Self-Care When Supporting Someone’s Recovery

Why It Matters, and How To Look After Yourself

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Does someone important to you struggle with a substance abuse disorder? If so, you may find yourself feeling responsible to support and care for them. In this situation, it’s common to start experiencing physical and emotional exhaustion—especially if you are unsure how to care for yourself in the process.

The reality is that you have to take care of yourself to help others. At some point, you’ll likely discover that neglecting yourself doesn’t make you better. In fact, by ignoring your own needs, you soon become depleted, and you may start to feel resentful towards your loved one. As a caregiver, good self-care will ultimately benefit both of you.

This article will take a look at the importance of self-care, and offer some suggestions on ways to apply it in your life. We will also share some helpful support resources to light the way as you care for your loved one.

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Table of Contents

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What Does Self-Care Mean When Helping Someone Else?

So, what is self-care? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.”1 And caring for a loved one through addiction can indeed be stressful.

While supporting another in their recovery process, you may experience a wide range of emotions: guilt, sadness, frustration, hopelessness, and anger. If left unchecked, your experience may rise to the level of trauma, seriously threatening your mental health.

It is critical to take note of those emotions when they first creep in, so you know when it is time to make some changes. If you do not make self-care a priority, you will be unable to help another no matter how hard you try. You can sacrifice your time, energy, and money—it just won’t work.

sign reading "self care isn't selfish"
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When and How To Set Boundaries

Caring for a loved one who struggles with addiction can be a trying experience, to say the least. You may find yourself in a constant state of worry over their well-being. Perhaps you are stepping in to tend to their financial, household, and childcare responsibilities. Rescuing them is feeling like a full-time job. If this sounds familiar, it is essential to set boundaries for your own well-being. 

Setting boundaries is a necessary step toward establishing expectations, and encouraging appropriate, healthy behaviors. Without boundaries, you jeopardize your personal freedom and possibly your health. You leave yourself open to being lied to, stolen from, and taken advantage of in general. 

Approaching the Discussion

It is essential to approach the “boundary conversation” from a place of love and not shame. And it’s also most effective if other family members and close friends are on board. There is a good chance that your addicted loved one will resist or even lash out in a hurtful way, but it is essential to stand your ground and stay consistent going forward. 

Here are some examples of boundaries. The boundaries you choose will of course be based on your personal situation:

  • No drugs or alcohol are allowed in your home or around family members. Be sure that you inform your loved one of the consequences. Will they be forced to move out? Will you call the police?  
  • You will not bail them out if they get arrested. Setting this limit lets them know that they are solely responsible for their decisions and any consequences. Make it clear that their addiction is something that must be addressed if you are to continue helping them. 
  • Friends who use substances are not allowed in your home. Your loved one might be working on their sobriety, but friends who use can impede their progress.  
  • You will not cover for them when they mess up. They are to be held responsible for any chaos or lies they create. This will require your loved one to own up to their behaviors.
  • You will not give them money. Making the decision not to support them financially can be a wake-up call regarding the seriousness of their sobriety. If they value their independence, they will have to get sober so they can hold down a job and pay their way. 

How To Care For Yourself

When we are consumed with caring for another person, it can be easy to put self-care on the back burner. But keep in mind that ignoring your own physical and emotional health is not sustainable. You have to take care of yourself to help others. Self-care is not selfish; it is quite the opposite.

Make a daily effort to eat nutritious foods, exercise, and get adequate sleep. You may have to set boundaries to ensure you accomplish those essential steps. Nurturing your mental health is also critical. Be sure to make time for friends and activities that lift your spirits. Protecting your personal time and space is essential.

Tips For Self-Care When Supporting Someone Else

  • Pay attention to how you feel. If you are feeling fatigued or stressed it is time to take a break. Consider taking a walk outdoors or listening to music. Give yourself the time and space you need to rejuvenate.
  • Ask for help. Call upon a relative or a good friend if you are feeling overwhelmed. Having someone else make dinner or run some errands can give you some breathing room.
  • Take care of your health. In addition to eating well and getting enough sleep, be sure to keep up with your medical screenings. Get your daily dose of activity; even a walk around the block can be energizing. 
  • Show yourself grace. Caregivers can fall into the guilt trap when their loved one continues to struggle. Remind yourself that you are not responsible for someone’s addiction or behavior.
  • Pursue your own interests and goals. Be careful not to put your life on hold. It is essential to make time for activities that bring you joy and are important to you. 
  • Focus on what you can control. For example, you can offer to help your loved one find treatment and resources. But you have no control over their behaviors and are not responsible for rescuing them from any chaos they may cause.
  • Talk about your emotions. Bottling up your emotions is unhealthy. Consider journaling, talking to a close friend, or seeking professional help from a therapist. They can help you sort out your feelings and identify healthy coping strategies.

Finding Support Resources

It’s often helpful to locate a support group, so you can connect with others who have loved ones struggling with addiction. Having a community of people facing similar challenges can provide much comfort. And peers can remind you that you have to take care of yourself to help others. Here is a list of groups that you can join for support. 

As for your loved one, if they haven’t found an approach that works for them, or are having a hard time staying sober, they might want to try telehealth. Ria’s online program gives members access to weekly coaching meetings, medications to reduce alcohol cravings, and much more—without disrupting their lives. Speak with one of our enrollment specialists to find out how we can help.

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