I’m one of those people who can say they had a tremendous childhood – and truly mean it. My parents were loving and supportive, and strict when they needed to be. As the middle child, I meshed (and clashed, as siblings usually do) with both my older sister and younger brother. We lived in a pretty decent neighborhood in an older home, with some of the best homemade meals on the block. And when it came to Christmas – even though we were by no means “rich” – my parents always found a way to give each of us kids a really happy day, and great memories to hold onto for years to come. But the year my parents divorced, holidays became a different story. If you’re divorced with children, you know the sadness of seeing holidays spent without your kids. And as a kid – it hurts just as much. I never wanted to choose or be told which parent I had to see or stay with; I just wanted to be with all of my family. As I’ve gotten older, the holidays have gotten somewhat easier – but with parents on either side of the country, each year I find myself feeling guilty and sad for seeing one and not the other. Even though my parents know I love them both with my whole heart, there’s always a stinging pain of saying, “Merry Christmas, I love you,” over the phone. [middle-callout] In the grand scheme of things, I’m fortunate and I’m thankful. But the point is, that holidays – no matter who you are – can hurt. The holiday season comes and goes each and every year, without any regard to the events, struggles, or feelings that fill our lives. Christmas doesn’t stop when a loved one is addicted to heroin, or a friend gets her fourth DUI. The holidays don’t recognize that your sister is popping Xanax in the bathroom – and put the Christmas carols on pause. They don’t realize that the “3… 2… 1… Happy New Year’s!” is actually a sinking feeling that another year has gone by, and your husband is still addicted to Oxycontin. The holidays will be here and there’s no pain great enough stop them.
So how do you cope when the holidays hurt?
Do you play Clark Griswold and try to push aside all problems to create the perfect day? Do you fake a smile in every family photo? Or do you isolate and self-medicate to keep the pain at bay? No. In order to cope with the hurt of the holiday season – you must find balance. Here’s how to do so:
- Own It. Is your loved one’s addiction your family’s “dirty little secret”? Does everyone keep a side eye watching your cousin – as he’s been away at addiction treatment twice in the past year? Own your story and your family’s story by managing the holidays in a way that acknowledges your loved one’s illness. Communicate with other family members ahead of time about the situation, and be proactive in diffusing potential problems before they become full-blown scuffles. The most loving approach isn’t pretending everything is OK, but rather being clear about how that friend or family member can be INCLUDED – rather than excluded.
- Feel Your Feelings. Sad that your loved one still struggles with addiction this New Year’s countdown? Mad that he missed Christmas dinner again this year? Maybe it’s a certain song that reminds you of happier years passed. Rather than trying to bury your hurt, anger or pain – live your emotions, feel your feelings – and let them pass naturally.
- Create New Traditions. Does playing certain songs or cooking certain food dishes remind you of a loved one who won’t be at your table? It’s okay to change the channel and try something new. Nostalgia can be a good thing – but if it’s keeping you in a place of hurt, find new ways to ring in your holidays.
- Give Back. A good distraction is giving. This time of year, there are so many ways to do so. Find an angel on the Angel Tree, volunteer at a local soup kitchen, drop some items off at a local nursing home. Whatever it is that you’re interested in – find a way to fill some time putting a smile on the faces of others, and in turn, it will help to give you a smile back as well. Living for others this holiday season will give you less time to feel sorrow, and more time to feel thankful.
- Accept. This is probably the most important step in the process of coping. In order to truly appreciate the holidays, you must recognize the things that you are not in control of – will never be in your control. You can’t change or cure your loved one’s addiction, but you can tell him that you love him and you’re in his corner – and that when he’s ready to finally accept help, you’ll be there for him in his recovery. When you accept, it takes a weight off of your heart and allows you to live.
As much as you may feel the pressure to feel an instant holiday cheer – it isn’t always our reality. Find the balance by working to embrace what has happened in your past, or what you’re currently going through. By doing so, you will find that the journey you’re on is bigger than yourself.