Witnessing a loved one's struggle with addiction or mental health concerns is one of the most challenging experiences any of us face. The crippling tenacity of depression or anxiety, even in the face of our love and support, can bring up feelings of helplessness and frustration and leave us questioning ourselves.

The deception and denial that often go along with substance abuse can have us vacillating between feeling angry and frustrated by our loved one's behaviour, and feeling paralyzed and controlled by our own fear of what may happen if the behaviour continues.

Watching a loved one struggle with an eating disorder is similarly a painful and frightening experience. We struggle to know what to say and do, and feel helpless and despairing when our efforts to reach our loved one are met with denial or rejection.

Many of the partners and family members I've worked with over the years have been burdened by feelings of guilt on one hand - "did I do something to cause this?" - and helplessness on the other - "why can't I do something to stop this?"

In trying to help or bear witness to your loved one's struggle, it may be beneficial for you to seek some help for yourself. Having some understanding of how the issue your loved one is struggling with works - and knowing what to expect throughout the process of recovery - can support your own coping and emotional well-being, and ensure you both come through this with your sanity and your relationship intact.


In ancient cultures we had "sin eaters," members of the community who would perform rituals and ceremonies to lift another's burden. Today we have therapists, clergy, medical providers, mental health advocates and front line staff, a broad variety of dedicated professionals who find their calling in helping others. Like the sin eaters of the past, today's professional helpers also need an outlet to discharge what they are taking in, and assess and process what they are putting out.

Whether you are feeling yourself becoming burnt out, or are struggling with boundary issues or vicarious traumatization, having a safe, confidential space where you can put down the mantle of the helper and reconnect with your own humanity can be vital to your physical and emotional health.



Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

- James Baldwin



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