Supporting an addict is a daunting and overwhelming task, no matter who it is and to what they are addicted. The job becomes exponentially more difficult when that person is your spouse.
Not only are you trying to help your partner, but you’re also trying to protect your marriage, children, household, and finances.
It may seem selfish to spend any amount of time and energy on yourself when you have so many other responsibilities, but constantly putting yourself on the back burner can cause burnout and compassion fatigue, which is a state of being cold and distant toward the addicted loved one as well as other people or yourself.
Self-care will make you a better caretaker to your spouse and help you to better serve others who may need you, such as your children or other family members.
Here are 5 ways you can sustain your own health while caring for your addicted spouse.
1. Take Care of Your Body
It’s always important to care for your body, but it’s especially important during times of excessive stress. While supporting your spouse, ensure that you eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, get adequate sleep, and spend time exercising and being active.
Avoid substances like tobacco or excessive alcohol, as well as foods and drinks that are high in sugar and caffeine. If you don’t have time to hit the gym, even a ten-minute walk around the block can do wonders for your health.
All these things are imperative for a person’s physical and mental well-being. As the saying goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Make sure your body is well nourished in all the possible ways so that you are physically prepared to take on the challenges before you. Plus, eating well and being physically active makes you feel good.
2. Don’t Take on Too Much
Caring for an addicted spouse is a full-time job on its own. If you have kids, you’ll likely be their primary caretaker through your spouse’s recovery. You’re also, by default, responsible for your household, finances, and job.
This is an enormous amount of responsibility for anyone to handle on their own; be careful not to add to your already staggering plate by taking on extra tasks. The company picnic planning committee, the PTA, and the church bake sale will all be fine without you.
Don’t be afraid to say “no” to a new commitment. Allow, or even ask others to step up and help you while you focus on your own family and yourself. Shun any guilt others may try to lay on you; that’s negativity you don’t need.
3. Keep Your Normal Routine
The world of addiction and recovery is a chaotic one. You’re likely dealing with doctor visits, support group meetings, individual or family therapy sessions, and maybe even court dates and hearings. It’s immensely helpful in times of chaos to maintain a sense of normalcy and order wherever possible.
Keep your kids involved in their normal classes and extracurricular activities. Use the same days for errands, play dates, and standing appointments. Have the family wake up, eat meals together, and go to bed at the normal time, even if your partner isn’t present or doesn’t join in the routine.
While these things may seem insignificant, these little snippets of routine in an otherwise messy time will help you and your family cope with caring for your loved one and give you, the spouse, a sense of control in your life.
4. Manage Your Stress
Supporting a spouse with an addiction can easily send your own stress levels sky-high. Not only is it unhealthy to sustain high levels of stress over long periods of time, but you cannot be an effective caregiver to your spouse in this state.
Make it a priority to find an outlet for your stress; yoga and meditation are popular choices of stress relief. You may also find solace in running, journaling, tai chi, reading, or listening to relaxing music. There are a variety of activities available to you; make the time for what works for you. Schedule a weekly massage if you have to.
Try to avoid inactive ways of relieving stress, such as watching tv or playing video games, as these methods can actually have the opposite effect on your mental health. Caring for your spouse and family during this time is likely one of the most difficult situations you will ever navigate, and you deserve to take time to relax and recover.
A life of caring for an addicted loved one can be a very lonely one. You may feel you don’t have the time for outside relationships; you might feel selfish in spending time with friends, or you may even feel embarrassed or ashamed of your family’s current situation. Fight the temptation to succumb to the isolation. Try to have regular chats and visits with friends.
Meet a friend for coffee, have lunch with a coworker, strike up a conversation with the cashier at the grocery store. Do whatever it takes to maintain a sense of self and identity outside of “caregiver.” By doing so, not only do you boost your own emotional health, but you will become a better caregiver by decreasing the risk of burnout.
Don’t Underestimate Your Worth
When you’re married to an addict and trying to support him or her through recovery, it’s easy to convince yourself that your care isn’t as important as your spouse’s. On the contrary, you are extremely important and worth every bit of self-love and care you can find for yourself.
If you explore these ideas and strategies for self-care and you find yourself thinking you aren’t worth it, consider seeking professional help in the form of a therapist or a support group for families of addicts, such as Al-anon. No matter how isolated you feel, remember that you’re not alone and you don’t have to walk this difficult path by yourself.
You have already proven your strength and your worth just by stepping up to the task of caring for an addict. You are a hero, and you should treat yourself as such.