The Life of a Caretaker

Monday 28 September 2009

I have been learning that the life of a caretaker is as addictive as the life of an alcoholic. Here the intoxication is the emotional relief that temporarily comes when answering a loved one's need. Though it never lasts, in the moment of answering someone's need, we feel loved. While much good can come from this, especially for those the caretaker attends, the care itself becomes a drink by which we briefly numb a worthlessness that won't go away unless constantly doused by another shot of self-sacrifice.

It all tightens until what others need is anticipated beyond what is real, and then, without any true need being voiced, an anxiety to respond builds that can only be relieved if something is offered or done. At the heart of this is the ever-present worry that unless doing something for another there is no possibility of being loved. So the needs of others stand within reach like bottles behind a bar that, try as he or she will, the caretaker cannot resist.

I have experienced this even in the simple issue of calling a loved one while away from home. Even when no one expects to hear from me, I can agonize over whether to call. Often, unable to withstand the discomfor of not registering some evidence of my love, I will end up going to great lengths to call.

IN truth, caretaking, though seeming quite generous, is very self-serving, and its urgent self-centredness prevents a life of genuine compassion. In all honesty, to heal from this requires as rigorous a program of recovery as alcoholics enlist, including sponsors who will love us for who we are.

Within one's self, the remedy of spirit that allows for true giving resides somewhere in the faith to believe that each of us is worthy of love, just as we are
Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening.

This is why, if when I get involved in any sort of organised Christian group again (skipping the Sunday morning thang), it won't be with a group of people for whom the term "my ministry" does not carry any unease.


  1. so, by caretaking I think you are talking about what us Yanks call "co-dependency"? Not sure, but to me caretaking is a more physical thing and often is very burdensome.

  2. Yep. Ministry is that, in essence. Feeling good my caring for anothers needs, not because you love then but because of some misguided sense of responsibility.

  3. Barbara - I guess co-dependency, yeah. Not that caretaking isn't a good thing, but just that people can get so hooked on it and its like a compulsion. And in terms of church "ministries," that's what is sort of creepy about them. It must feel a bit crappy being on the end of someone else's church ministry.

    Erin - yeah, and especially when it is something you have to be doing day in day out because that's your gift and your part in it all. YUKKY yukky poos yukky


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