The cause of unhappiness is not the addiction of your loved one, but your thoughts about their addiction.
It’s OK to have a meltdown, but don’t unpack and live there. Since negativity is what comes natural, you have to learn and practice the “art” of holding on to positivity. Choose to make changes, not excuses. To be motivated, not manipulated. Choose self-esteem, not self-pity. Let every situation be what it is instead of what you think it should be.
It’s never too late to work on changing your outlook. And, it’s not selfish or unloving to find happiness in the midst of addiction. In fact, your positivity sets a powerful example of hope and self-care.
5 Easy Things You Can Do Today to Feel Happier
1. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a simple way to train your mind. Throughout the ages, it has helped the brain process stress, increase clarity, promote happiness and improve sleep.
- Find a comfortable place to sit and a posture that is alert and relaxed at the same time. Try to straighten your spine without being too rigid.
- Close your eyes and take a few slow breaths. Loosen your body from your head to your toes and take a few more deep breaths.
- Stop to notice the sensations throughout your body — the warmth, the coolness or any discomfort — but try not to fidget too much.
- Pick one sensation — such as the feeling of your breathing going in and out — and devote your attention to it. Just focus on that.
- When your mind wanders, bring your attention back to the breath. After a few moments, your mind may wander again. Once again, notice that and simply return your attention back to the present moment.
- When you’re ready — after one minute, 10 minutes or 30 minutes — open your eyes. Though the formal practice ends, your mindful awareness can continue throughout the day.
Help To Get Started
Headspace (4.9 stars) is a great app for beginners. It offers 10 free sessions to use as much as you want or a full subscription option for $13 a month that goes into specific issues like self-esteem or anger.
You can also visit this page or download the audio files below to your phone or computer to use anytime.
Tips to Keep Going
Just like any habit, mindfulness gets easier as it becomes part of your routine. Choose a specific time each day and stick with it. Try committing to 90 days. Even just 5-10 minutes is enough. While many people start first thing in the morning, your lunch break, after work or before you go to bed are good times too. Similarly, it can help to always practice in the same location. You may miss a day or two, but in time you’ll be able to use it anytime to calm down and prevent yourself from wasting your energy on negativity.
2. Make Gratitude Lists
As simple as it sounds, finding something to be grateful for is proven to shift your mood and attitude in the moment and make you generally happier over time.
Take a notepad and write down 3-10 things you’re thankful for, like:
- Good things that happened today: A co-worker’s complement • A call with a friend • A delicious sandwich • A warm shower
- People you love: Friends • Parents • Kids • Mentors • Pets
- Your strengths: Intelligence • Kindness • Generosity • Friendliness • Loyalty
- Your accomplishments: Degrees • Promotions • Owning a home • Money in the bank • Completing the HopeTracker
- Things you love: Blankets • Candles • Chocolate • Tea • Phones
- Earthly beauty: Sunshine • The ocean • Butterflies • Waterfalls • Rainbows
- Good feelings you had today: Laughter • Stillness • Quiet • Hope • Resilience
- First-world comforts: Indoor plumbing • Clean water • Food in the kitchen • A roof • Air-conditioning
- Freedoms you have: To learn • To be happy • To feel safe • To travel • To disagree
- Happy memories: Vacations • First steps • Bedtime stories • Concerts • Holidays
Help to Get Started
Tack Gratitude Journal is a great free app to enter gratitude thoughts throughout the day. Use it every morning and throughout the day when you notice yourself feeling negative.
Don’t worry about actually feeling grateful in the moment. Start by pretending that you’re an authentically grateful person and write down what this alter ego is thankful for. If that still feels like too much of a stretch, title your list “Hey, it could be worse” and take it from there.
Tips to Keep Going
On average, it takes 66 days before a new behavior becomes automatic, so commit to making a list every day for two months. Consistency will help you. Stick to the same time every day. Instead of grabbing your phone, start your day with gratitude or do it at bedtime to get a better night’s sleep. (Compliment your mindfulness schedule). The process should take a matter of minutes, though ideally, you spend some time reflecting. Whenever you’re having a tough time, go back to what you’ve already written. To take it a step further, write (and send) thank you letters to people on your list.
