When a family member or close friend is battling addiction, it’s natural to want to help. You are in a unique position to offer support and encouragement, and your input can help make a huge difference in their lives. However, it’s important for you to find a balance between pouring your energy out for your loved one and taking care of yourself. After all, if you're feeling worn out, you can’t truly be available to them anyway.
Of course, this is easier said than done. This involves setting aside some time for self-reflection and making a few difficult but necessary changes that will also ripple out and impact others in a positive way. Here are some tips to focus on the mental and emotional aspects of your life while caring for a loved one in addiction.
1. Form a healthy diet and exercise habit.
You may have heard the phrase “strong body, strong mind” before. Well, it’s true. The first step in getting as physically healthy as possible is to find out how healthy you are today. Schedule an appointment for a physical exam, including basic blood tests to pick up on any conditions or vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Ask your doctor about things like handling health issues effectively, what your ideal weight should be, foods that provide the most nutritional benefits and exercises that will build strength and endurance.
Note: If you do your own research through the internet or outside books, be sure not to make any big changes to a diet or exercise routine before checking with a medical professional.
2. Don’t go it alone.
One of the worst things about being caught up in addiction is how it isolates a person. Shame, guilt and low self-esteem often detach the individual from others. The same thing can be true for someone who is taking care of a recovering addict. You can break free of this destructive pattern by building a support network around you.
However, you should still have a few precautions about sharing. For one, be selective with who you talk to and choose trustworthy, positive people who don’t gossip or judge. You should also be selective about how much you tell. When possible, keep the details to a minimum and focus more on you—your thoughts, feelings and needs.
It may be helpful during this time to also let certain family members know about the situation. But if not, consider joining a support group. Many recovery groups such as AA or NA also offer meetings where family members or friends can encourage and learn from each other.
3. Be honest with yourself and others.
Those in recovery know the phrase, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” While sharing our plight with others is necessary, it only helps if you’re willing to be fully honest. You need to look at reality head on, no matter how messy or ugly it may be.
Seeing and speaking the truth is scary at first, because we are showing others who we are, warts and all. However, by doing so, you will soon discover a freedom to face things and the strength to deal with them in a way that you’ve never done before. This is also echoed in the phrase, “Name it and claim it.”
A way to get started is to set aside some time and think about your life right now. In as much detail as you can, write down the answers to the following questions:
- How would you describe your situation at home – calm or chaotic? Explain your answer.
- Which loved one is in recovery and for what? Are they making progress?
- How has their addiction affected your daily life? Does it still?
- How have you dealt with this person’s addiction? Has this strategy been successful?
Next, learn as much as you can about the realities and issues regarding addiction—both generally and specifically related to your loved one. The more prepared you are with the facts, the less surprised and stressed you’ll be when situations arise.
4. Construct and maintain healthy boundaries.
Learning about healthy boundaries is essential for your well-being. Especially when you’re helping a loved one through addiction recovery as it’s easy to let their drama take over your life. Think of it in terms of a fence bordering your yard to keep people and animals in or out, depending on the circumstances. You decide who comes inside and who doesn’t. Now if that fence falls down, your yard is open again to all sorts of visitors. Some are welcome and others are not so much. Without any set boundaries, you won’t have control of that anymore.
So what are some ways to protect your “fence?”
- Design a daily routine for yourself and stick to it. Incorporate whatever diet changes and exercise plans you discover. Then, make clear to everyone your intentions of following it as best you can. Express that in order to be there for your loved one, you need to take care of yourself too.
- Refuse to take on someone else’s chaos. Letting yourself get pulled too far into their world makes it impossible for you to offer any meaningful support. Use your own community to keep you grounded in reality. Remember, you have your own life to live.
- Learn to say “no” when you need to. This may be one of your biggest challenges. Someone you love is needy, you want to help because you care, yet giving into them only keeps the both you in an unhealthy cycle. While stepping back will likely be met with some resistance, know that this is one of the most important aspects in yours and the addict’s recovery process.
The bottom line is that walking with someone through their addiction recovery journey is truly a labor of love. What many of us forget is that investing in your own health is what will enable us to push through upcoming challenges. And at minimum, you’ll be modeling a better way of living for them too.