Living with a loved one struggling with substance abuse can be incredibly draining physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Many of us wear ourselves out entirely by trying to manage the addict and the fallout their disease brings with it. We mother, manipulate, control, and push ourselves way past any reasonable human limitations to play the martyr.
We become resentful when our efforts are not applauded, recognized, and appreciated. We do things for the addict that they should easily be able to do for themselves.
And all the while, we neglect our own basic needs, self-care, career, and life. If you are dealing with addiction in your home and life right now, self-compassion and self-care are non-negotiable.
And the surprising truth is, the better you focus on and take care of yourself, the more energy and tolerance you will have toward the addict, the disease, and for helping the addict in a healthy, balanced way.
It seems like the answer should be obvious and yet when we are living with an addict and caught up in the chaos that brings, the definition of self-care can become muddled. In recovery groups when participants are asked this question, often the response is likened to pampering such as getting a massage or getting a manicure, and the like.
While these can be forms of self-care, it depends on the person; are these things they are already doing routinely without even thinking about them or would this be going above and beyond what they usually do?
In other words, some loved ones of addicts go out of their way to keep up appearances that everything is fine and can use these activities as part of their denial of the problem happening in their home.
So if pampering isn’t necessarily self-care, what is self-care? Self-care comes in many forms including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual types of activities.
All kinds of self-care are necessary to maintain balance and serenity and to live a happy life. They become more important, even critical in some cases when living with a loved one suffering from a substance abuse disorder.
The first thing that we often do in these situations is focused almost entirely on the addict and our health, life, and overall well-being goes down the toilet. In extreme cases, we may suffer serious health issues and other severe or even dangerous consequences as a result of self-neglect.
When we part ourselves in harm’s way in this fashion, we are in no state to be of any help to the addict, and ironically helping the addict is usually the reason for not attending to our own needs in the first place.
All self-care falls into four categories as mentioned earlier; physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Here is a breakdown of more specifics on what these four categories include and tips for how to make sure you are addressing your needs in each type.
Some of us can neglect basic needs, so that is a great place to start.
Are you bathing and addressing basic grooming needs daily? Are you at least 2-3 liters of water every day? Are you making sure you eat regularly and choosing foods that provide needed nutrients to your body? Are you getting plenty of sleep and exercise?
While everyone needs to do these things daily and often neglect some of them here and there for a variety of reasons, when you are living with an addict, these become extremely important to focus on. Why? Because living with active addiction is exceptionally stressful, and high levels of prolonged stress can cause physical illness in no-time.
One of the best ways to combat extended, high stress is with solid, basic physical self-care. This is also why it is imperative that you continue with basic medical maintenance as well including annual doctor checkups, bi-annual dental checkups, and routine preventative care.
In addition to these basic needs, it is essential to ensure that your physical boundaries are healthy and intact.
Do not accept abuse of any kind from the addict and particularly physical abuse. Any slapping, hitting, throwing objects across the room or directly at you, punching, beating, sexual abuse, forcing you to drink or ingest drugs with them, or any other type of physical violence is dangerous and can be life-threatening.
If any physical abuse is happening, leave your home immediately and seek safe shelter. Or if possible, call the police and have them remove the addict from your home and file a restraining order if recommended by the police or an attorney.
Although we can’t provide legal or medical advice here, your physical safety and that of your dependents comes first and foremost and taking whatever steps necessary to ensure it is of paramount importance.
Often when our loved one is suffering from a substance abuse addiction, our mind is spinning out of control and obsessed with the problem happening to and around the addict.
In Al Anon’s Understanding Ourselves, they accurately explain the mental anguish we suffer around the addict as, “Even the most well-meaning people begin to count the number of drinks another person is having. We pour expensive liquor down drains, search the house for hidden bottles, listen for the sound of opening cans. All our thinking is directed at what the alcoholic is doing or not doing and how to get him or her to stop drinking. This is our obsession.”
The same example could easily be adapted to apply to hardcore drug use or prescription medication and opioid addiction. This also includes the phenomenon of “walking on eggshells” around the addict, trying to modify our behavior so as not to set them off.
One tip for easing the mental merry-go-round is to learn as much as you can about addiction and how to keep yourself healthy while living with addiction in your home.
Another helpful tool is to put the focus back on your own life and let the addict do what the addict is going to do. Take a moment and a deep breath. Now look around at your life.
Assuming you’ve now addressed your physical self-care needs, where do you need to focus your mental attention? How is your career if you have one or want one? What hobby can you take up? Have you let your mental faculties wane?
Puzzles and brain teasers, reading, and learning a new language can all be fantastic for sharpening your mental skills and focusing on something much more productive than what the addict is or isn’t doing.
Mental and emotional self-care commonly get lumped into one category. However, it is essential to separate the two as they are quite distinct from one another.