3. Schedule Time for Yourself
I know you’re busy. But, if you don’t take care of yourself, it won’t be long before you’re battered from exhaustion and operating in a mental fog where it’s hard to care about anything or anyone.
Pick at least one activity from each category and actually schedule the time in your calendar every week (or more).
- Stay social: Lunch with a friend • Join a book club • Attend support groups • Attend religious service • Sign up for an art class • Volunteer
- Take time for yourself: Get massages • Watch a movie • Garden • Listen to music
- Exercise: Join a fitness group • Sign up for Yoga Class • Go for a long walk
Do these things every day:
- Keep it healthy: Get 7-8 hours of sleep • Make healthy food choices
- Work on positivity: Practice mindfulness • Make gratitude lists
Help to Get Started
You may feel selfish, but if you don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t have anything left over to offer anyone else. Don’t let anything stop you. For example, if you’re not into fitness, schedule Mondays and Thursdays at 7 PM to go for a 30-minute walk. Map out a path and leave your phone. Or, if you struggle to eat healthy, try a meal delivery service.
Tips to Keep Going
Self-care isn’t a one-time deal. It’s the constant repetition of many healthy habits, which together soothe you and ensure you’re at your optimum—emotionally, physically and mentally. If you remember your own needs, even in the face of a crisis, you’re in the best position to help your loved one now and with any other challenges coming your way.
4. Help Others
The cliché idea of helping others to help yourself is actually true. Studies show giving back reduces stress, combats depression, provides a sense of purpose and helps you value what you have in life.
- Help people around you: If someone you know needs an extra hand, provide it. Babysit your neighbor’s toddler. Take your mother-in-law to her doctor’s appointments. Give your friend a hand with moving. Addiction thrives on isolation and helplessness. Fight it by being social and proactive.
- Help others you don’t know: Formal volunteering gives you perspective and distraction from your loved one’s struggle. You have thousands of options — from feeding the hungry or tutoring kids to delving medicine to seniors. Find a good fit and commit to it.
- Help others in addiction: Specifically address your negativity with addiction by using your story to help others. If you don’t already, you should be attending support groups. As time goes by, you formally or informally become a mentor to newcomers. You can also share hope and lessons with fellow HopeTracker members anytime.
Help to Get Started
Tips to Keep Going
Aim to volunteer weekly, on top of attending weekly support meetings. While the time commitment might seem annoying, give it at least three months. Afterwards, the hope is that you see the value and have made powerful connections.
5. Work to Control Your Thoughts
If you don’t learn to actively control your thoughts, they will continue to control you.
- Calm down. Literally think “STOP!” and take deep breaths. It takes 90 seconds to return to normal brain chemistry, so try counting to 90.
- Don’t judge your thoughts. You further negativity by judging yourself harshly for having them. Thoughts are neither right nor wrong. It’s what you do after that counts.
- Stay in the moment. Worrying about the future or regretting the past doesn’t help or change anything. Instead, ask yourself: what can I do right now to change how I feel?
- Swap to positivity. Replace a negative thought with a positive one (or two). Instead of “It’s my fault my son is addicted,” think “Today I’m choosing to be happy.” Always have a positive thought or mantra to turn to.
- Make a plan. Consider if you can take action on a concern. If you’re worried about drunk driving, install a breathalyzer or take the car away.
- Talk it over or write it down. Talk to a friend, parent, therapist or support group or put it on paper to get your thoughts out in the open instead of repeating in your head over and over.
- Do something else. Divert your thoughts by going for a run or watching a movie. (Continue to work on containing your thoughts though, since you can’t always “escape”).
- Don’t obsess over not obsessing. Every time you think about not thinking about something, you are, of course, thinking about it. Instead, keep yourself busy, motivated and surrounded by support.
What did I have to be happy about? My son that I loved more than anything, the sweet baby that I held in my arms 23 years ago, grew up and got addicted. He lied to me. He stole from me. We yelled and fought constantly. From the moment I woke up, I was worried. Worried about what he’d do or say today. Worried about the impact he was having on his daughter. Worried that this would be our life forever. The worries were dark and heavy, and they weighed me down. I dragged them everywhere I went.
