Caring for a loved one with a substance abuse problem can easily become all-consuming. Caretakers can find themselves constantly monitoring them, searching for them, helping them out of jams, or cleaning up their various messes. There can be financial costs, parental costs, spousal costs, and especial temporal costs. The danger in this level of involvement is that the addict becomes the center of a caretakers world and they begin to neglect their other responsibilities. It is important that caretakers not neglect responsibility for their own lives in the midst of caring for an addict.
There are many ways to neglect personal responsibility for your own life. Perhaps one the primary areas that gets neglected is personal health. Anxiety, anger, and business can squeeze out many important factors for our own health. Often caretakers can find themselves losing sleep, neglecting to eat (or eating poorly), and generally failing to care for their bodies. Sleep in particular is of paramount importance. Sleep helps to regulate our life, it establishes a routine by which we live and develop a state of balance and normalcy in our lives. It also helps us to regulate our emotions.One sure way to set yourself up for personal problems (developments of depression, anxiety, etc.) is to neglect sleep.
Likewise, healthy eating should be a priority. We are whole-being people, meaning that our physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual elements are all intertwined. Failing to eat well and manage our diet in a healthy way can have negative impacts on the rest of our lives. Brad Hambrick, following Wayne Cordiero, notes some very important contributions of healthy eating. He states:
- Antioxidants combat the effects of free radicals, a primary source of the physiological deterioration caused by
depression-anxiety. Antioxidants include beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E.
- Carbohydrates have been linked to boosts in the neurotransmitter serotonin.
- Protein is known to boost the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine (Depression & Anxiety: Allowing God To Speak To Our Emotional Suffering, 9)
We must also considering the importance socialization. Failing to care for our own social lives can be immensely damaging. Loving and caring for the addict in your life can become so life-consuming that it actually isolates you from others. It is important to have a few close friends or a small group that can continue to encourage you, pray for you, weep with you, and walk alongside you in this difficult season of life. Just as the addict needs support, so the care-taker needs support. Make it a priority and part of our weekly routine to be in good, healthy, and meaningful contact with others, especially wise and godly believers who can support you and give you Biblical counsel.
There are also general life responsibilities that we must prioritize. There are bills to be paid, clothes to be washed, meals to be prepared, and a household to be managed. If we neglect these basic responsibilities we will add both layers of complexity to our life and possible even nagging guilt. If we get too far behind on certain life management elements we will find ourselves overwhelmed, feeling like we are drowning in a sea of responsibilities that, in normal circumstances, would be entirely manageable. We can also increase a sense of guilt for falling behind on these issues, which only adds to our emotional struggles and sense of hopelessness.
Finally, we must prioritize our spiritual health. If we are not taking responsibility for our own spiritual growth we will lack the power and strength we need to press on in difficulty. God is our refuge, our strong tower (Ps. 61:3), we need Him and must depend upon Him. If we neglect our spiritual relationship we will find ourselves flailing about without an anchor in the midst of a great storm. James tells us that without faith we will be “like a wave of the sea tossed by the wind” (James 1:6), so we must prioritize those things which will strengthen our faith.
Self-care is exceedingly important in the midst of caring for those addicts whom we love. Think of it like the oxygen mask on the airplane. We must put the mask on ourselves before we seek to help someone else with their mask. If we don’t the chances are that we will lose oxygen ourselves and fail to sustain help for the other person. Taking responsibility for your own life will enable you to sustain help for others. Make sure that in helping others you don’t neglect personal responsibility.