Since we’ve already discussed mental self-care, you now have a clearer idea of what it encompasses and that much of it is self-imposed and can be addressed by choosing to shift our focus and mental energies.
Emotional self-care on the other hand, is not always self-imposed, as it may include emotional abuse inflicted by the addict, although it can also be self-inflicted abuse as well.
The addict may verbally abuse you in angry tirades including such things as blaming you for their addictive behaviors, telling you you’re worthless, you do everything wrong, you’ll never amount to anything, you’re ugly, stupid, sexually unappealing, and the like.
Alternatively or in addition to emotional abuse coming from the addict, you may blame yourself for your loved one’s addiction, for setting them off on a binge, and you may also self-criticize and self-abuse with similar thoughts as the examples given for the addict’s verbal tirades.
It is essential to understand that just like physical abuse, emotional abuse is completely unacceptable and can become life-threatening in severe cases.
Emotional abuse can lead to acceptance of potentially dangerous physical abuse. Emotional abuse can also be hazardous in and of itself as it can lead to severe anxiety and depression and even suicide or homicide in extreme situations.
Caring for ourselves emotionally is always important and becomes even more so when living with an addict.
First and foremost, if you are in a home where the emotional abuse is severe, either have the addict removed or remove yourself from home to take care of yourself and your dependents.
If the situation is not as severe, you can set healthy boundaries and not accept verbal abuse by either removing yourself from the room while it is occurring or if dealing with a child’s addiction, establishing a firm boundary that verbal abuse will not be tolerated and then sticking to that boundary.
Other useful tools for emotional self-care include learning to accept and feel your feelings in a healthy, productive way. Join a support group at a reputable addiction rehabilitation center or your local Al-Anon or Nar-Anon group.
Seek individual counseling or therapy. Journal, go for walks, read supportive literature for families and friends of alcoholics and addicts, and reach out to those in your support groups when you may be struggling.
Find healthy ways to be of service to others who are also dealing with a loved ones’ addiction. This can help you regain lost self-esteem. And most importantly, learn to have compassion for yourself as what you are dealing with is not easy!
Although the last to be discussed, spiritual self-care is genuinely the basis from which all other self-care springs forth.
Coming to an understanding that you did not cause your loved ones’ addiction, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it, is a form of high spiritual acceptance around the disease of addiction as a whole.
When you can achieve this level of acceptance and at the very least entertain the notion that there may be a power greater than yourself that can help both you and the addict, you will be more equipped and willing to turn the focus on yourself and your own needs and begin to be able to reclaim a fulfilling and happy life regardless of what the addict is or is not doing.
For some, this may come easier than others. It is ok for those who may struggle with this notion, in the beginning, to consider a support group as this higher power, or nature, or whatever works for you. Your concept will likely evolve gradually, and that’s all perfectly fine. The key here is being willing to let go.
Great tools for spiritual self-care often include prayer and meditation, walking in nature, gardening, connecting with pets or other animals, journaling, reading spiritual literature, exploring your spirituality, pausing several times a day and taking three deep, long breaths, or anything else that helps you get centered and in the present moment.
When in crisis, it can mean reaching out to a therapist or fellow to help remind you that although you are not in control, you are ok, and this will pass. Notice where your feet are and feel them connected to the earth.
The important thing is to find what works for you and connects you to the present moment. When you are in the present, life flows easier, no matter what is going on around you.
It may take some time to truly grasp this concept, but the truth is that taking care of yourself is the best way to help your loved one with their addiction.
It is not selfish to take care of yourself first! By taking care of yourself and leading the best life you can despite the circumstances, you are setting a stellar example in the most loving way for the addict and all your loved ones to follow.
The changes in yourself will shift the entire household for the better- try it!
If you need help with your recovery you can get in touch with the Hotline at our Recovery Center where trained and experienced professionals are available to assist you in every way.
The staff at Chateau Recovery is always available to help you with all of your questions regarding addiction recovery and treatment. Call anytime.
Please call our toll-free helpline which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is staffed by experienced and caring professionals who can answer your questions and help you navigate through the process of evaluating and securing a treatment program.
If you or someone you love has questions concerning the rehabilitation process, call our free helpline Phone: +1 888-971-2986 for more information. Calls are always confidential, private, and secure.
The drug addiction family effects can be harsh and far reaching. This video will explain how you can help your loved one in the right way.
Very often the family want to help and they to help the addict, just to find that the addict’s behavior doesn’t change, and the drug addiction family effects are still the same.
Often when the loved one of an addict tries to help they are actually making the problem worse. It is vital for the family to get support from an addiction specialist or from a support group. Knowing how to help the addict will make such a huge difference.
A professional report that discusses Self Help in addictions of close personal relationships and the psychology of protecting yourself and family during Recovery and Treatment.