Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A regular person

One of my coaching clients asked me, “How do I transition from being a caregiver to a regular person?” I had to stop myself from replying because I couldn’t wrap my mind around the phrase “a regular person”. I wrote her back and asked, “What’s a regular person?” She didn’t answer me, so I hope she is maintaining her awesome sense of humor.

The best way I can answer her question is to tell her to take baby steps. It’s a slow, learning, process. If you’ve been a caregiver for many years, the role has most likely defined who you are as a person. Once having been a caregiver, expect to naturally gravitate to taking care of others because it is what you know. It feels like a sense of accomplishment each day that you manage to keep your caregiving subject alive.

I remember several times when I would get up in the morning and sneak to the edge of Riley’s door and peak in to see if he was still breathing. I tried not to let him know I was near so I could go have my coffee before commencing my day with him. Each time I would see that he was in fact breathing or that he was awake, I would think to myself “Well… that’s good… I didn’t screw up so bad that my caregiving killed him overnight.” Then I would almost immediately feel this sense of accomplishment because I got him through another day. I was a success for the previous day. The day ahead was always one of uncertainty, so I reveled in temporary success.

Caregiving also gives us the illusion of being in control. While knowing we can’t control the alcoholic, we can control what we do. When the time comes when the alcoholic is bedridden or can’t physically take care of his/her own body, we step in and control what the alcoholic can’t managed. It’s not being co-dependent, but rather a humanitarian gesture. Gradually that control becomes a way of living our life. Caregiver are defined by the caregiving and gives purpose. When it goes on for very long periods of time, the caregiver will often lose their own identity and the whole purpose in life will be to take care of the alcoholic.

Even if the alcoholic continues to require the services of a caregiver, the caregiver step out of the role and have a life of their own. At first it won’t feel comfortable. There will be feelings of guilt and uneasiness about not focusing on the alcoholic. But with each step, the next step will be easier.

I suggest starting with lunch with a friend, a movie, or shopping for something personal. Take a few hours to yourself doing something that’s only for you. After doing that a few times, move on to a whole day out of the house and away from the alcoholic. Before you know it, you may be going to work or taking a weekend trip. If money is an issue, there are many things that don’t require a lot of cash – the library, a walk at a local park, join a little theater group, or take a class.

There is a website,, that lists different activities, groups, and other opportunities to meet new people and do new and interesting things. There is something for everyone of all ages. If you’re in doubt about what you want to do, try checking out this site and explore stepping out of the caregiver box.

Now that Riley is gone, I find that I'm often trying to solve other peoples issues in their lives. When a friend tells me of a problem, I have a tendency to try to help them resolve the issue. Sometimes I am successful and other times, well... not so much. It's a hangover from caregiving providing me with a purpose. If I help someone -- anyone -- I have a purpose. I fail to see that I have a purpose without other people. I am my own purpose. My happiness is my purpose. It's hard to shift gears when it's been a way of life.

And so, it has been difficult for me to stop being a caregiver and start being an individual. It’s been nearly two years since Riley’s death and I’m just now starting to think of myself as an individual and not as Riley’s wife and soul support. I just got a part-time job where I’m interacting with people for four hours a day.

This fall I’ll be moving to Florida where I’ll be meeting up with old friends and making new ones. I’m going to ride a motorcycle for the first time in more than 20 years. I’ll learn to shoot a gun. I’m going to a costume festival parade during Halloween. There will be dinner parties. I’ll wear a big floppy hat while I lay on the beach. My cousin will join me for excursions to art galleries and museums. I’m going to zip line over an alligator pond. I’ll sing very off-key karaoke songs. I’m going to laugh. I won’t worry about what time I get home, if I get home at all, after a night out. I’m going to live my life.

A very special person said to me, “Your husband is dead. You’ve been responsible your entire life. It’s time to be irresponsible. Drink the drink, take the trip. It’s your time.”

I’ve been taking baby steps and now I want to leap forward into a new me which is really a version of the “me” from before Riley.

Take a chance. Take a step. Eat the cake and live your life.

1 comment:

Belle said...

I'm very new to the AA journey and I keep feeling I want to 'help' people who I see suffering yet, I'm only 1 month sober and don't have the tools to not help them. I'm so pleased to hear other people out there who have turned their sobriety into something really incredible.