounts up in our lives, we tend to be less attentive to our physical health. If you can buck that trend, however, you will find that better physical health helps you deal with stress more effectively.
When it comes to physical health, we often focus on three big areas—and they are equally important to those who care about someone in recovery as they are for the person on the recovery journey.
- Eat a balanced, nutritious diet: Eating healthily underpins your overall physical health. Focusing on colorful fruits and vegetables as well as lean proteins and complex carbohydrates will lead to health gains. The trouble is that when we are stressed, we sometimes turn to heavily processed food and/or take in too much sugar. Those foods may be comforting in the moment, but they don’t support your long-term goal of better health and more resilience in the face of challenges
- Get plenty of exercise: Listen, we get that the world is largely split into those who love to exercise and those who really, really don’t. If you fall into the second category, the key is to start small and to focus on activities you really enjoy. You don’t have to be a gym rat or start training for a marathon to get the benefits of exercise. The key is to simply get more active—and then a little more active.
- Prioritize healthy sleep: When you were a child, did you have a bedtime routine? Maybe you put your pjs on, then brushed your teeth, listened to or read a story, and then snuggled up with a stuffed friend—all on the same schedule each night. It turns out that nighttime routines are a great idea for adults, too. Setting a regular bedtime (and waking time), enjoying quiet activities to wind down (preferably activities that do not involve a screen), and maintaining a comfortable sleeping environment can improve the quality of your rest, which in turn can increase the quality of your health.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
Happily, improving your physical health tends to provide a boost to your mental health as well. But there are plenty of other ways to take care of your mind, too. For example, mindfulness practice encourages you to stay present in the moment instead of ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Listening to (or making) music you enjoy supports your mental health. So do engaging hobbies and relaxing times spent with family and friends.
And if you suspect you may be experiencing a mental health disorder—like one of the many kinds of depression, an anxiety or panic disorder, or a disorder grounded in past traumatic experiences—the best thing you can do is get help. Often the best option is a combination of medication and talk therapy. A conversation with your doctor is a good place to start.
Taking Care of Yourself is an Essential First Step
Supporting someone with a substance use disorder is noble. It can also be taxing. When you prioritize your own well-being, you will be better able to provide support to your friend or family member when they need you.
We Can Help Your Loved One Regain Their Sobriety
One last note: No matter how much love and concern you show a friend or family member who is struggling with drugs or alcohol, you are not equipped to help them regain their sobriety. What you can do is encourage them to seek treatment. The team at The Aviary Recovery Center, near St. Louis, MO, is ready and able to help.