So what’s your dirty little caregiving vice?

Everyone has them and caregivers are no exception.

Caregivers are under enormous amounts of stress, so it’s only natural to turn to something that’s comforting. The other danger is that caregivers spend an enormous amount of time at home and alone–a breeding ground for vices.

I’m all for comfort, but what if you’re so exhausted, heartbroken, and numb that you don’t realize you’re hurting yourself?

I’m going to list a few dirty little vices and let you pick your own.

I’m not judging, I promise. There were times I was a mess during the years I cared for my mom, and I have to admit, I went overboard on a few of vices. You try being a sandwich generation-er going on three hours sleep, staying involved with three teenage daughters, somehow being a fit wife, and caring for a cantankerous mom with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s with no outside family help.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here. Feel free to fire back.

Dirty Little Vices No One Wants to Talk About:


Sleeping pills, or sneaking a few of mom or dad’s meds

Pot–available for cancer patients, a toke for you, a toke for…

Excessive television or Internet surfing

Online gambling

Inappropriate online relationships (chat rooms, e-affairs)


Hoarding (includes pets, papers, books, food)

Pulling your hair out and other obsessive/compulsive behaviors

Excessive cleaning

Screaming, belittling verbal abuse

Closet smoking (no one knows you do this or you’ve increased your amount)

Closet drinking (sneaking booze in OJ, Coke, sipping on it all day)

Excessive shopping (online counts)

Incessant, derogatory, negative thoughts

I sense some of you are flinching about now.

She didn’t say pot and porn, did she?

That’s exactly what I said.  Why?

Because this is just life, it’s just people, and life gets tough and we’re hurting and we fall back on some old pattern, something we thought we had already defeated. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it’s just that many of these choices/vices start out small, but they can escalate into an addiction and really screw up an otherwise great life.

Let’s paint a picture, because without a visual, it’s easy to just discount this stuff and tell people “just quit doing that!” Not so easy.

I know of someone who eats an entire box of Ritz crackers drizzled in butter and brown sugar every night after everyone goes to bed (I wish she hadn’t told me that ’cause that’s one I hadn’t thought of)

I know of someone whose house is covered from ceiling to floor (every room but the kitchen and den) with boxes and bins stuffed with items they’ve bought and never used–including the garage and a huge storage building.

I know someone who has 42 cats because they make her smile every day since she can’t leave the house.

I know of someone whose house is lined with groceries left in bags that cover her floor and all surfaces–all the time.

Stewing in dangerous negative thoughts of suicide and depression can be as detrimental, if not more so than popping pills. Our own thoughts are powerful drugs.

My heart aches. We’re trying to fill a void, that’s all.

What’s the definition of an addiction?

A behavioral pattern characterized by compulsion, loss of control, and continued repetition of a behavior or activity spite of adverse consequences. (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary)

Addiction was a term used to describe a devotion, attachment, dedication, inclination, etc. The term addiction is used to describe a recurring compulsion by an individual to engage in some specific activity, despite harmful consequences to the individual’s health, mental state or social life. (Wikipedia )

Interesting tidbit about the word is that Addiction, as a word, is a noun which in modern sense was first attested in 1906, in reference to opium (there is an isolated instance from 1779, with ref. to tobacco). The first use of the adjective addict (with the meaning of “delivered, devoted”) was in 1529 and comes from Latin addictus, pp. of addicere (”deliver, yield, devote,” from ad-, “to” + dicere, “say, declare”).

I promise you, I’m not harping on your case just to embarrass you. I’ve hit many of the vices listed (except for obsessive cleaning, that’s not my particular downfall). The last thing I want is for the stresses of caregiving to ruin your life. Caregiving, while challenging beyond belief, also has many benefits (It does, I promise, just hang in there).

So Now that You’ve Identified a Couple of Your Vices, What Do

You Do?

Awareness is key. That’s done. I picked at your wound and you may be bleeding a bit. That’s okay.

Sit with it a few days.

Now that you’re busted, you can begin to make better choices. Take a deep breath. Be relieved that someone named it. Said it.

It’s uncovered and you don’t have to hide any more.

Ask yourself what you believe: “I believe that if I eat this tub of ice cream, I’ll… Feel satisfied? Not feel empty? I believe that if I get in shape, then I have to…date again? Will draw attention to myself?

Trust that if you ask, help will appear. The universe (which happens to mean “One song,” I love that!) wants you whole and well!

Although I’m not always a big Dr. Phil fan (his show’s gone too Jerry Springer for me), I like one thing he said:

(Paraphrased) “To get rid of an old habit, you have to crowd it out with a new one.”

His example was a man who dropped off his dry cleaning for the week at the gym every Friday after he picked it up.

That meant he didn’t have his work clothes at home and had to go to the gym to get dressed. It was the only way to make himself get there–and once he was there, he’d exercise.

You might have to go cold turkey. Ditch the pot (or get someone else to administer it to your loved one). Unplug the computer and put it in the closet. Ask someone to help you purge your house. Take the excess to a shelter so you’ll feel good about helping someone else. Crowd out the old vice. Take a class. Take up painting, walking, and bridge. Return to your faith or choose a new one–become a part of a local community to gain strength and support.

Vices breed and brood in isolation. The less you’re isolated the healthier you’ll become.

Ask yourself what is it that this vice fills? Boredom? Restlessness? Frustration? How can you fill it in another way?

Join a support group–even online. Talk to others and don’t keep it a secret. You’re only as sick as your secrets.

Be patient. This might not be easy, but each time we to try to kick a vice, we gain new coping skills. You don’t go back to square one.

Most of all, forgive yourself. It’s been tough, but it’s time for the excuses to end.

Our dirty little vices don’t need to destroy our great, big, wonderful lives.

~Carol D. O’Dell, family advisor at

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

Available on Amazon

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Carol O'Dell

Carol D. O'Dell's gripping memoir MOTHERING MOTHER, (April 1, 2007 by Kunati Publishing) is for the "sandwich" generation and overflows with humor, grace and much needed honesty. Written with wit and sensitivity, Mothering Mother offers insight on how to not only survive but thrive the challenges of caring for others while keeping your life, heart, and dreams intact. Carol is an inspirational speaker and instructor focusing on caregiving, spirituality and adoption issues. She has been featured on numerous television, radio and magazine and podcast programs including WEDU/PBS, Artist First Radio, "Coping with Caregiving" national radio, Women's Digest and Mature Matters Publications. Her fiction and nonfiction work has appeared in numerous publications including Atlanta Magazine, Southern Revival, MARGIN, and AIM, America's Intercultural Magazine Carol appeared on the radio show "Healing the Grieving Heart" with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss "Mothering Mother: A Daughter's Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir." To hear Carol being interviewed on this show, click on the following link:

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