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(Trauma) Recovery Caregiving: 10 Tips to Navigate the Chaos

Larry is at his wits end. “I just can’t depend on Carla,” he says. “Some days she seems fine and can handle life’s daily stressors, and then other days she forgets to follow through on chores we’ve agreed to or to even show up where we’ve decided to meet. I know recovery is hard so I try and try to give her as much room as possible. Still, sometimes I just lose patience with all of this.”

Anyone can understand Larry’s frustration. Being a caregiver to someone in recovery for trauma and addiction is a thankless, tiring and (I’ll say it) burdensome job. The role of being partner, parent, boss and sponsor all rolled into one can be draining, time-consuming and over-demanding. When I meet caregivers like Larry the first thing I do is remind them, “You matter too.”

Caregivers and Self-Neglect

Necessary in every recovery relationship are days, times and experiences that are unrelated to recovery issues.-Michele RosenthalIn the chaos of recovery – the stress, the surprises, the slow pace, the unpredictable future – it’s very easy to lose yourself in the maelstrom surrounding the person for whom you’re caring. Being their rock can often leave you with little time to be your own advocate, or even to rest and rejuvenate.

All too often caregivers become so driven by the desire to be helpful, strong and loving that they forget to take care of themselves. In the chronic ups and downs of recovery caregivers lives can slowly be eclipsed.

On the flip side, it’s equally common for caregivers to reach a point of such exasperation they want to throw in the towel. Both normal and fair, this feeling is feedback letting you know that something is out of alignment.

Tips for Reducing Caregiver Stress

Whether you’re a caregiver drowning in the life of a loved one’s struggle or a caregiver on the verge of walking out the door, the following ten tips can help reduce the turmoil and get things back on an even keel.

  • Learn: Study how the brain experiences functional, structural and chemical changes that increase anxiety and decrease emotional control. Knowing the science will help you have creative insights.
  • Comprehend: Realize that trauma is very personal; what seems traumatic to one person may not seem traumatic to another. Suspend judgment and deal with what is.
  • Recognize: Acknowledge that Big T (major life-threatening events) and little t (stressful daily experiences) traumas combine in unpredictable ways that challenge survivors’ ability to cope and maintain recovery promises.
  • Practice: Commit to patience. A very essential recovery ingredient and tied to acceptance, patience means increasing your capacity to tolerate circumstances.
  • Withstand: Resist the impulse to belittle, shame or blame; this doesn’t provide positive motivation and always makes things worse.
  • Appreciate: Healing takes time; there is no way to speed it up. As a matter of fact, slow recoveries lead to more long-lasting effects.
  • Rejuvenate: Put in place a) your personal overload warning signs, b) a decompression process that you activate when you need a break.
  • Spot: Signs and symptoms of PSTD. Four categories of symptoms include avoidance, re-experiencing, mood alterations and hypervigilance.
  • Foster: Everyone in recovery needs a sense of safety and control. Also important to create: a sense hope and belief that things can and will improve.
  • Invite: The tendency is to take over for your loved on but in truth, encouraging him or her to make healthy choices and actions based on coping and recovery goals will be more helpful.

It’s always important to reclaim a sense of connection in the relationship beyond the boundaries of caregiving.

Ideas here include finding neutral events to enjoy together (museums, concerts, films), setting aside time that you both agree not to speak of recovery or its related issues, and making the effort to maintain a compassionate physical connection: a simple hug releases oxytocin which causes a sense of bonding, can reduce stress hormones and increase mood-enhancing endorphins.

Remember: Caregiving Does Not Define You

Necessary in every recovery relationship are days, times and experiences that are unrelated to recovery issues.

The caregiving role has many challenges, two of the toughest being how to maintain a positive and healthy relationship with yourself and also your loved one.

There is no perfect answer, but practicing a conscious awareness of the problems, plus implementing some of the solutions listed here helps create an environment of empathy and connection that can generate bonds able to weather the (sometimes fierce) recovery storm.

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