People often forget about the needs of caregivers, especially when you’re caring for someone with a drug or alcohol addiction. It is equally important for you to seek help and develop a support system. Therapists can offer you guidance on how to: stop enabling the person with the addiction, improve communication, set boundaries, avoid caving in to manipulations, promote your own social life and maintain relationships with others, and gain knowledge about addiction. Addiction is a family illness that doesn’t just impact the person addicted to drugs or alcohol.
BARRIERS TO SEEKING SUPPORT
While there are many benefits to having a support system, there are barriers that often prevent caregivers from reaching out to friends and family. If you fear being judged or rejected by society, you’re not alone. Caregivers often feel shame or have guilt for caring for someone with an addiction, as if they have failed that person. If their child has an addiction, they often feel they have failed as a parent. Sometimes caregivers feel they don’t deserve help, or feel guilty for acknowledging their own pain, as if they are being insensitive to the person with the addiction. It can be difficult admitting and accepting that you need help as the loved one or caregiver, when you spend most of your time caring for and attending to the needs of someone else. Sometimes friends and family aren’t supportive of the caregiver. You might be viewed as being too supportive (enabling) or not supportive enough (abandoning). It may feel like a lose-lose situation, but it is important to put your own needs and mental health first.
TIP: REACHING OUT FOR HELP: If you are nervous about opening up to your friends and family about your role and concerns as a caregiver, consider attending an Al-Anon meeting (support groups for friends and family of people with alcohol addiction). You are not alone - there are other people who are in similar situations and understand. See a mental health therapist to help you improve communication, strengthen relationships, and find inner peace.
PUTTING YOURSELF FIRST
You may find it difficult to move on with your life and put your needs first, but it is important to acknowledge your own pain and seek help in order to find happiness. Your mental health and wellness is just as important as anyone else’s, and no matter what others think or say, you deserve to be happy and find inner peace. Putting your needs first not only helps you as the caregiver, but is also a form of supporting the person with the addiction. Allowing yourself to live your own life and allowing your loved one to make their own choices is supportive. You can’t control them or their behaviors, and when they are ready to make a positive change you will be there for them. If you are too controlling, or often find yourself “caving in” and not enforcing boundaries, you are enabling the addict to continue down the path of destructive behaviors. You are also not making your needs and happiness a priority.
TIP: KEEP YOUR BOUNDARIES ENFORCED: You have to constantly enforce rules and boundaries. It’s not a “set it and forget it” deal. If it seems too tough or harsh, know you are doing the right thing, no matter what anyone else says. Your role as a caregiver is not to protect or save the person with an addiction. Don’t allow yourself to slide back into the role of an enabler. If you are having a hard time sticking to rules you’ve set, ask a friend or family member to help you stay strong.
Finding your own happiness doesn’t mean you are abandoning or neglecting the person with addiction, but rather being supportive of positive decisions and healthy behaviors. In order for someone with an addiction to get sober and engage in positive behaviors, they need to have the freedom to make that decision for themselves. If you are controlling and enabling them, they can’t make the connection between their actions and consequences, whether they are destructive or healthy. Letting them hit rock bottom doesn’t mean you are not supporting them, it’s acknowledging that you can’t control their behaviors or force them to change. Putting your needs first means not taking accountability for their bad choices, not rescuing them, and not allowing them to bring you down with them.
TIP: EMBRACE YOUR OWN IDENTITY: When caring for someone with an addiction, your lives may have become intertwined so much you’ve lost sight of who you are and your individuality. Regain control of your identity by learning something new, getting a new hobby, and keeping your mind stimulated. Embrace that you have your own life and own identity - this doesn’t erase your role as a supporter or caregiver, it just defines you as your own person.
TALKING TO YOUR FRIENDS & FAMILY
Be open and honest with your family and friends. Tell them that you’re letting your loved one with the addiction face the consequences of their actions as a means of supporting them. Remind them that you are also in need of emotional and social support. Ask them for their support while you make the difficult, but important decision to move on and make your health and happiness a priority. This is important for two reasons: 1. To reduce stigma of the caregiver’s role in supporting someone with an addiction, and 2. To prevent you from isolating yourself. Involving others in your life will help you find your identity, develop a support system, and have a life outside of addiction.
TIP: EDUCATE YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY: Don’t assume how they feel or what they think of you. If they don’t understand what you’re going through, help them learn. Educate them by having honest conversations. Bring them along to an Al-Anon meeting so they can get a better understanding of what you, and others, are going through as caregivers.
As a caregiver, it’s important that you don’t lose sight of who you are as an individual living your own life. Remember to be supportive of your loved ones when they are making healthy decisions, live life to the fullest, and love yourself.