Retreat to Supply Lines

In a support group I run for parents of heroin users, a mother told me about something she had read in an old book about the strategy of war. “When you are out on the battle field and you are losing, you don’t give up the war and you don’t stay out on the battle field depleted, you retreat to supply lines.”

When someone you love is in crisis because of a substance use disorder, it can be exhausting – emotionally, physically, financially. When your world feels like its cracked right down the middle and you can barely hold the pieces together, its time to get back to basics. Retreat to your supply lines.

Your basic care of your body is vital to your survival during challenging times. When a family crisis shouts for your attention all day long, its easy to forget to refuel and you can become dangerously depleted. I want to draw your attention back to your basic upkeep and care.

1.      Take a shower today (this really does help).

2.      Get dressed in clean clothes. What feels good to you? Clothes that are comfy or clothes that make you feel stylish? Wear that.

3.      Eat something. Preferably two or three times today. Include some protein if you can. Coffee and candy are nice but you can’t live on them alone.

Now I want to talk to you also about sleep. Overly-tired people have trouble with emotional regulation as well as cognitive function. Neuroscience tells us that sleep deprivation makes people more emotionally reactive. That sad thing feels devastating. That annoying thing feels maddening.

Clients I am working with are often trying out new helpful behaviors in challenging situations, and lack of sleep is the enemy of new behaviors. When we are exhausted, our brains don’t want to try new things and we end up repeating old behaviors that we know are not helpful.

You may be having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep because of your worries. If you are in therapy, ask your therapist for help with the anxious thoughts that are keeping you up at night. If you are not in therapy, tell your doctor about your trouble sleeping. If you can’t do either of those things, check out these resources about sleep:

Harvard’s 12 steps towards better “sleep hygiene”

The Anxiety and Depression Association’s fact sheet about anxiety and insomnia

Now that you are re-fueling at the supply lines, can I ask you to stretch just a little further? If so, I will ask you to be your own best friend today.

If your best friend were going through this rough time like you are right now, what would you want to do for them? Play them a good song? Take them to a movie? Give them a chocolate bar? Can you do something nice like this for yourself today? Treat yourself to a Chai cider on the way in to work; Leave work a little early if you can an take yourself to a movie (you can do this alone!); Take yourself to an ice-cream shop on your lunch break; Listen to a favorite playlist while you make dinner. Be your own compassionate friend.

Loving someone who is suffering can be very difficult at times and you don’t have to do it alone. Go to a support group like NAMI family to family, or SMART friends & family, or Alanon. Find a therapist who is knowledgeable about the problems you want help with. Call the Crisis Clinic 866-427-4747 and talk to someone who can listen with compassion.

If you are feeling hopeless and thinking about killing yourself, tell your doctor or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.

Lara Okoloko