Toby Joseph

Lesson 2: The Caretaker—Making a Difference


Understand that it’s possible to make a positive contribution to the life of someone who is struggling with addiction.


Devise a plan for encouraging positive attitudes and behaviors directed toward recovery from addiction.

The Caretaker

Being the caretaker means placing others (or someone) front and center in your life.  It means caring for someone else’s needs (or safety), even before considering your own.  Being a caretaker is a selfless act; a caretaker makes the statement, “I care enough about you to place your needs before my own.”

Nourish Body and Spirit

As a rule, it may takes more than sheer will power to overcome addiction.  Addiction is a complex and multifaceted problem involving emotional and behavioral dimensions as well as physiological dependencies.  Habit and isolation are often elements of addiction.  The Caretaker is a healing presence who can make a critical difference in bringing about recovery.

Successfully “beating” addiction may require intervention on several levels.  You, as Caretaker, can be of assistance by encouraging life-style changes and providing consistent moral support.  Your first challenge may involve assessing a person’s current living habits and suggesting ways to strengthen the resolve to “kick the habit.”  Questions to consider are:   How can self-destructive habits be replaced with healthy thoughts and behaviors?  In what specific ways might you assume the role of Caretaker and become a positive force for change?  The following are some suggestions that could contribute to a recovery plan.

Put together a “recovery” diet.

“I don’t do McDonald’s…because I know what that’s doing to my children.”

Toby Tafoya  Joseph

Healthy eating assists in overcoming addiction.  Many alcoholics face nutritional challenges because they drink their calories and often resort to a diet of fast food and junk food that fails to provide adequate nourishment.    As a result, other serious health problems have a greater likelihood of developing…..hypertension, obesity, diabetes and even malnutrition.  A recovery diet is one that eliminates fast food, sugary sodas, fried foods and sweets.

The Caretaker can help plan a menu for the week and make sure the ingredients required for meal preparation are available.

Start an exercise regimen.

“I don’t mind hard work.  Actually enjoy that feeling, that isn’t conflict or anger, but there’s this drive to want to get through to this place on the other side, a better place.”

Toby Tafoya Joseph

Persons experiencing hypertension, diabetes and/or obesity as corollaries to indulging in addictive behavior can only benefit from a program of regular exercise.  A daily schedule that includes walking is a good way to start.  It doesn’t require a gym membership, special clothes, or a trainer.  An exercise program can also function as a distraction for a person experiencing addictive cravings.  Walking is also a healthy way to work off anxiety and stress for someone coping with major life changes.

The Caretaker can offer to be a companion walker.

Learn to recognize what “triggers” addictive cravings.

“I am grateful for people [who’ve helped me say] ‘Oh, hold up, readjust, I can’t let that trigger overwhelm me.  I’m catching the trigger, I’m putting the safety on, and I’m not gonna let the trigger be pulled.”                                    Toby Tafoya Joseph

An important element of recovery is the ability to recognize what triggers a person’s urge to engage in addictive behaviors.  It may be a passing thought, a physical longing, something in the immediate environment, or even a memory of past events.  Whatever the source—the trigger, or stressor—starts in motion a series of feelings and sensations that give rise to an addictive response such as….picking up a cigarette, taking a drink, getting high.

Becoming mindful of what “sets us off” can help us regain control and avoid lapsing into self-destructive behaviors.  Intense urges may last only a short time—20 minutes or so—before the impulse dissipates.   Being aware of what reactions to expect, along with knowing that the discomfort fades, helps us regulate our reactions.

The Caretaker can provide a support system for helping identify enabling “triggers” and devising coping strategies for minimizing or eliminating their effects.

Attend A Sweat Lodge Ceremony

“Up until 1978 [having a sweat lodge] was illegal.  A lot of basements at home were half concrete, half dirt, and a sweat lodge was built on the dirt side….if somebody had found the sweat lodge, people would have gone to jail or worse.”

Toby Tafoya Joseph

For Native people, the sweat lodge represents sacred elements.  Toby remembers a time when government officials viewed the sweat lodge as a threat to white authority and denied Indian people its use.

Each tribe has its own traditions and symbolism surrounding the sweat lodge.  For tribal people, the sweat lodge is a place for cleansing the mind of negative emotions, curing the body of physical ailments, and preparing the spirit to receive healing messages.  The sweat makes it possible to let go of outside pressures and focus on recovery.

The Caretaker can arrange for and participate in this important healing ceremony.

Perform A Cleansing Smudge

“What I want to say is that the transformation is worth it, no matter what you have to go through.”                                                            Toby Tafoya Joseph

A smudging ceremony is a traditional cleansing ritual.  It can be used to purify people as well as living spaces.  It is especially powerful for people seeking to be rid of destructive thinking or negative energies and influences.

The Caretaker can use this powerful ritual to restore balance.


This obviously is not an exhaustive list of healing suggestions.  It offers the person who chooses the role of the Caretaker some ideas to pursue and enlarge upon.  Perhaps the most important Caretaker role is enlisting the help of other people—friends and family members—who can make a contribution to the transition process.   In this way the role of Caretaker is expanded and strengthened, with each person contributing their own special gift or skill in working toward successful recovery.