I've written about this issue before, for example in the blog post entitled "Parents Need Recovery Too," which I wrote for the Heroes in Recovery website back in February. But today while I was re-reading the Center for Motivation and Change's publication The Parent's 20 Minute Guide: A Guide for Parents About How to Help Their Children Change Their Substance Use, I found their explanation about why self-care is so important to be spot-on:
"If you love someone with a substance use problem, worry, frustration, and feelings of helplessness probably consume large amounts of your time and energy. Even more so if that someone is your child. As you focus on your child, taking care of yourself probably falls to the bottom of your list, if it makes the list at all. You might reason that you'll feel better when your child gets better, so it makes sense to prioritize his needs at your (and perhaps the rest of the family's) expense for now. This impulse to suspend paying attention to your own health and happiness is understandable but is likely to cause more problems than you realize if it causes you to be reactive, anxious, or easily frustrated. Your child is struggling with a variety of issues (all in the spirit of growing up!) and he needs you to be strong, calm, and optimistic. It helps if you are sleeping, eating well, and finding some comfort and joy in your life. It helps if you don't hang your wellbeing on his. Having your health and outlook on life be dependent on the choices your child makes can be too much for a child--even an adult child--to bear.
"Taking care of yourself is vital to helping your child and the rest of your family. Try to resist the impulse to put your life on hold and live only in emergency/panic mode. How can you possibly go to a movie when you're worried that your child is out getting high again?! Well, what if taking a break from worrying is the most helpful thing you could do right now, and you can learn how?
"Remember the safety announcement on planes before takeoff: secure your own oxygen mask first before you help someone else. This is for the benefit of the whole group. Helping works the same way on the ground. You need a certain amount of 'oxygen' (sleep, nutrition, exercise, socializing, and fun) to sustain you as you help your child. Without attention to your own needs, you risk collapsing before you manage to help. Even if you stay standing, you won't be able to think, plan, act, and troubleshoot as effectively--as you can when you're healthy, optimistic, and resilient."
That pretty much sums it up. Taking care of YOU should be a top priority.
Trust me. Early on in my son's battle with addiction I did not take care of myself. I was totally consumed by my son's issues--addicted to his addiction--and it was the worst thing possible, both for me and the rest of my family. Years later, when I finally realized that my life had value, too, and I started taking care of myself, it was a game-changer for everyone involved.
If you're new to the parent-of-an-addicted-child world, the concept of self-care may seem completely foreign to you. But you owe it to yourself, your child, and the rest of your family to get on board and start treating yourself like you matter, too. Because you do.
P.S. The Center for Motivation and Change's 20 Minute Guide is a companion to their book Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change. I cannot recommend these publications highly enough and wish they'd been around years ago when my wife and I first became aware of our son's addiction issues.
(Note: Excerpt from The Parent's 20 Minute Guide: A Guide for Parents About How to Help Their Children Change Their Substance Use is Copyright © 2013 by Center for Motivation & Change. All rights reserved.)