Episode 17 - The Gift of Self-Care
Give Yourself the Gift of Self-Care
How to keep yourself healthy, centered, balanced & connected when you struggle with an addicted loved one
This will be my second Christmas without my daughter Laura who struggled for 15 years with addiction but lost her life to overdose on December 21, 2017, right before the holidays. In the two years since her death, I’ve taken care of myself in some ways, but not in others. Battling addiction with a loved one or battling it as an addict takes a toll on you personally.
There is the stress of not knowing what is going to happen next, the lack of sleep when you stay up through the night hoping to hear the door open and your loved one walk in, the constant anxiety. If you don’t care for yourself, then your health and well-being will suffer. Self-care is complex, but it’s a gift that you should try and give yourself. Don’t think of it as something selfish, but rather something necessary to stay strong. Here are some thoughts for all of us who need to do more to care for ourselves with the gift of self-care.
Set healthy boundaries. When you are surrounding by addiction, you have to set physical, emotional and mental limits so that you avoid being manipulated, used or violated by the addicts in your life. Boundaries are simply guidelines that you express to others so that they know how you want to be treated and what happens when they cross those boundaries. In my relationship with my daughter, some of the boundaries I set included what I needed her to contribute to the house while she was living there, how I needed to be communicated with respectfully, and the rules around any type of substance use around me or in my home.
Take care of your body. For me, taking care of my body was not on my “to do” list after my daughter died. As a result, I gained weight, ate poorly, got very little sleep and just overall felt physically weak. When you are fighting addiction yourself or on behalf of a loved one, you have to take care of your body. Start by adding a healthy dose of exercise to your routine. You don’t have to do cross-fit or run a marathon, but you can start by simply walking 30 minutes a day. Exercise releases those endorphins that make you feel better, relieves stress, and helps you connect with others if you engage in sports activities.
Because sleep affects our mood, helps us keep a healthy weight and reduces stress, trying to keep a regular sleep pattern is important. Start by recognizing what your sleep patterns are and where they are off balance. Then change your routine to eat earlier, not watch TV as your go to sleep routine, and keep your room cool and quiet.
And finally, eating healthy has some very strong benefits. If you are in recovery, then don’t replace drug use with a new bad habit of eating poorly like adding processed foods or sugars. A good diet improves your mood and is a cornerstone of selfcare.
Use mindfulness to reduce stress and increase a feeling of well-being. Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. Being mindful makes it easier to appreciate the pleasures in life as they occur, helps you become fully engaged in activities, and creates a capacity to deal with the adverse events that has been coming your way. And if you are struggling with addiction, there are quite a few zingers that you struggle with. People who practice mindfulness find that they are less likely to obsess about what may happen to them in the future or have regrets over the past. Mindfulness helps people become less preoccupied with success or concern themselves on how others might judge them.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but most often this is done with meditation, and finding time to sit quietly, let your thoughts come without judging them, and focusing on relaxed breathing.
Self-care means finding balance in your life. When you are struggling, it’s very tempting to be single threaded on fighting the disease itself and start to drop things that you found enjoyment in. Your life can quickly get out of balance. Balance involves doing the things you have to do but making sure to not drop the things that you like to do. And watch out for areas where you might be overdoing it. For a time, my daughter went to multiple AA meetings every single day, but then failed to do other things that kept her healthy like exercising or just connecting with friends.
Practice social selfcare. It’s very easy to withdraw when you are suffering. You may not want to let others in and have to explain your struggles to them but letting others in is an important part of self-care. There are a number of support groups where you will find others that are experiencing some of the same issues with addiction that you are. There are family members and friends willing to support you if they know what kind of help or understanding you need. You may want to talk to a counselor or therapist so you can process your feelings by talking about them out loud. Self-care involves finding and nurturing connections so that you don’t go it alone.
Remember that being an addict or having one in your family takes a toll on your most valued relationships, so it’s important to keep in contact with them, be honest about your struggles and get support.
And don’t forget about practical self-care. Anxiety comes from things that we feel are out of control, so look around you and see what might look like it’s within your control that you can do something about. If your house is a mess, then bring order to the chaos by cleaning it up. Go through your clothes and stuff and take a lesson from Marie Kondo and if your stuff doesn’t give you joy, then find a way to rehome it. When my daughter died, we sold our 5,000 square foot home and moved to something smaller requiring me to purge all of those things that I had stuffed away that I never used. Getting control of the clutter and getting rid of it was a form of practical self-care.
Self-care is an integral part of healing yourself and making well-being a priority. To give yourself that gift, you need to let people know how you want to be treated, focus on your physical well-being, use mindfulness to keep yourself centered, find balance in your life, and staying connected to others. Self-care also means keeping our environment stress free, clutter free and organized. Self-care is a gift that you can give yourself that brings balanced to a life that addiction has thrown out of balance.