It wasn’t until I had an embarrassing meltdown at work that I realized I couldn’t live like this. I was a shell of a person and I was the only one that could change it. I started going to support groups again. I started meeting friends for dinner. I spent more time with my daughter. And, I was actually present in all of it. At first, I felt guilty when I’d laugh. My son was in worse shape than ever and I was laughing. I was getting a massage. And you know what? It felt good.
It came down to a choice. My choice, not my son’s. How was obsessing over his addiction helping? The answer was so obvious. The worry was only making things worse. Instead of thinking “He didn’t come home, what if he overdosed?”, I’d hug my daughter a little tighter. I’d volunteer at the food pantry. I’d call a friend. By focusing on myself and fighting hard every day to stay positive, I started to naturally detach. I made a choice not to let his addiction control me, and it was the right choice.- Krista L.
After my wife and I were in a car accident, she became severely addicted to painkillers. I didn’t realize I was living with an addict until her prescription ran out. After driving her to the local pharmacist, I watched, stunned, as my usually calm wife screamed at the receptionist for thirty minutes only to break down crying in the parking lot after the prescription refill was denied.
The terror in her eyes was undeniable. She was struggling, and it was honestly one of the scariest moments of my life. As a husband and father, my days were spent fraught with worry. I was obsessed with finding help for her, for us. During work meetings, my mind would be filled with treatment centers to look up, therapists to contact and books to read. Suddenly, I was juggling being a husband, father, and the sole source of income for our family.
My wife was nonresponsive to help, and I was watching the woman I love slowly slipping away from me. And although I was physically and emotionally drained, I knew I had to keep fighting for our son. So, I started working from home which allowed me the opportunity to attend all his school meetings, his afterschool activities, help him with his homework, and be there to tuck him in at night. His youthfulness, his purity and his unending love gave me the strength to stay positive. Because of him, I was able to wake up every day with a smile on my face and try again to be the man that my wife needed.- Martin O.
I learned shortly after relocating to another state that my mom was drinking again. She was my best friend, so when I received that phone call from my dad, I was heartbroken. When I spoke to her about it, I couldn’t believe what she was saying. She told me that she was depressed and blamed her drinking on me for moving away and leaving her “alone.”
In that one second, she tore my happiness away. The happiness I had worked hard to achieve. After that, I stopped sleeping and walked around like a zombie, sick with worry that my mom was ruining her life because of me. After all, how could I enjoy my new life while my mom was suffering?
After attending a couple of therapy sessions that my husband had set up for me, I learned about detachment with love. It was a hard concept to grasp, but the therapist made me realize that my mother’s drinking was not caused by me, but by deep-seated issues between us.
After hearing that my mom was using me as her excuse, initially, I felt hurt and confused. I couldn’t understand why she would do that to me, someone she loves. It took me a while to fully comprehend that addiction is a disease and every day she is surrendering to it. So, I had to make a choice, a conscious decision to be true to myself. I had to put my needs first to be able to help my mom, rather than further enable her addiction. It was far from easy, but by doing so, I was able to set my emotions aside, think rationally, and get her the help that she needed.- Rachel H.
My sister and I were the best of friends until she met Josh. Within a matter of months, we completely lost touch. He turned her against me and I was totally devastated. At the time, I didn’t realize she was an abusive relationship where she was not allowed to think for herself. Not only that, I found out he was her drug dealer. I held out hope that they would part ways and she would be back, but her absence really affected me. I started to ignore my own family because I was so focused on getting her out of a bad situation.
Once I started working with a therapist, I realized that I couldn’t be consumed by worry. She was big on self-care, even though the reason I went there was to get my focus back to taking care of my family. She had amazing suggestions and helped me find an outlet that would keep me present and conscious of what I could and couldn’t control. I started writing my sister letters and we eventually rebuilt our relationship until she got to the point where she was ready to come back home.
I learned through this experience that no matter what I did, whether I was worried sick or had peace of mind, it wasn’t affecting what she was doing. That’s when I realized that I had to take care of me and put myself first so that I could be there for all the people that I love.- Dan C.