Whether you are the parent, spouse, sibling, or friend of an individual with substance use disorder, you may take on a caregiving role to some extent. No matter the type or amount of care you provide, it can be taxing on your physical, emotional, and mental reserves. 

Addiction is hard on the entire family, and most likely the dynamics in your family have changed to accommodate your loved one’s substance use over a longer period of time, leading to stress. Learning to take care of yourself while your loved one is in treatment and recovery is essential to both you and your loved one’s success.

Caregiving Is a Full-Time Job

As your loved one begins their sober journey you may find yourself driving them to appointments or even attending appointments with them. You might spend hours on the phone with different doctors and insurance providers to help coordinate the different steps of their care. It is possible that you might financially support your loved one during this time when they are unable to work. Often you might find yourself being your loved one’s confidant as they work through treatment. When your loved one hits a rough spot or possibly relapses, you are there for them in whatever way they need.

As your loved one gets treatment and the opportunity to recover, you also should be mindful of your own needs. It can be tempting to neglect yourself when you are taking care of others and to put their needs before your own. While that might feel like the right, selfless thing to do, it is likely to backfire in the long run. You need to be functioning optimally to help others in a meaningful way. If you continuously push yourself, there will inevitably come a time when you can no longer continue, despite your greatest efforts.

Filling Your Cup

There are several common sayings you may have heard that apply to this situation. Before an airplane takes off, passengers are reminded that, in the event of an emergency where cabin oxygen is depleted, you need to put on your own oxygen mask before you help others. If you are with someone you love, it is natural to want to protect them. In times of danger and fear, you probably want to put them first. 

Unfortunately, these things are not always up to you. Hard work and good intentions are not the only things needed to succeed. If you try to put their mask on before touching your own, you will quickly run out of oxygen yourself, making your movements slow and jerky, impairing your senses and judgment. In this case, it might be impossible to even get the mask on your loved one. On the other hand, if you put the mask on yourself first, you are empowering yourself to help your loved one by utilizing the necessary tools rather than working with one hand tied behind your back.

A second saying is that you cannot pour from an empty cup. When you are taking care of others, you are pouring some of yourself into them. You are giving them your knowledge, compassion, and other resources. When you do this without consistently taking the time to refill from rejuvenating sources, you will end up with nothing to sustain yourself and nothing to give to others. 

You cannot help other people if you are not taking care of yourself, and this can even make you sick. When you are a caregiver, stress can manifest in many physical forms, including headaches and general body aches, fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, and sleep issues. Taking the steps necessary to preserve your well-being can have significant positive effects on your health as well as your relationship with your loved one and your ability to continue helping them.

Strategies for Self-Care

The term “self-care” might bring to mind images of floating in a bubble bath or getting a pedicure. While these things are relaxing and might make you feel good, self-care generally refers to the more practical steps you can take to look after your physical and mental wellbeing in the long-term. Here are some strategies to try:

  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep. 
  • Ensure you are receiving adequate nutrition. Try to avoid excess caffeine, as it can disrupt sleep and cause anxiety.
  • Take time to exercise.
  • Incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine.
  • Call a friend or schedule some time to get together with them.
  • Try relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, or meditation.
  • Take time to do things that you enjoy.
  • Keep up with your hygiene.
  • Keep a gratitude journal to focus on the small things.
  • Clean your space.
  • Spend time in nature.
  • If the situation feels out of your hands and is impeding on your quality of life, it might be time to seek professional help. Individual and family therapy and family recovery programs can help you learn and practice coping strategies to mitigate stress, strengthen your relationships, and improve your quality of life.

These are just a few suggestions for self-care. What works for one person might not work for another. It might be a process to find the strategies that fit your life and rejuvenate you, but it is worth the effort.

Taking care of a loved one with substance use disorder can be challenging physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed during this process, and it doesn’t mean you’re not up to the task. Fortunately, you’re not alone. Working with providers who understand the situation and who understand your family specifically can offer the type of individualized care that will make all the difference. At Family-Centered Services, we prioritize getting to know your family so that we can offer comprehensive support to everyone involved. We offer individual and family therapy to meet everyone’s needs, a Family Recovery Program to work on healing relationships, case management to provide streamlined care, drug testing for peace of mind, and intervention education and support. FCS is committed to helping your family heal from the effects of addiction. You can start the process today by calling (509) 991-5822 to speak with our team.