Ara's Blog- Self care is the first step to happiness
Do you think that it is possible for you to be happier than what you are right now?
If so what would that happiness depend on?
Does you answer involve your loved one’s recovery, him or her being better somehow, or reaching a recovery milestone?
If so this blog is for you my friend
The idea of your happiness not being dependent on your loved one’s recovery and the notion of self -care is an almost foreign language when you are in a relationship with someone dependent on substance. My guess is you have tried everything within your power to help your loved one and inadvertently forgotten your own needs in the process?
When I broach this subject with my clients it is apparent that the concept of self -care and increasing happiness is lost in translation, I am met with responses such as:
“How can I take care of myself when my daughter needs me? That’s selfish.” Or, “I’m focusing on getting my husband better, then I’ll think about me.” And, “I’m not the one with the problem, I just need to fix my sister then I’ll be okay.” Sound familiar?
What if I was to tell you that your self-care was key to improving your happiness, not your loved one’s recovery. Furthermore, increasing your happiness can actually positively influence the person in your life using. In other words your misery does not increase your loved ones recovery however your happiness just might.
How is that possible you ask? Well, emotions are sort of contagious. Have you ever noticed that if someone you love is upset then often you are also out of sorts? Well the same is true for the more positive emotions. If you are generally happier the people around you will feel this including your loved one using. Also, in taking care of your happiness by increasing your self -care you are influencing your family in a healthy way to do the same, including your using loved one.
Sounds good right ? So lets start at the basics of self care. A tool we use to help people access their self care is HALTS. HALTS is an acronym for hungry angry lonely tired sad /sick/stressed. Consider the 7 headings below
I know we have heard it before but are you eating well? REALLY! Do you put off eating telling yourself you are not hungry or you will eat better tomorrow? Are you more attuned to when your loved one last ate than to your own nutritional needs? Eating is imperative for emotional regulation, energy, and effective communication. You are more likely to respond effectively to the people in your life as well as the challenges of your day when you are well nourished rather than operating on starvation mode.
Anger is a powerful and needed emotion it informs us that we or someone else is being mistreated or that our rules for life are being broken. When in a relationship with a person using substances, anger can feel ever present, overwhelming, and exhausting. Anger will become your constant companion if you let it. If you are finding yourself angry with everyone and everything, take a step back and consider what other emotions may be in the mix. What are you telling yourself that is fueling the anger? Is it accurate? Is it helpful? Can you shift your focus and put anger down for a little while ?
We know that an absolute symptom of addiction is isolation for both family members and the person using. This is due to stigma, shame, and deep fears of being judged. These fears lead people to disconnect and withdraw from others in their communities who are able to offer support.
No one gets better in isolation, we need each other! You do not have to tell everyone what is going on for you I am not suggesting a Facebook post, but please do confide in one or two trusted people in your life.
When I was isolating as a result of the additions in my family my therapist said to me that I would be surprised by who would choose to stay in my life, who would leave, and who would come forward to support me. She was right. I was hurt by those who left, however some of my best friendships where formed in this harrowing time.
If you truly cannot share your situation with anyone you trust, access your local ALANON or CADS meetings or any other support, even if it is not addiction related. Enrolling in a dance class is still connecting you with others. Don’t forget everyone is struggling with inner troubles you know nothing about. You never know where support will show up but if you’re not connected then you’ll really never know- period.
Being tired affects our body, mind and spirit. When we fill our days with endless business and over do it for others, we are putting our health and relationships in jeopardy. Running on empty compromises our ability to think clearly and our capacity to respond and cope with challenges we face. If you are unable to increase your sleep right now, try engaging in more restful behaviors and activities. Practicing mindfulness can also be an effective way of engaging in self care as it allows us time to pause and focus on what is happening for us in the here and now.
Allow yourself the time and space to grieve for you and your loved one using. This is not the life you wished for them or yourself. However, all is not lost! By focusing on what you can control- namely your HALTS- you may experience a reduction of your sadness (refer to my blog on grieving).
When was the last time you attended any health care provider…, for you? Taking responsibility for your health needs to be paramount for you. Being healthy increases the likelihood that your substance using loved one will begin to recover. Are you exercising? Taking your medication as prescribed? Avoiding mood-altering drugs? These are a few basic questions to reflect on. You may have simply missed your yearly check up or rescheduled an appointment as a result of your hectic life. Due to the nature of being in a relationship with a loved one using it is not uncommon to forget yourself as you focus almost exclusively on their needs. Remember if you are unwell you are of no help to anyone else.
You may not even recognise your elevated stress levels as your tolerance to the chaos of addiction increases. However stress is inevitable when you are trying to control an uncontrollable situation. Breathe out and recognise that the only person you can change is yourself. Know that you are not responsible for anyone else’s behaviour except your own.
What are your go to de-stressors? is it being in the garden, a bubble bath, or coffee with a close friend? If you have neglected your antidotes to stress take time to re-introduce them to your daily life.
Being in a relationship with someone abusing substances can feel hopeless and personally helpless. However, we impact each other all of the time! What you do matters and you need to be as well as you can be. You can control your HALTS to some extent. Focusing on what you can do will provide a refuge when other things in your life are not so balanced or controlled.
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of self–care as the fist step in increasing your happiness. Taking care of yourself gives you the gift of being able to respond rather than react. It increases your ability to positively impact your loved ones wellbeing and ultimate recovery. It provides distance from the chaos you are experiencing as a result of your loved ones substance use and provides you with an essential break. You deserve to increase your happiness for yourself and everyone you love!
Happiness is not ready made. It comes from our own actions- Dalai Lama