Have you ever struggled with your loved one’s drug or alcohol use and not known what to do next?
Do you feel stressed, worried or alone?
Do you feel like you’ve tried everything and don’t know where to go for help and support?
Firstly, I need to acknowledge that this is National Carer’s Week. Did you know that looking after someone with a drug and alcohol problem makes you a carer? Having caring responsibilities can impact on every aspect of a person’s life. Not knowing how someone is going to ‘be’ on a daily basis can be incredibly stressful. Most people do not ask for help and the cycle of stress continues.
My clients are usually professional women living with a loved one’s substance use. They experience a great deal of guilt, shame, secrecy and stress and I work with them to reduce that stress and live a better life.
In this blog, I’m going to share with you my three top tips for helping you care for yourself while you’re caring for someone else.
1. Look after YOU
If you don’t look after yourself, and meet your own needs, it will be really hard to maintain your other responsibilities. This will impact on emotional, mental and physical health.
Most of my clients are working women, many with children. If their partners are drunk by 6pm or the dealer is dropping off their next mid-week bag, this usually means additional work after actual work! Hangovers and come downs at the weekend are common, so even more pressure is added for carers to run the home and care for children.
Maintaining the responsibility for EVERYTHING, including your loved one and their substance use, while holding down a career or running a business is just too much. Just giving yourself one hour per week to do something that you enjoy will allow you to switch off from your current situation and recharge your batteries.
2. Communicate your feelings
Try and speak to your loved one, about your situation, when they are sober. If they are drunk or intoxicated with drugs, the likelihood is, they will not listen to you at all. You will be wasting your energy, having conversations with somebody that is unlikely to remember the vast majority of it.
Positive communication is something I highly recommend.
If you communicate positively it reduces family/couples conflict. It gives you the opportunity to tell the other person how you feel. The idea is that you talk about your feelings, without being accusatory.
Many families do this the other way round. They voice their concerns when a loved one is intoxicated and hope everything will go back to normal, because they have a day (or a week) sober.
Save these discussion for when your loved one is sober. These are the times when I advise families to talk about the issues. These are the times their loved one will absorb those feelings, These are the times when change can be influenced.
3. Ask for help
Asking for help is so very hard. I know this as a recovering perfectionist. When we are proud human beings, fully in control and holding it together on the outside, asking for help can feel like a catastrophic fail. However, look at it in another way. Having ONE slightly uncomfortable conversation can relieve a whole load of stress for you and your loved one.
A great way of asking for help is to write out your support network and highlight any friends, family members, neighbours or co-workers that either know about your situation or who you would find helpful if they knew about it. There will always be some people to avoid with a bargepole with asks like this so don’t bother with them for ‘helping’ asks. We all have different people in our lives that bring different qualities, so bear that in mind when asking someone you’ve only known through your clubbing days for help with childcare. Save them for your next night out! We all need people we can simply have fun with.
The next step is to ring them and have a conversation about what you are going through and what you need. Avoid texts if you can. Your ask might be for practical or emotional support. I know it can feel like keeping your situation a secret is beneficial, but for who? Openness and transparency are approaches that help family members live a better life. It allows someone using substances to consider change. Secrets and lies do not.
If there are children involved, I would always recommend that you speak to them about the situation in an age-appropriate manner. They will know that something is going on. I have worked with children for 20 years and even though many cannot always name ‘addiction’, ‘alcohol’ or ‘drugs’, parental substance use does have an impact on them.
So…. in summary Help & Self Care = Recovery.
I can help
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