Last week, The New York Times ran an interesting article about caregivers of the elderly who experience post-traumatic stress-like symptoms and could benefit from therapy. As I read the article, it occurred to me that caregivers of addicts are not so dissimilar. Whenever we are asked to help families arrange an intervention or when we meet the family members of our clients at our center, we see it — they have been through the ringer along with their addicted loved one. Sometimes they are plagued with guilt, thinking that in trying to help their friend or family member, they have enabled their addiction. Or conversely, a caregiver may feel that in cutting themselves off from a person with substance use disordered loved one – whether it be emotionally or monetarily — in an effort to send a wake-up call, they have abandoned that person. These actions can produce intense feelings of guilt and anxiety. We often have to remind these caregivers that it is okay for them to seek help in the form of therapy as well. The Times article points to how effective therapy can be.
Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine in California, noted that stress can accumulate during caregiving and reach a tipping point where someone’s ability to cope is overwhelmed….Recovery depends on unearthing the source of psychological distress and facing it directly rather than pushing it away….“Research about anxiety tells us that the more we face what we fear, the quicker we are to extinguish our fear response and the better able we are to tolerate it.”’
This is wisdom that perhaps all of us could stand to think on, but particularly for all of the suffering caregivers out there, you cannot forget to take care of yourselves.