Only a few days out from Christmas, “joy” is the word we hear – but it’s not necessarily the reality.
The holidays evoke strong feelings. Those strong feelings could include the pressures of keeping up with the seasonal expectations and events including shopping, traveling, social gatherings, family events and so on. The stresses can also come from NOT having any of those things to keep up with.
Strong feelings can also arise from our past. At the holidays, our past is more present – especially past family life. Moms remember when their little boys were running down the stairs to open gifts, daughters remember when their dads strung the lights on the tree. Cherished holiday memories hurt when special people are no longer with us, and painful holiday memories hurt even more when the holidays arrive – whether the people involved are still with us or not.
While this time of the year can be joyous, the holidays can also be one of the hardest times of the year – especially for those struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, and their families.
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Addiction never touches just the person who abuses alcohol, cocaine, or painkillers. Addiction doesn’t just affect the mom who takes a few Oxycodones to get through the day. Addiction doesn’t just affect the son who is on meth and misses the family gathering. Drug and alcohol addiction reaches out into the lives of everyone around him or her. Parents, siblings, spouses, children, co-workers, and friends are all impacted by the struggles of the person who is addicted. Families struggle right alongside the person who is addicted.
Despite all of the pain, families and loved ones of those that are addicted are not helpless victims in the situation. There are ways for them to take control of how the drug or alcohol addiction affects them and the celebration plans for the holidays.
If your loved one is struggling with addiction this holiday season, recognize that you don’t need to walk this journey alone. Many times, families adopt a cone of silence about their problems, believing that they are only protecting their struggling loved one. However, the opposite is true. When a family keeps silent, destructive feelings of guilt and shame set into the house. Soon, everyone feels an overpowering sense of isolation.
Pretending things are fine when they really are not fine only exacerbates the problem.
- Communicate Inside the Family: Instead of letting addiction become the family’s “dirty little secret” – manage the holidays in a way that acknowledges your loved one’s illness. By communicating with other family members ahead of time about the situation, you may be able to diffuse many problems before they arise. The most loving approach is to be very clear about how that person can be included, rather than excluded from family gatherings and traditions.
- Control Your Expectations: Family functions rarely go off without a hitch, regardless of any addiction. If someone in your family is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, chances are things won’t go smoothly. Set realistic goals and expectations for this holiday, and work lovingly to accomplish them. Expect that the holidays will be difficult for your loved one and don’t expect them to behave as though nothing is wrong. They are sick and there is something wrong.Note, however, that setting realistic expectations is not the same thing as expecting failure.
- Create the Best Environment for their Success: In the end, you cannot control your loved one struggling with addiction. You can create an environment that eases tensions. Chances are, if your loved one makes it to the family gathering they will be feeling some form of shame or guilt. Don’t lay into them and don’t scold them. Instead, communicate with them and tell them what you expect. If your loved one struggling with addiction doesn’t like your holiday expectations, they will make the choice not to be there for the family gathering. If it is their choice, they will have to shoulder all of the responsibility – even though they may try to blame you.
- Reach out for Help: Sometimes families get impatient when they watched a loved one relapse over and over again. But it does not matter how many times your loved one has been to addiction treatment: there is still hope. In a recent blog we spoke with Amy, who went to treatment more than 10 times and is now 5 years sober. It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes help.
It’s good to show your support to a family member struggling with addiction.
Some families have success in confronting drug abuse issues when families are together for the holidays. But if families are going to attempt to intervene or discuss addiction, they must have a clear plan in doing so with patience and understanding. Otherwise, it’s easy for good intentions to backfire into arguing and shaming. By reaching out, an interventionist can help your loved one get the treatment they need.
For families who have a member that is addicted to drugs or alcohol, the holidays can be a difficult time. It’s hard to watch loved ones in their illness. No matter how painful it may be, and how isolated and desolate you may feel, know that there is still hope and help. The holidays bring out strong emotions – use your emotions this year to muster the courage to keep going, to call, and to get your loved one back.
Don’t give up on your loved one. And don’t give up on your family.
Call (615) 208-2941 to get help for your loved one.