Families gathered around a large table sharing what they’re thankful for and enjoying a home-cooked meal together. Loved ones watching the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade together before enjoying football over turkey and stuffing. These classic images of family joy and bliss are often associated with the Thanksgiving holiday. Unfortunately, not every family experiences these idyllic Thanksgiving moments. For many, the Thanksgiving holiday comes with the stress of navigating deep-seeded family tensions and anxiety of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. These fears are especially prevalent when a family member is struggling with a substance addiction. For these families, just the thought of maintaining peace in the midst of their loved one’s addiction can make Thanksgiving celebrations feel overwhelming rather than blissful. Even if a loved one is in the early stages of recovery, mishandling the emotional tension of Thanksgiving can push a struggling family member away and further strain your relationship. If you’re worried about how to manage a loved one’s addiction while maintaining the peace this Thanksgiving, here are five tips to help make your holiday as stress-free as possible. [middle-callout]
Control your expectations
Holding on to the expectation of hosting the perfect Thanksgiving dinner is a recipe for disaster. There is no such thing as a perfect holiday when you’re mixing a range of different personalities and age groups in one place. Even families that don’t have a loved one suffering from addiction struggle to manage family tensions during the holiday season. This year, understand that just because Thanksgiving is an important occasion for you, a family member struggling with addiction will not magically be “cured” for the holiday. In fact, the stress of Thanksgiving could even make your loved ones normally erratic behavior even worse. While you may be expecting your addicted loved one to be cheerful because it’s Thanksgiving and they’re around family, this might not be the case. Instead of setting yourself up for disappointment, take some time before Thanksgiving day to accept that reality that your addicted loved one is sick and may not meet all of your expectations this Thanksgiving- and that’s okay. Placing unattainable expectations on a loved one suffering from addiction will only lead to more frustration and stress for the both of you.
Set boundaries that your addicted family member must adhere to in order to participate in Thanksgiving with the family. Doing so will help you feel more in control of the situation. Boundaries will also help you stay sane leading up to and during the Thanksgiving celebration. Make sure the boundaries you create are simple and reasonable. Some common boundaries are: a loved one must be clean and sober to enter your house or they must be groomed and dressed appropriately to join the family. If they are not able to stick to these boundaries, you will ask them to leave. While this might seem harsh, setting clear boundaries and firm repercussions a couple of days prior to Thanksgiving with your addicted family member will give you both time to prepare. Creating these boundaries together will also help you build respect and understanding for each other’s emotions. Even if you take the time set up straight-forward boundaries, there is a chance that a loved one struggling with addiction will choose not to attend Thanksgiving with the family. The holiday could be too painful or stressful for a loved one suffering from addiction. If this is that case, it’s best not to push the issue. Instead, reach a mutual agreement that Thanksgiving may not be the best time to get together and find another time to see each other.
Talk with your other family members
As many families know, addiction doesn’t just affect the person struggling, but everyone around them. If you’ve noticed that one of your family members may be struggling with addiction, chances are that many of your other family members have also noticed. Take some time before Thanksgiving to talk about your concerns with the other members of your family. Many of them are probably thinking and feeling the same things you are. Remember to tell all of your family members before Thanksgiving about the boundaries you set with your addicted loved one. This way everyone is on the same page when Thanksgiving arrives and there are no surprises. Having the conversation will also help manage your family members Thanksgiving expectations so no one ends up disappointed.
Make it an alcohol-free Thanksgiving day
You’ve set the boundaries, you’ve notified your family and your expectations are in the right place- now it’s time to show a little support for your loved one struggling with addiction. You can do this by discreetly getting rid of spiked foods or alcoholic beverages at your Thanksgiving celebration. By offering an alcohol-free environment, you’re reducing the chances of something going wrong at Thanksgiving. You’re also making it easier for your struggling loved one to enjoy the holiday by taking away the temptation to drink- if the alcohol isn’t there, they can’t use it. While this isn’t going to prevent someone struggling with addiction from finding something to drink after leaving your house, it ensures that your time with them will be spent sober and none of your previously discussed boundaries are crossed.
Build your own support system
You’re not the only person struggling with a family member’s addiction. There are plenty of people going through the same things as you this holiday seasons, and they could have some helpful insights. Reach out to your local Al-Anon and Nar-Anon chapters and sign up for a meeting around Thanksgiving. Talking with people that are going through the same thing as you can be extremely therapeutic. It could also help you feel more prepared to juggle your Thanksgiving prep and your family member’s addiction. Even if you can’t make a meeting until after Thanksgiving, finding a network of people who can understand and speak to what you’re going through will help you throughout the holiday season and beyond. — When a loved one is struggling with addiction, managing who will break the wishbone, carve the first slice of turkey or bring the cranberry sauce becomes the least of your Thanksgiving worries. As your mind grapples with trying to balance family unity with a loved one’s addiction, remember that there are steps you can take to put your mind at ease. This year, don’t let addiction control your Thanksgiving.