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Caring for Yourself in Order to Care for Someone Else

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By Cindy Brody, Director of Intensive Services at Center for Motivation & Change

Many parents who have a child struggling with substance abuse notice that these concerns start to consume huge amounts of time and energy.  As you’ve probably experienced, under the best of circumstances with kids, it’s hard to carve out space to focus on yourself. When your child and your family is dealing with something as complicated and anxiety-provoking as substance abuse, it can feel impossible to have room for anything other than trying to help, reacting to the latest crisis, and dealing with  all the “have tos” minute to minute, day to day.

In this environment, taking care of yourself falls to the bottom of the list, if it makes the list at all! However, even though it might be the furthest thing from your mind (e.g. how can I go to the movies when I’m worried my child might be out getting high again?), finding some room to focus on self-care is really vital if you are going to be and remain helpful to your child and the rest of your family. This is about resisting your instincts to put your life aside by going into emergency/panic mode.

This is a long-term project; a marathon, not a sprint. Similar to running a marathon, you need to keep your energy reserves up and pace yourself for the long and sometimes bumpy road ahead. We are not being touchy-feely psychologists when we say this. We are trying to help you be tactical in the midst of a difficult struggle, and it matters. Try to keep in mind what they say on planes before takeoff: if the oxygen masks are needed, resist the urge to put it on others before you put it on yourself. Many people have the impulse to help their loved ones BEFORE they help themselves. But the oxygen recommendation is not that you alone use it; it’s to make sure you are getting at least some oxygen, and don’t entirely ignore yourself. Without attention to this, the “helpers” (that’s you) get lost along the way (”lack of oxygen”), and can’t guide, direct, think, and help anymore.

We also realize that no one wants to hear that the problem they are facing is likely to be a long haul as opposed to a short crisis. We do know, however, that taking care of YOU will help YOU ALL stay healthy as you navigate this, and will also help you be as effective as possible in working on all the challenges involved in trying to help your child.

We recommend that you spend some time each week doing something that makes you feel good, relaxed, content, soothed…something that’s a WANT, not a SHOULD. We recommend that each week, you take a few minutes to review how your self-care is going and to set reasonable, SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) for taking care of yourself in the week ahead.  You might find yourself wondering how in the world you can make this a priority when you have so many other, more urgent demands to attend to.  We ask you to try, because the oxygen mask metaphor is true: you won’t be any good to anyone else if you are not taking care of you.

What’s your SMART self-care goal for this week?

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The Center for Motivation & Change (CMC) is a unique, NYC-based private group practice of dedicated clinicians and researchers providing non-ideological, evidence-based, effective treatment of addictive disorders and other compulsive behaviors. CMC’s treatment approach is informed by a strong commitment to both the humanity and the science of change, providing a unique, compelling, and inspiring environment in which to begin the process of change. Staffed by a group of experienced psychologists, CMC takes pride in their collective record of clinical research and administrative experience but most of all are driven by an optimism about people’s capacity to change and a commitment to the science of change.

Learn more about Center for Motivation & Change and read about our unique and effective approach to treating addictive disorders, and meet CMC’s directorial staff and clinical staff. To find more resources for families, please see our Parent’s 20 Minute Guide, and our Family Blog.  And to learn more about CRAFT, see our CRAFT Family Services page. Find us on Facebook and Twitter for additional content and the latest updates.

3 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Sara
    Sara / January 12, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    I am the Mum of a 21yr old now Meth / P Addict. My daughter has had a bit to do with drugs since her teens, Last year things changed. She left her job and went downhill from there, she no longer has job interviews or dresses well, she is so untidy it drives me insane, I found a box of syringes which answers my questions about her nasty moods. She has cost me thousands of dollars (which was for a house deposit), she sold my partners camera and she leaves her stuff where ever she goes. She lost her laptop that I am still paying off. She has no respect for a car that I pay to be on the road. I cannot stand a certain group of people she associates with and it drives me insane. I am trying so hard to keep a relationship with my daughter and it is so hard. I cannot accept what she is doing. I get so hurt with the way I speak and handle things. I’m glad I came across this site and found that there are other people facing the same problems. I just want my baby girl back, we had such a good relationship, now its hard to be in the same room when she is on a comedown or high. I am just used. I would never see her live on the street, Its really difficult to cope and so depressing. I don’t know how this will get better. So much for paying attention to my own job today, while I surf the internet looking for a magic cure for my beautiful daughter who is now owned by a syringe. How do you really think positive and look at it as a disease.. Even trying to go away for a couple of days is distressing, Don’t trust leaving her the house anymore.

  2. Carol / July 19, 2013 at 1:44 am

    Just as when you bring your newborn home during those first few weeks; you need to have time to rest in order to properly care for your baby and many new mothers get help from family. It’s just as important when they’re older to maintain this and make time for yourself so you can continue being the best you can.

  3. Avatar of CSAtlanta
    CSAtlanta / July 12, 2013 at 1:32 am

    Gee, I never really thought about taking care of one’s self first and foremost.
    We as mothers are so focused on our children, that it is nearly impossible to think about anything other than THEM.

    thank you for insight and letting parents understand that there needs to be room for YOU. I think this would help you to be a better parent and couselor. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the problems that we are unable to see clearly and may overreact.
    Thanks for the insight!

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