Putting Your Oxygen Mask on First: Self-Care

by Cathy Taughinbaugh
June 17, 2019

If you don’t take care of yourself, it’s difficult to help anyone else.

Dealing with a child struggling with addiction can be an emotional, physical, and financial drain. You may find yourself exhausted before you even get out of bed in the morning.

Not only are you dealing with sleepless nights, but also the daily worry and fear for your child’s safety.

Here are some suggestions that helped me when I was dealing with the day-in and day-out stress of my child’s substance use issues.

Replenish Yourself
It takes time to change a habit, such as substance use. That is why it is essential to find ways to give your brain a break.

Some of the things that help me are to practice yoga, go on a long walk, or spend ten minutes meditating each morning. I found that during that time, I would come up with new ideas, feel more positive, and reconnect with myself.

There is nothing better than exercise to get the endorphins going. Exercise helped me feel happier and more at peace with my situation. Being active is one way to get that spiritual, emotional, and physical lift that is so needed.

From my yoga class, I learned about meditation and its benefits. It was something that seemed foreign to me at first. Yet when I tried it for even a few minutes each day, I could feel a slight shift in my ability to stay calm and centered.


Find an Objective Listener
Don’t try to handle the problem alone.

I found it helpful to talk to someone who was not invested in my family’s issue. It could be a counselor, a member of the clergy, or someone you met in a group meeting.

This helpful quote from Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, authors of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, explains why it is crucial to reach out. “Speak to someone who is not emotionally invested in your problem. When problems arise, your brain is constantly thinking, constantly sorting, and analyzing information to decide the best course of action. The problem is, the only information your brain has to go on is what you’ve given it—what you’ve seen before and what’s happening now. The way our minds are structured, it’s far too easy to get stuck in a single train of thought. Allow this to happen, and you’re severely limiting your options.”

Reach out and connect with someone who can be of help.

Write Down Your Feelings
I was not a journal writer before my child got caught up in substance use. Yet once I started, I found that it helped me stay focused. Writing down my thoughts released the negative brain chatter that I couldn’t seem to stop in any other way. Once I was able to get my thoughts down on paper, I felt lighter as I went about my day. 

When we are dealing with substance use, there will be many pent-up emotions. It’s a release to write about your feelings. It can be a vehicle to find answers.

Research has shown that even if you write a short paragraph a few times a week, it will lower your stress levels.

Practice Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is not self-pity. It is not your fault that your child turned to drugs or alcohol to ease his or her pain.

Treat yourself with the same understanding, empathy, and good wishes as you would for a friend.

Self-compassion requires self-kindness. Be gentle and understanding with yourself instead of critical and judgmental. Don’t ignore your pain and don’t exaggerate it.

When our kids are struggling, we need all the friends we can get. Being a good friend to yourself is an excellent place to start.

Explore Gratitude 
You will feel happier when you are grateful for what is going well in your life. Appreciate your other children and/or your partner. Give them your time and attention.

Train your mind to look for the positive. Notice the shift that evolves. You will be less likely to get caught up in a negative cycle of all that is going wrong.

Don’t allow yourself to be the victim. Cultivate your inner strength so that you can continue to move forward.

We need to acknowledge the sorrow and pain that we are feeling.

We also need to work through the process and be open to allowing change to evolve.

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Cathy Taughinbaugh

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