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Self-Care and Boundaries as an RMT in Addictions

Since my second semester in registered massage therapy school, I have worked with people who have addictions. We would do outreaches at Onsite in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, a government-funded rehab above Insite. Our school did its best to have us working on as many different bodies as possible. It was a challenging outreach for our first one, but it was good to work on men and women who haven’t experienced positive touch for a long time or ever.

The Desire to Help

I remember this one woman. She was done with her life, and I didn’t blame her. The drug use over the years had left her so crippled she needed a walker. She was bent at the waist and couldn’t stand tall; she could barely lift her head to look you in the eyes. She would say with tears in her eyes, “Mackenzie I am in so much pain all the time, when will I ever be better”, but if I was honest with her she would probably never get better, her body had changed for the worse and it was likely to stay that way.

These types of people come to me all the time with life-changing injuries and all they want is to be better. It is hard to not internalize people’s pain and suffering. We want to be their heroes and heal them, but that isn’t always what will happen. We talk a lot in the massage community about boundaries: physical, personal, emotional boundaries.

Protective Gloves

One of the things we visualize for ourselves is protective gloves to give us an imaginary line of your body, pain, energy, and mind. It happens occasionally without even noticing we will forget to put on those gloves and transference of pain or emotion happens. A client of mine came in two years ago with chest pain. I gave her an awesome treatment and she left feeling great, but when I went home that night I had the exact same pain and I still have it. It is a constant reminder to put my gloves on. I too must be careful that I am fully present in my massages, and not let my mind wander to someone I am angry with because I can transfer that emotion onto someone, which is not the feeling we are aiming for in a massage treatment.

Knowing Your Limits

This idea of boundaries is something every person should work on especially if you are dealing with someone in your life or work that is struggling with addictions. It is human nature to want to help someone out in every possible way, but that isn’t always our job. We need to support people, but maintain a boundary to ensure we don’t get taken on someone else’s pain. It’s not helpful for us, and it doesn’t help them. Other ways we might want to set boundaries is emotional, ensuring we don’t burn out and are able to continually offer the best help possible by not burdening someone with our own “stuff”.

Tools we can use to brush off the day or prepare us for our day are to set positive intentions like “I will be strong and supportive”. Meditation is a great way to clear our minds and calm our hearts. I like to end my day by washing off the weight of the day and, in my case, the oil. Having a shower or a hot tub is the best way to rid ourselves of the day, but even a hot hand towel to the face is enough to wash it off.

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