If your loved one suffers from a substance use disorder, you know how hard it can be to try to care for them. All too often, loved ones of those who have an addiction get overwhelmed by worry, frustration, and the sheer work of trying to take care of the person. As such, it’s easy for close family members and friends to feel symptoms of burnout.
As defined by the Cleveland Clinic, “Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that can happen when you dedicate time and energy to manage the health and safety of someone else.” Caregiver burnout happens when the person providing the care doesn’t take care of themselves. Burnout feels like someone has thrown a wet blanket over your inner flame, smothering your enthusiasm and energy.
Are you on the road to burnout? How can you take care of yourself when your loved one is suffering?
Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout
The Cleveland Clinic lists the following symptoms of caregiver burnout. If they look familiar, it’s because they are very similar to symptoms of stress and depression. They are also, interestingly, similar to symptoms of substance use disorder.
- Emotional and physical exhaustion
- Withdrawal from friends, family and other loved ones
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Feeling hopeless and helpless
- Changes in appetite and/or weight
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Unable to concentrate
- Getting sick more often
- Irritability, frustration or anger toward others
Addiction is called a “family disease” for a reason. Everyone suffers: not just the person with the addiction. If you’re feeling a number of the symptoms listed above, it’s time to step back, take a breath, and then take action to help spark your inner flame.
Boundaries Rekindle the Flame
If you are at all familiar with the topic of addiction, you’ve heard the term “enabling.” To enable someone with substance use disorder means to help them in ways that make it easy for them to continue in their addiction.
So if some of the burnout you’re feeling comes from all you’re doing to cover your loved one’s responsibilities, stop. Set boundaries. When you gently refuse to continue doing extra work around the house; making excuses to the person’s employer, friends, and family members to explain their absence; supporting the person financially; letting them bring alcohol or drugs into the home, etc., you are motivating the person to get the help they need.
It won’t feel that way at first. You might feel like you’re being “mean” or selfish or heartless. Your loved one might accuse you of being these things. But stick with it. When your loved one is allowed to experience the consequences of their actions, they will realize that they have a problem and that they need to get well.
If setting boundaries feels more draining than just giving in and enabling the person, it’s time to seek outside support.
Asking for Help Rekindles the Flame
You are not alone in your struggles in caring for someone with addiction. One way to remind yourself that others face similar burdens is to attend a support group. Al-Anon is a program designed for family members and friends of people with addiction, and meetings are available in just about every city in the U.S. and also online. At Al-Anon, you’ll learn how to stop enabling your loved one and focus on your own needs. You’ll learn more about that compulsion you have to “fix” people and/or to put everyone’s needs before your own.
In addition to support groups, individual therapy is an excellent tool for unpacking your motivations, learning more about how you function in relationships, and finding the courage to care for yourself.
Self-Care Rekindles the Flame
As you start to set boundaries and seek out peer and professional support, you’ll start to see the ways you’ve treated your body and mind unkindly. You’ll start to recognize what you need every day to feel calm and at peace. Self-care is not selfish. Self-care means giving yourself the fuel–and the rest–you need to thrive. When you thrive, you make better decisions, see situations more clearly, and are in a stronger position from which to help (but not enable!) others.
Basic self-care includes eating well, sleeping well, and moving your body in ways that keep it flexible and strong. Self-care includes managing your time, prioritizing, and knowing when to say “no.” It involves caring for your creative and spiritual self. This might mean spending time in nature, attending religious services, engaging in an artistic pursuit–anything that helps you express your unique personality, connect with your inner quiet, and experience the feeling of awe.
Start Small, But Start!
If you’re not sure how or where to start feeling better, talk with a therapist or reach out to our team at St. Gregory in Bayard, Iowa. We can talk with you how to get your addicted loved one into treatment. We can also recommend our family program that helps family members learn about addiction and how to communicate with and support each other.