Self-care and self-love aren’t just trending topics. They’re not just “all the rage” in the new year, or the last. While they are concepts that have recently been brought to the forefront of personal development, largely due to the fact that the internet has allowed us to better share our collective experiences and learn from each other and ourselves, they are also concepts that have been around for a while, and are very important to leading a happy life. Self-care isn’t just for those struggling with mental illness or trying to better their relationships or careers: it is absolutely for everyone. Even counsellors and social workers practice self-care to help them serve their communities best.
While self-care is a quite well defined concept, it’s not so black-and-white in its applications. That is, how you “follow the guidelines” absolutely will vary based on who you are dealing with, and how much you love them. For instance, a new and casual friend who thought it appropriate to constantly judge my career decisions would be dismissed as potentially toxic, but my mother will have a little more leeway, both because we know each other well, and because she has more warrant to give me advice, especially when she feels I’m not living up to my full potential.
One issue that greys the line more than most is dealing with a loved one who is addicted. All of the self-care handbooks agree that learning to say no and ending toxic relationships are at the very top of the list, and for the most part, they are right. But when it comes to someone close to you, just how far can they push before the relationship becomes wholly toxic, and how much help should we offer them, especially if they are seeking help to recover?
Those questions do not have black-and-white answers, which makes this a very difficult topic to broach. However, I feel like coming at it from a self-care state of mind can help you make the right decisions without worrying that you are abandoning someone important in their time of need. While things like eating healthy, exercising, and participating in activities that you enjoy are important aspects of taking care of yourself, experts agree that self-care’s top priority is maintaining mental health. Watching someone you love deteriorate is certainly taxing, and if you’re not careful, allowing their problems to consume too much of you can be extremely detrimental to your health.
So, instead of telling you what you should do when a loved one is struggling with this problem, I’ll offer a few areas for you to consider, and how you can look at them all with self-care at the forefront of your mind.
Step 1: Set clear boundaries
When you realise that someone close to you may have a serious problem, the first step is to set boundaries. If you don’t make it clear what you are willing to tolerate and what you are not, your loved one may harbour resentment when you finally do call them out for crossing the line. Communication is always a top priority in relationships, which is why setting boundaries from the get-go is so important. It is also the first step toward taking care of yourself, as it takes the responsibility of maintaining the relationship out of your hands and puts it in the others, which is appropriate when things are thrown out of balance by a negative change in their life.
When setting boundaries, it’s important to be very clear. Don’t try to beat around the bush to spare feelings. If you don’t want them to ask you for money, or bring drugs into your home, or be around you high, make those stipulations as plain and direct as possible. It might spurn the other person to begin an argument with you, but do your best to quash it by letting them know that you aren’t looking to discuss the possibility of events, you are just trying to make clear that there will be consequences should sad events happen. The last step to setting boundaries is to preserve your work by sticking to them. It may seem counter-productive to do something that may cause you a large amount of guilt, but following through is the only way to keep yourself from turning into a doormat, and thus, take care of yourself first.
Step 2: Understand the difference between helping and enabling
This is one of those huge grey areas, and it will vary from person to person. It’s easy to fall into the trap of fearing that someone will end up in a worse predicament if you don’t help them, or that their addiction will get worse if they are abandoned. Helping someone help themselves is one thing, but “helping” someone by giving them money or a place to live can quickly turn into you enabling them to continue their harmful lifestyle. This can snowball into more severe enabling behaviors, like consistently bailing them out of bad situations, lying for them, or putting their needs above your own, which is completely contrary to self-love.
The best thing you can do is try and be blatantly honest with yourself about what your needs are, and about your enabling behaviours. One distinction to make is whether you are helping someone get better, or whether you are helping them maintain or get worse. The latter two fall under the umbrella of enablement. For example, letting someone live with you without putting in their share is enabling, unless they decide to enter an outpatient rehab program as opposed to the traditional inpatient treatment. If giving of yourself allows them to get better, it does not violate self-care mantras, but if it doesn’t, it can take a toll on your mental health very quickly.
Step 3: Learn to accept that it’s not your responsibility to “fix” them
This can be the hardest step for a lot of people. There are many reasons it is so difficult to let go: you knew who the person was before their addiction, and know they can overcome it. You love them so much that you believe it will hurt more to not have them in your life than it would to watch them deteriorate and take you down with them. Maybe you, like many, have a giving personality, and so it’s simply in your nature to try and give someone the benefit of the doubt, as well as a hand up, in tough situations.
It’s not easy to let go of the idea of helping someone, especially since there are healthy ways to help them, should they want it. But don’t get that confused with the fact that you can’t “fix” them yourself, nor is it your responsibility. Addiction is a disease, and it does affect a person’s brain. No matter how much you want them to be their former self, they just won’t, not until their better. And unfortunately, you cannot help an addict by either making them stop or doing the recovery work for them.
What you can do, though, is take care of yourself, and hope for the best. It is possible to love an addict, and to be there for them within the boundaries you set, but that’s about as far as you can take it. That’s why self-care is so important when someone close to you is addicted and you aren’t ready to give up on them quite yet.
The last thing to remember, though, is that it may get to this point, and detoxing them from your life may actually be the most compassionate thing you can do.
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Author: Piper Kerrigan
Piper is a professional baker, party/wedding planner, and DIY extraordinaire. In her free time she enjoys traveling the Pacific Northwest and snuggling her cat Sebastian.