Self-Care Is Not Selfish: Helping Others Requires Helping Yourself

In an emergency, we often get so absorbed in addressing the crisis that we push ourselves to—or even beyond—our limits in our efforts to help. Eventually, however, our bodies and minds will eventually let us know in no uncertain terms when we are about to crash.

Loving Someone With Substance Use Disorder

This scenario can play out if you find yourself trying to help someone with a substance use disorder. The effort and worry involved in trying to be of service to a loved one—whether friend or family member—can leave you exhausted, frustrated, sad, or even angry. Left unaddressed, these feelings could add up to a traumatic experience that endangers your mental and physical health.

To avoid that, keep in mind some strategies for self-care that are just as important as the care you are providing for your loved one.

First Things First: Self-Care Is Not Selfish

You might feel guilty thinking about yourself when someone you care about is going through the challenges associated with a substance use disorder. But you cannot support your loved one if you ignore your own physical and mental health. You need rest. You need to eat well and get regular exercise. You need some time alone to recharge. You may need to see a therapist or at least talk through your feelings with a trusted friend. None of this is selfish. All of it is essential. 

Keep Things In Perspective: You Are Not Responsible for Another’s Disorder

No matter what anyone—including the person in question—says, you are not responsible for your loved one’s substance use disorder. Sometimes a person struggling with addiction may try to avoid taking responsibility for their behavior. They may try to shift the blame to you. This can be devastating. But it also isn’t true.

Substance use disorders are a disease of the brain. A variety of genetic risk factors can contribute to development of a disorder. In addition, a complex and thorny combination of traumas and other environmental factors are often in play. You should not allow anyone to lay the blame for their substance use disorder at your feet.

A related note: It is equally important that you not let your loved one’s struggles come to be the defining feature of your life. As we have noted, for the sake of your own mental health, you must continue to do the things that bring you pleasure and satisfaction. Being the friend or family member of a person struggling with addiction is not the entirety of your identity. 

Let It Out: Don’t Hold Your Feelings Inside

Odds are you are cycling through a range of emotions as you try to help your loved one. You may be tempted to try to suppress those emotions because you don’t have the capacity to deal with them right now. You might even be afraid that your own display of emotion could be detrimental to your loved one’s recovery. But holding your feelings inside is not a sustainable practice. 

There are any number of ways to healthily process your emotions. We’ve mentioned seeking out a therapist or talking with a friend. You might also consider joining a support group for those who have loved ones battling a substance use disorder. Or you might find that practicing mindfulness or meditation, writing in a journal, or engaging in some sort of artistic practice can help you manage the emotional challenges you face.

Tough Love: Don’t Compromise On the Big Stuff

It’s natural to want to cut your loved one some slack when they are struggling. But the best thing for you—and for them—is to stick to your guns on some key issues. For example, you should not allow your friend to use drugs or alcohol in your home. You should not loan a family member money that you suspect will be used to support a drug or alcohol problem. And, as we noted above, you should not let a loved one blame you for their situation. 

Remaining firm in your resolve in these areas can help you remember that your life is your own. And in the end, your friend or family member may thank you for setting a standard and encouraging them to live up to it. 

Relapse Is a Reality: You Can’t Walk the Recovery Path for Them

Ideally, once your loved one went through detox and rehab, recovery would be a breeze. But it isn’t—a fact amply demonstrated by the prevalence of relapse among those who have gone through treatment. If your loved one experiences a relapse, you might feel like you bear some of the responsibility. It is important to remember that you can walk the recovery path with your friend or family member, but you can’t walk it for them. 

If a relapse occurs, encourage your loved one to return to treatment, and be prepared to stand beside them again as they work toward long-term sobriety . But don’t assign yourself the responsibility to prevent any and all relapses. That simply isn’t a reasonable expectation—especially since substance use disorders cannot be cured. The danger of relapse is always present.

Don’t Go It Alone: We Can Help Your Loved One

At Farley Center, we are ready and able to help your loved one come to terms with their substance use disorder. We provide personalized care and offer resources for supporting sobriety after residential treatment is completed. We can also support friends and family by providing access to resources that can help you navigate the challenges of helping a loved one without losing your sense of self. We are eager to help.