Being a Supporter Can Take a Toll
Recovery doesn’t just affect those who struggling with an addiction or mental health disorder. It can be emotionally and mentally exhausting for their loved ones, too. As a supporter, intentionally pursuing a lifestyle that maintains our own mental, emotional, and physical health is crucial for productive involvement with individuals in recovery. Being part of helping people in recovery can provide purpose and meaning, and when it’s a loved one, it can feel mandatory. However, if our own needs aren’t met in the process, we may not be able to provide the help that we intend.
The first step is just to be aware of the emotional and mental toll that supporting someone can be. Our ability to help and support others is determined by how well we take care of ourselves. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves with little to give, or gritting through the process. Sometimes by following the goal of loving others as oneself we forget about the second half: we have to love ourselves well. Self-care is an important part of valuing and loving ourselves well.
Self-Care: What Is It?
What does self care look like? It very much depends on the person. Any activity that contribute to the physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual well-being of an individual could all be considered self care. For some, it may involve exercise, like a morning walk or jog, that provides physical benefits and clears the mind. For others, it may look like a regular spiritual practice, like prayer, meditation, or reflective journaling, that helps one process their own thoughts and emotions and connect to life and meaning. Healthy amounts of sleep and a good diet are important, too. Self-care may involve activities like seeing a counselor or attending a group for individuals that have a friend or family member struggling with a mental health disorder like Al-Anon. These types of resources can be helpful for processing what we’re experiencing as we walk with a loved one through their challenge. Talking with others in a similar role can be hugely help in navigating the complex situations, and emotions, that recovery involves. Sometimes, we as supporters can experience feelings of pain, anxiety, guilt, or shame, and processing these emotions is crucial for healthy interactions.
What Makes Self-Care So Hard?
Life is full of competing priorities.There are always emails to answer, chores and errands to be completed, or activities happening. We have limited time to accomplish things, and when we make decisions, many of us are biased toward choices that take care of a short-term need. Individuals in recovery have many needs, and it can feel good to actually help take care of someone. We are creatures of routine, so changing one’s role in a relationship or finding time in a schedule for a new self-care activity can be hard.
Taking care of our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health is an important long-term investment. Self-care happens when we’re willing to forego a short-term need or opportunity for long-term health. It’s not just saying “no” to something, it’s saying “yes” to a more positive future. Self-care can feel awkward, or we hear a thought saying it’s “selfish.” But, if we don’t take care of ourselves, we limit our future ability to help. Others may not always understand our prioritization of our time and focus. But they don’t have to. What matters is our health. When we’re healthy, it’s easier to experience hope and connection, and share it with others.
Self-Care Helps Address Co-Dependency
Challenges around self-care can reveal areas of co-dependency. If we feel unable to take time away to rest or maintain health because of another’s needs, whether physical or emotional, there’s a good chance that co-dependency is present. Prioritizing self-care, and creating boundaries to sustain it, creates a foundation for healthy relationships. It may also allow loved ones to take responsibility for themselves in new ways.
Sometimes, having a friend or family member in recovery can feel like an impossible burden, because of their desire for emotional support or practical needs around finances, transportation, or otherwise. When that point is reached, it’s often a sign that the individual needs a broader community of support. We can be sources of wisdom, love, and support for individuals in recovery, but we all need connection and community. Support groups and counselors are a valuable resource for individuals in recovery, and for families and loved ones. Inviting others in to the situation, and empowering the individual to proactively reach out to other forms of support, can be a game-changer.
As supporters, the recovery process is not about perfection, but about growth. We may become aware of co-dependency and relationships where boundaries our needed. These are opportunities for us to experience deeper, healthier connection with our loved ones. Our self-care practices may evolve over time, as we seek great experiences of hope and peace.