family AND FRIENDS
We have always known how family and friends suffer right along with the people they love who are struggling with either an addiction or chronic pain condition. They need their own specific kind of help.
Although chronic pain and addiction are two very different problems, the impact on family and friends is very similar. Although many programs (addiction treatment or at a pain clinic) include some kind of family component, its often disproportionate to the time and attention given to the identified patient.
Over the years we have seen many marriages and partnerships end due to one of the partners living with an undertreated or mistreated chronic pain condition or untreated addiction. Sometimes family members and significant others develop their own healthcare problems while trying to help their loved ones cope with chronic pain or addiction. Family and significant others often get burned out, or they become frustrated and resentful towards the person. A spouse can become just as hopeless and helpless as the family member who is suffering and may develop severe depression or sleep problems themselves.
If you are helping someone who is living with a chronic pain condition, but don’t have a personal experience of it yourself, we ask that you go through the following steps to help you develop a better understanding of what it might be like to live with chronic pain on a daily basis. To get the most out of this following exercise please make sure to give yourself the time and space where you won’t be interrupted. It’s also helpful if you journal your reactions to this as soon as you’ve completed the four steps below.
Step One: Think back to a time when you hurt yourself or had a painful condition such as a surgery, toothache, broken bone, or headache etc.
Step Two: Try to remember what that felt like and what you wanted to do to stop the pain.
Step Three: Now imagine that you have that level of pain right now and have had it for the past six months without any relief. Every day when you woke up it was there. Every night you wondered if you’ll be able to sleep because the pain is so disturbing.
Step Four: Now imagine trying to explain this experience to your family and friends or your healthcare provider. What would you say? What would you want from them? Please take time to write down everything that came up for you.
Family and friends do not get training in how to provide care for their loved ones – they do what is necessary for the daily functioning of the family and often they are in survival mode. But there are some things from a place of healthy support that can friends and family provide if a loved one is undergoing chronic pain management, experiencing significant quality of life problems or an addictive disorder and a decreased level of functioning. The most important thing is to understand what it must be like; if you answered the four questions above on pain and reflected on what you learned, you should have a much better idea if that is your issue. Here are some other points to keep in mind.
- Make sure to practice good self-care; take time to relax, sleep, play, eat healthy, etc.
- Develop compassion and even empathy for your significant other—but never sympathy as that can cause even more problems. Remember the old saying “Sympathy Kills” that is often heard at Al-Anon meetings (support groups for family and friends of those who have an addiction).
- Do NOT do things for your significant other that they can and should be doing for themselves.
- Don’t keep secrets from your significant other. This is especially true concerning medication use or abuse issues.
- Groups like Al-Anon have a saying: remember the three (3) Cs: You didn’t CAUSE it, you can’t CONTROL it, and you can’t CURE it.
- Also be aware of enabling behavior and resentment. Enabling is when you find yourself doing something for your friend or loved one that they can and should be doing for themselves.
You and your family deserve time and attention to talk about your issues and address your needs. Seeking out a professional support from someone who has experience working with pain and any coexisting problems will guide you on the path to health and wholeness. Dr. Grinstead offers therapy services in his Sacramento office, as well as phone and video coaching services using Skype.
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