Being a Supporter Can Take a Toll
The recovery process affects more than just those who directly struggle with an addiction or mental health disorder. It can be emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting for their loved ones and those who help or work in the recovery ecosystem. For supporters, self-care and the intentional pursuit of a lifestyle that maintains their own well-being is beneficial for all involved.
Helping people in recovery is noble pursuit that can have tremendous impact and purpose for individuals and communities. However, if supporters’ are unaware of their own needs, they may not have the patience, energy, or kindness to relate to individuals in life-giving ways. The first step is to be aware of the emotional and mental toll that helping someone in recovery can be. Our ability to support others is determined by how well we take care of ourselves. Otherwise, we can find ourselves with little to give and exhausted by the process. In this place, our intentions may be good, but our ability to actually be of help may be limited. Remember the second part of the famous maxim: we are to love others as we love ourselves. Self-care is an important part of this.
Defining Self-Care for Supporters
What does self-care for supporters 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 count. Start with a morning walk or jog that provides physical exercise and clears the mind. Try out a regular spiritual practice, like prayer, meditation, or reflective journaling that helps with processing thoughts and emotions. Proper sleep and diet are important foundations for physical health, but also for mental and emotional well-being. Lack of rest can affect one’s mood, thoughts, and ability to solve problems. Take stock of what activities and practices bring rest and refreshment for yourself, knowing they may be different for others. Consider and experiment with changes until you see positive improvements with your emotional, mental, and physical state.
When supporting someone in recovery, it is helpful to be able to share the emotional burden of the experience with others familiar with the journey. Seeing a counselor or attending a support group for friends or family members of those battling addiction, like Al-Anon, can help one deal with the emotional and mental burdens that these situations create. You do not have to carry the weight alone. There are ways of communicating your experience while respecting the privacy of the person you’re supporting. Plus, these individuals or groups may have helpful insights on navigating the complex situations, conversations, and emotions that recovery involves. They understand the fears, anxiety, or pressure that supporters feel and can be an important ingredient for self-care.
Learning to Prioritize Self-Care
Life is full of competing priorities. The situations faced by those in recovery can feel like they must always be at the top of the list. But life also keeps happening, with emails to answer, chores and errands to be completed, family activities, and other responsibilities. Learning how to manage the needs of loved ones in recovery with other responsibilities can be a journey. Be kind to yourself and others in the process.
Outside of actual emergencies, when an individual’s life or well-being is seriously at risk, it’s healthy to be able to say “no” to individual needs that arise. Those dealing with an addiction may have learned how to have their needs met through manipulation or other unhealthy means. Sometimes, not solving another’s challenge can give them opportunity to grow. Our value for our own health, and for life that occurs outside of the recovery situation, sets a healthy example for others over the long-term.
Adjusting, and readjusting, to support others and oneself in sustainable ways may take time. Self-care can feel awkward if we’re not used to valuing our own health or well-being. We may hear a thought saying that it’s “selfish.” Others may not always understand our prioritization of our time and focus. But they don’t have to. When we prioritize our health, we can more easily operate from a place of hope and connection that serves others well.
Remember: taking care of our own mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health through self-care is an important long-term investment. We may have to forego a short-term need or change our current routine in order to prioritize long-term health. It’s not just saying “no” to something, it’s saying “yes” to a more positive future.
Self-Care Challenges May Point to Co-Dependency
Challenges around practicing healthy self-care can reveal areas of co-dependency. Continually being unable to take time away to rest or maintain health because of another’s needs, whether physical or emotional, may indicate a need for change. Trusted community and outside perspectives can help us identify challenges or unhealthy situations we are unable to see. Prioritizing boundaries that enable self-care creates a foundation for healthy relationships and 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 living situation. When a supporter’s capacity limit for offering help is reached, it may be an indicator that the person in recovery needs a broader community of support. We cannot be solely responsible for the needs of an individual in recovery. The wisdom, love, and support we share can be impactful, but ultimately everyone need connection and community beyond a single person. Support groups and counselors are a valuable resource for individuals in recovery, and for families and loved ones. Inviting others into the situation, and empowering the individual to proactively reach out to additional forms of support, can set everyone involved up for long-term success.
The Self-Care Journey
As supporters, the recovery process is not about perfection, but about growth. We may become aware of our misaligned priorities, co-dependency in relationships, or need for boundaries. There’s no shame: we are all learning how to experience healthier relationships and existence as human beings. In these learning moments, see them as opportunities to grow and experience deeper, healthier connection with our loved ones. Our self-care practices can and should evolve over time as we uncover greater experiences of hope and health in life.