The holidays can be a magical time for families. It is a time for wonderful parties, great food, bonding, reminiscing about the past, and gift giving. Family members often travel great lengths to be together. For many people, it is the only time of year that their family is all together as one.
For those families who live with addiction, however, the holidays can be a challenging time. Not knowing what to expect from the addict can leave family members on edge. Because the problem is often kept quiet, the anxiety of the secret being exposed causes even further stress. Many times, family members will avoid social functions out of their fear of shame or embarrassment.
To make matters worse, alcoholic beverages are usually a mainstay at holiday gatherings. If a family member has an alcohol dependency, this causes yet another strain. The person with the alcohol dependency is left feeling like a child being watched, and the family members are unable to relax out of their fear of their loved one losing control. It’s no wonder that holiday arguments are a common theme for families dealing with addiction.
So how do you enjoy the holidays when there is an active addict in your life? Following are some tips for overcoming the anxiety and finding some peace this season:
Tip 1 – Take care of yourself. The holidays can get stressful, even without the issues of addiction. When you add in the problems that surround the addict, the stress can become overwhelming. Schedule in time just for yourself. You have a right to enjoy the season, and in order to do that you many need to distance yourself from the addict in your life. This doesn’t make you a bad parent, family member, or friend. In fact, this can be a wake up call for the addict — a reminder that the world does not revolve around him or her. Take time every day to relax, go shopping, exercise, take a long bath, meditate, or whatever activity helps you to feel peaceful and content.
Tip 2 – Learn about addiction and the challenges surrounding your loved one. It can be difficult to sympathize with the addict when they continue to make bad decisions. We just can’t understand why he or she won’t stop using or drinking. To the family, it seems that the addict just doesn’t care enough to quit. Resentment can easily build. Unfortunately, the addict’s brain is no longer functioning normally. Repeated drug use disrupts the systems in the brain, eventually causing a one-track mission to seek out more drugs. The addicted brain believes it needs the drugs or alcohol in order to survive. It is not simply a matter of willpower. Once we understand this, we can look for ways to help the addict to treatment, and stop taking their behavior personally.
Tip 3 – Stay focused on your own recovery. Although time restraints can tempt family members to skip recovery meetings, now, more than ever, it is important to take advantage of support groups. If you haven’t gotten involved in Al-Anon, or other recovery groups, this is an ideal time. Through these groups, loved ones of addicts can share their experience, struggles, and hope, in order to gain strength and solve their common problems.
Tip 4 – Let go of past resentments. Much of the stress that family members feel is due to the bad memories of past holidays. Rather than holding onto resentment, and expecting the same negative outcome, learn from the past. Some family traditions may need to change. For example, maybe it would be best for your family to go out for the holiday dinner. Wine and other alcoholic beverages should probably be left out of the plans. Perhaps a new tradition of going around the table, and each person sharing what they are grateful for this year, would be a nice way to keep the atmosphere positive.
Tip 5 – Don’t hold your expectations too high. We all want the picture perfect holiday, but in reality, nothing is ever perfect. Every family has it’s challenges. Statistically, addiction affects one in four people. You are not alone. It’s time for families to open up and learn from each other. This is why family recovery meetings like Al-Anon are so important. Make smart changes to your family traditions in order to make the holidays less stressful. And, most importantly, relax and enjoy the good times. If we are constantly looking for a crisis to happen, it will likely show up. If, on the other hand, we work on being positive, and stay in a grateful state of mind, we are more likely to enjoy ourselves.
As the wife of a recovering addict, it always seemed that the addiction would get worse during the holidays. In reality, the addiction wasn’t getting worse, but my stress revolved around the addiction would intensify. For weeks before a family gathering, I would worry about the outcome. Every time my husband would slip, my fear of our holiday being ruined by addiction would overwhelm me. Because I kept his addiction a secret for many years, my fear of the rest of our family finding out was just another reason to worry.
Once I opened up to family members, and started reaching out for help, a world of weight was lifted from my shoulders. I encourage you to reach out to the people who care about you, and let them help to lift your load. Learn to take care of yourself and relax a bit. And, most importantly, don’t take the holidays too seriously. It is a time to have fun and to be grateful. Regardless of whether or not there is an active addict in your life, you can still create happy memories and enjoy this holiday season.