I am a caretaker at heart. I am naturally a helper, giver, and rescuer, particularly intensified by living with addiction. I am one of those mothers who lost herself in her son’s addiction, and one of those women up to her elbows in alcoholics most of her life. I like taking care of others, being the strong, concerned, and steady one, and at the same time I realize my own journey starts and ends with the self. A balanced relationship with myself is the foundation for all other relationships in my life.
It takes a firm commitment to make well-being a priority. The easiest way for me to remember to take care of myself is to do what I would normally do or wish to do for a loved one or a valued friend. It helps me to nurture myself by reversing the Golden Rule:
“Do unto yourself, as you would do unto others”.
In other words, do “kindness” to myself, do “giving” to myself, do “saving” for myself. By putting myself in my loved one’s position, I can see I deserve much better treatment. Another way I remember to care for myself is to notice people who do take good care of themselves. Whether it is a family member, friend, a sponsor, a co-worker, a life coach, or anyone who can show me the way, I listen to them.
I handled vast amounts of stress, without tending to my own needs, for a long time. I felt like I had to take care of everyone around me. I usually kept this up until I became physically ill. For instance, I drove myself to the emergency room after work one day, so sick I lay on the floor, while waiting my turn. When the nurse finally came to get me, she had to help me to the hospital bed, where they hooked me up to an IV, because I was dehydrated and had walking pneumonia. I drove myself home after a couple of hours of recuperating, and told my husband and son I was fine.
The truth was I was not fine. The truth was I didn’t want to appear indulgent, weak, or needy, and I didn’t want to face the fact I was falling apart. My body was trying to tell me to pay attention to my own needs, but I wasn’t ready to listen. Self-care was the furthest thing from my mind at that time. I thought I had more important things to focus on, like trying to control the drinking going on in my home. I was making sure my life looked normal to the outside world, and staying busy to avoid my real feelings. I was striving to appear completely happy, covering up uncomfortable situations, while denying the reality around me.
When I lost my son to addiction, it became essential for me to take care of myself, in order to even begin the healing process. I had to value my well-being enough to commit to grief counseling every week, and pay attention to my physical body, my emotional needs, and my spiritual life. I needed to let go of my life-long pattern of avoiding my true feelings. I had to allow myself to be vulnerable, honest, and not strong. So, NOT strong.
At first it felt uncomfortable giving myself so much attention. But, I knew I had to put on the oxygen mask first, even if the needs of others had to wait. Things like a simple walk, getting enough rest, eating healthy food, praying, and sharing my honest feelings with others, made a tremendous difference.
I learned addiction is a three-fold disease—physical, emotional, and spiritual—for both the addict and those affected by it.
Addicts are addicted to their substance of choice, and codependents are addicted to their addicts.
I can’t give what I don’t have. If I am going to contribute meaningfully, I need to care for myself in the same way I care for others, and with the same fervor I cared for my son, Cody.
Mary Cucarola – January 2016