How can you manage your caregiving role while still maintaining your sobriety?
Being a caregiver of an elderly parent or disabled loved one is never easy. It can be even harder if you are trying to be a caregiver while in recovery. The stress of taking care of another’s needs may be so great at times, it can lead to the desire to drink or use. If not dealt with in healthy ways, caregiving can be a dangerous role that could lead to relapse.
More than fifty million Americans care for a chronically ill, aged, or dis- abled loved one. Deborah, a recovering alcoholic, will be celebrating her birthday on Sunday. She plans to invite her aging mother for dinner because Deborah would feel guilty if she didn’t. But the truth is that Deborah would like to celebrate with her young children and be spared her mother’s litany of ailments and complaints.
“I love her,” says Deborah, “but my mother feels so sorry for herself that it’s hard to be around her a lot. I try to do everything I can for her. I’m constantly taking her to doctors. I have her over for dinner twice a week. I take her shop- ping. But I have a job and a husband, and my children need me. Plus I have my own health problems. It just gets to be too much.”
Love, a sense of commitment, or guilt may thrust you into a caregiving situation. Some take on the caregiving role willingly, others reluctantly. In either case, caregiving can disrupt family life, strain resources, and create emotional chaos. Deborah will need to take extra care of herself and keep working a strong AA program to avoid relapse.
Studies show that family caregivers are more likely than non-caregivers to experience strokes, heart attacks, depression, and anxiety. The stress and isolation brought on by caregiving may lead to feelings of anger, resentment, and grief. Caregivers are also at increased risk for unhealthy behaviors such as overeating and substance use disorders; those recovering from addictions may be at greater risk for relapse. As a recovering person, it can be particularly difficult if you are caring for a parent that never really cared for you while you were growing up.
While many caregiving situations may develop into an unmanageable bur- den, that doesn’t need to be the case. Caregiving can be a positive experience, one that brings families together during a difficult time. The Twelve Steps can help caregivers let go of the burden of caring for another. Caregivers can find serenity when they come to trust a power greater than themselves with the outcome.
Bob, a recovering addict whose mother died recently, relied on the Serenity Prayer when his mother’s health declined and she alternated between demanding his help and resisting it. “I used to worry about her falling, and sometimes I would get angry when she treated me like I was still nine years old,” he said. “But then I figured, what’s the point? I can’t change her.”
The Serenity Prayer helped Bob deal with his powerlessness: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Bob set some boundaries for himself. He learned how to say no without feeling guilty, and he practiced detachment with love. Detachment means respecting the other person’s right to make choices. It is remembering that you cannot control anyone else’s feelings, thoughts, or behavior, and that you are not responsible for them.
Detachment is a delicate matter for caregivers, who must step in when the relative can’t make sound decisions. Assuming the role of parenting your parent can be highly stressful. Detachment means taking care of yourself. Bob saw to it that his mother got good care, but he didn’t let her chronic condition trap him in a life of despair. Between visits, he found ways to relax and enjoy himself.