In order for you to be a help in your loved one’s eventual healing, you have to start taking care of yourself first. This is not selfish. By making yourself a priority now too, you’re ensuring that you’re physically, psychologically and emotionally able to care for the person you love as they’re struggling to find their way to a life of healthy sobriety. Start by focusing on the basics: making sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating right, managing stress and exercising regularly – and don’t forget to reach out to others for support. Here’s how:
Support groups: Perhaps most important to your self-care is enlisting the support of others who are or have been in much the same situation you’re in. There are a number of support groups geared toward loved ones of addicts, including Al-Anon/Alateen (for partners, family members and friends of alcoholics), Nar-anon (for drug addiction) and Gam-anon (for gambling), among others. If nothing else, joining one of these free groups will show you that you’re not alone — and that others have been there and made it through. Some of their stories and strategies may work for you, or you can adapt them to your own situation.
Counseling: Beyond self-help meetings, you may also want to make an appointment for yourself with a mental health professional. This could mean one-on-one “talk therapy” between you and a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist or an addiction counselor. You might also get a lot out of group therapy (in which you meet and talk with a group of about six to 10 other people with similar issues); this is different than a support group like Al-Anon, since sessions are led by a counselor or therapist.
These appointments can give you a better handle on your own emotions and actions, past trauma, any mental health issues and the dynamics of your relationship, enabling you to gain more insight that may better help your loved one.
Stress management: Do you feel extra irritable? Are you having trouble sleeping? Is it hard to remember simple things? These are all signs of stress – and indicators that you need to slow down and start taking better care of yourself.
Although the body is able to manage relatively infrequent bursts of short-term tension, high levels of unmanaged stress over a prolonged period of time can have permanent consequences for both body and mind. Without a proper outlet, it’s easy to internalize stress; a habit that can lead to heart disease, cancer and premature aging. Taking action to reduce stress can help minimize these health risks and give you back a sense of control. Stress-reducers can be simple activities like walking, gardening, meditating or just listening to music or having coffee with a friend.
Nutrition: Eating right may not be at the top of your to-do list these days, but it should be. When you eat foods that taste good and are good for you, your body is getting what it needs, of course, but there are plentiful benefits beyond that. When your diet is balanced you may find that problems don’t seem as impossible to solve; your mood lifts; you have more energy, and it’s easier to get back on task or tackle a project when you’re fully nourished.
In general, eating nutritiously means eating three meals a day and getting at least 20 grams of protein, four cups or more of fresh fruit and vegetables daily and taking a multivitamin, fish oil and other supplements as recommended by your doctor. Your body also needs regular hydration, so be sure to drink plenty of water; this flushes out toxins and aids in overall digestion and healing. And steer clear of white sugar and flour, high-fat and high-calorie foods and empty or processed carbohydrates (especially those that are high in sugar, salt, and/or fat).
Exercise: You don’t need to be a fitness fanatic or marathoner to reap the benefits of exercise, but you do need to develop a routine. Making fitness part of everyday can help stave off chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes, and it can also boost your mind and reduce stress. Whether it’s meeting a friend for a morning walk or signing up for a class at the gym, having a regular routine to rely on can help when you need to distress or retreat to a little time for yourself.
Exercise is also a great way to work out any difficult emotions you’re feeling toward your loved one or simply dealing with life with someone dealing with addiction.
It’s easy to put your own needs on the back burner during any sort of health crisis, and addiction is no exception. But neglecting your own health isn’t good for you or your loved one. Take the time to invest in yourself by fueling your mind and body – you’ll be happier and healthier and better able to help support the person your life as he/she moves closer to a healthier, sober life.
Source: Family Caregiver Alliance.