All too often, people who know and love someone with an addiction spend a ton of energy worrying and trying to help their loved one.  A lot of time, people approach me for treatment advice when they’ve done all they can and are at the end of their rope.

One of my favorite analogies used within the recovery community is the one about putting on your oxygen mask in an airplane before you put on someone else’s.  You see, when an airplane loses cabin pressure, oxygen levels drop.  The stewardess will tell passengers that if there is a drop in oxygen levels, passengers should ensure that their mask is on before they attempt to help a child with his.  If they don’t place theirs first before trying to help someone else, there’s a chance that both people will pass out.

Caring for someone else is a lot like that oxygen mask story: We have to be healthy before we can help someone else become healthy.  If we aren’t ensuring that we are emotionally solvent, then it’s a really strong likelihood that we just won’t have anything left for those in our care.

A couple of days ago, a former client who asked that I perform an intervention came into my office at my “day job.”  He was surprised to learn that I do in fact have a “real job.”  Most are surprised.  Because I write and teach so much, people can get the impression that my writing and teaching sustain my life financially.  The truth is, I write and teach because I love to; there’s no money in it.  I pour as much as I possibly can into my writing and teaching such that others can learn and maybe improve their lives, even a little.  I work within the technology sector because that’s what pays the bills.  Plus, architecting large-scale software systems is a whole other mind set than writing and teaching about substance and process addiction.  Software development is the work I do to take care of myself; you could say that leading software development projects is my financial and intellectual oxygen mask.

People are also surprised to learn that I play the guitar.  I do so because it relaxes me; there was a time in my life that I got paid to play various gigs, but those days are long behind me.  Playing the guitar soothes my soul after long days and nights of research and study and work.  Really, playing the guitar is my emotional oxygen mask.

My ultimate oxygen mask, though, is spending time with my family.  My wife and son are the reason and foundation for my entire life.  Knowing that they’re ok and happy provides me with all the oxygen I need to fight through a day.

Really, we can’t care for others unless we ourselves are taken care of.  Even if you don’t care for a loved one with an addiction, I’m pretty certain there’s someone in your life for whom you need to be fully healthy and present and engaged.  Really, taking care of ourselves is critical just to be more human.

I’m not the only one who says this, either.  Please check out this link:  The authors provide a cool tool that will help you figure out ways to care for yourself.  Otherwise, try to make a list of things that can provide you with energy and then try to do at least one of those enjoyable activities a week.  In doing so, you will have more to offer yourself and others.  And maybe you’ll even smile when there doesn’t seem much about which there is to smile…