The holidays can be loaded with expectations. Connecting with family, feeling the true spirit of this time, giving the perfect gift, making the perfect meal and creating the perfect memories can be daunting for anyone.
Add addiction to the equation, and holiday expectations can be pushed into stress overload.
In a family with addiction, there is an added element of dread about how potential relapse or ongoing use may affect the holidays. Family members may experience shame and guilt at not being able to stop the relapse from occurring and/or anger at the ongoing pressure that this use can cause. Though the disease of addiction resides in the other person, it greatly affects non-addicts, too.
We cannot control addiction, but we can control our expectation of the moment and of ourselves. Here are some tips for surviving the holiday season when you or a loved one is struggling with addiction.
Accept your situation.
If you focus on your hope that relapse will not occur during the holidays and that things will be perfect, you may be setting yourself up for emotional disaster.
While we can believe that this time of year should inspire change, growth and greater awareness within the addicted person, unfortunately, the opposite is often true. The holidays can be stressful. Someone struggling with addiction may very well harbor the same unrealistic expectations of him or herself which causes further stress. And stress is the number one trigger for relapse.
Choose self-care over additional responsibilities and activities.
Everyone in the family can benefit from seeking more realistic expectations that allow for time for self-care (i.e. attending AA meetings, spending time with a friend who recharges you, taking a nap) and limiting holiday activities and unnecessary responsibilities (i.e. attending EVERY holiday party, volunteering for one more project, baking cookies for everyone on your block) in favor of self-care.
Accept you are not superwoman or superman.
You must accept myself for who you are. If you practice love and grace toward yourself, you can often make a bad day much better.
Know that you cannot love someone out of addiction.
Addiction is a disease that is not connected to your ability to love, fix or save the person affected. The miracle of recovery can only occur within you – when you practice loving yourself.
Addiction leads to loneliness, especially during the holidays. Reach out for help.
Addiction can be very messy and disruptive. You cannot fix the situation or cover it up forever. Allowing people to support you during this time, by sharing your worries and concerns, can give you the needed strength to move forward.
In order to hide your situation in the past, you may have avoided all other people or said “yes” to everything while plastering on a fake smile. This leads to increased loneliness and shame as we pretend everything is fine. To become shame resilient, we must stop keeping secrets.
The fear of judgment can be so strong as to make this seem like it’s not an option. Judgmental people will tell you what you have done wrong to cause this chaos in your life. What they say will prey upon your secret belief that if you were a better person, tried harder, did or did not do the thing that you are most convinced caused this addiction, your person would be healthy and life would be good. These are not truths but are based out of fear. Those people exist but they are not the majority.
Know that you are not alone. Addiction touches at least two-thirds of families.
Most people are amazed at how often they will hear a “me too” when they decide to tell people what they and their loved one have been going through. There are support groups, such as Al-Anon Family Groups, that can also offer connection and support during the holidays and any other time of the year.
Have faith that you can make good memories and celebrate again.
Addiction is a chronic disease that can often negatively impact our lives. It can cause chaos, fear and self-recrimination. However, it also opens the door to great opportunities to grow as the old system of high expectations of self and shame fails to work, and we begin to understand that we can choose to practice self-care and love as well as connection with others even in difficult times.
You did not cause your loved one’s addiction and you cannot control it. But you can continue to grow, make good memories and celebrate life during the holidays.