Is someone in your life struggling with a substance use disorder? Do you feel like it is your responsibility to support and take care of that person? Are you at a loss about how to help effectively? Are you exhausted from the effort?
Taking Care of Yourself
If you answered “yes,” to any of those questions, you may wonder if things are ever going to get better. You may be experiencing a range of feelings from sadness to hopelessness to frustration to anger. Indeed, your experience may rise to the level of trauma that threatens to undermine your mental health in serious, ongoing ways.
It is time to take a step back and consider some ways you can begin taking care of yourself. If you do not make taking care of yourself a priority, you will not be able to take care of anyone else—no matter how much you may want to.
Here are some ways to prioritize your well-being.
Insist on Self-Care.
When we are caring for someone else, it can be easy to forego taking care of ourselves. But self-care is not selfish. Ignoring your own physical and mental well-being is not sustainable in the long run.
Prioritize healthy eating, regular exercise, and consistent sleep. Accomplishing these things may mean setting some clear boundaries regarding your availability. Protect your personal time so that you can recharge. This self-care is foundational to your ability to provide ongoing support to your loved one.
Remember That Substance Use Disorders Are Not Curable.
You might catch yourself thinking that through your efforts, your loved one will somehow be cured of their substance use disorder. But there is no medical cure for substance use disorders. Similarly, no therapeutic approach is 100 percent effective. No boost in self-esteem or increase in faith in a higher power will guarantee sobriety. Getting and staying sober is hard, ongoing work that can only be undertaken by the person struggling with the substance use disorder.
None of that is meant to suggest that nothing can be done. Treatment for substance use disorders is often effective in helping a person build a foundation for lasting sobriety. Still, the danger of relapse is very real and serves as a reminder that a substance use disorder is a chronic disease. Don’t put pressure on yourself to cure the incurable.
Reject the Notion That Your Loved One’s Disorder Is Your Fault.
Frequently, a person with a substance use disorder attempts to blame others for their addiction. You might find that you are that someone—especially if you have had a rocky relationship in the past. Reminding yourself that you are not responsible for anyone else’s behavior—or for the development of a brain disease like a substance use disorder—is key to supporting your own mental health.
It simply is not the case that you caused their addiction. Substance use disorders are associated with a number of different genetic risk factors and a complicated set of potential environmental triggers. Do not let your loved one lay the blame for their challenges at your feet.
Control What You Can Without Attempting to Control Everything.
By now, we hope we have made it clear that you are not responsible for your loved one’s disorder or for “curing” that disorder. In the end, only your loved one can truly try to take control of the situation in which they find themselves. You can’t do it for them.
That means you should limit your focus to the things that actually are within your control. For example, you should not feel obligated to loan your loved one money if you suspect they will use it to purchase drugs or alcohol. You should feel free to insist that alcohol and drugs are not allowed in your home. You can offer to help your loved one find a treatment center and/or other resources that may help them. These things are under your control, and your decisions about them can support your mental health while also encouraging your loved one to get help.
Do Not Keep Your Feelings Bottled Up.
As we have mentioned, you may be experiencing a wide range of emotions as you attempt to help your loved one. It is only natural to feel these emotions, but you may be tempted to try to keep them bottled up inside. Instead, you should find a healthy way to process your emotions.
There are lots of options. You may want to find a support group that can connect you with other people who have loved ones dealing with addiction. Having a community made up of people facing similar challenges can be a great comfort. Other options may include keeping a journal, getting some individual therapy for yourself, taking up some form of vigorous exercise, and more. The important thing here is to make sure you are not suppressing your emotions to your own detriment.
Don’t Define Your Life in Terms of Your Loved One’s Struggles.
Of course, it is wholly admirable to take on a caregiving role in order to help someone else. But you are more than just someone else’s caregiver. You have your own interests, responsibilities, and goals—and you owe it to yourself to pursue them. Finding time for yourself and for the activities that are important to you ensures that you don’t lose yourself as you care for someone else.
We Help Support Those Who Support Others
At The Aviary Recovery Center, we have the resources and expertise you may need to draw upon to help your loved one. We will help your loved one—and help you, too. Contact us today to learn more about our full continuum of care.