THE BLOG
11/05/2010 08:41 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Importance of Taking Care of Yourself While Helping the Alcoholic/Addict

If you can't take care of yourself, it's difficult to be of help to anyone else. Dealing with the alcoholic or addict in your life (whether in recovery or not) can be an emotional, physical and financial drain. You can find yourself exhausted before you even get out of bed in the morning. So, here are some suggestions that I have used and passed on to my clients as they deal, day in and day out, with their loved ones' substance abuse issues. These might be just the balance you need to find a healthier, personal lifestyle just for you.

1) Replenish Yourself

Whether you get weekly massages, practice yoga, swim, hop into your Jacuzzi, hike, or spend five minutes quietly meditating each morning or night, it is important to shut off your brain as you take deep breaths and focus on your own center core. Self-replenishment time is a quiet space between you and whatever you connect with spiritually, emotionally or physically.

When I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life, distressed over my loved one's addiction issues and questioning career decisions and my marital choice, I found a mantra that I would repeat as many as 50 times a day, six little words that helped me out of many a woe-is-me, pity-pot state of mind: "I'm working toward better days ahead."

This mantra is as simple as it gets, but stating it out loud gave me hope and encouragement that I was doing the best I could with the tools I had at that particular time. It was my way of replenishing me, shutting my brain off from too much gibberish. It was nonjudgmental, held no pressure to perform, and because of that I was able to be kind, gentle and patient with myself.

If the day found me only brushing my teeth and walking the dog, so be it; other days I might accomplish more. Either way, I was working toward better days ahead at my speed, through my way. These words kept me focused and confident that if I put one foot in front of the other (no matter how small the step), kept a positive attitude, and stayed open-minded to what might present itself, I would one day reach those "better days" that I had hoped and prayed for.

2) Do Volunteer Work

Nothing is better for the soul than getting away from focusing on oneself. Taking time once or twice a week to do volunteer work is not only rewarding, but it also allows you to step back, give of yourself and feel grateful for all that you have. It can be a peaceful breath of fresh air to do simple things for others without fear of judgment or reprimand, and to experience only heartfelt appreciation.

I love horses and dogs, so I volunteer at a therapeutic riding academy and stroll with my Golden Retriever Lucy at the local hospital. Once a week, Lucy wags her tail and spreads slobbery cheer to all the cancer patients. It is something I am dedicated to, and it is on my calendar regardless of how I am feeling that day; it helps me stay humble and grateful.

3) Find Your Passion

I strongly believe in the importance for the alcoholic or addict of finding a passion to take the place of their former drinking or drug buddy. Refocusing one's time, energy, emotions, and physical state is one of the key factors toward developing a successful and satisfying clean and sober lifestyle.

The same is true for the family member or friend who has spent so much time thinking and focusing on their loved one's addiction issues. Reinstate an old passion or find a new one that you can sink your teeth into and can look forward to participating in. Whether it's bird-watching, painting, bowling, attending a book club, or learning how to play bridge, jump in with both feet.

In the last five-plus years, working on my book has become my passion. I was going through some very trying personal times with the alcoholic in my life and was grateful that I could lose myself in the private complexities of writing.

While finding your passion, make sure that you don't place unrealistic terms or conditions on it. The whole point is to look forward to participating in this, no matter how long it takes or how well you master it. It is good to have a schedule and a goal (complacency can become a bad habit), as it's too easy to say, "I don't have time for this," or, "I don't need to pin anything down right now." Keep on track and on schedule. Having dates to strive toward shows responsibility of self and a state of calm and is more productive than just bumping along the bottom and going with whatever the day or week may bring.

So, what happens if you've bitten off more than you have time for, or if you really don't have the talent to draw landscapes? I'm a strong believer in having a Plan B or "alternative airport." A Plan B has a reassuring effect on you if your Plan A does not come to fruition; you're not a failure if Plan A doesn't work, just regrouping.

For example: you give yourself one year to see your passion take root (e.g., starting a catering company, writing a book, going back to school to learn a trade or profession). If you don't feel like you have made some significant headway by the time that scheduled date rolls around, then move on to your Plan B (e.g., taking a non-entrepreneurial job, writing short stories instead of your novel, taking a different class, or exiting the scholastic world altogether).

When we can see a new, creative path unfold in front of us and be jazzed about it, the alcoholic or addict is no longer the center of our thinking, or at least not as much as before. Give yourself and your brain something new to tackle. This can only be good and productive for both of you!

If I can be of service, please visit my website, www.familyrecoverysolutions.com. I invite you to explore my new book, "Reclaim Your Life: You and the Alcoholic/Addict," at www.reclaimyourlifebook.com.