As the calendar races towards the end of another year, the anticipation of the holiday season is growing rapidly. With every other store dressed up in twinkling lights and stocked with ingredients for traditional family meals, commercials portraying families laughing and visiting, and parties and celebrations to commemorate the festive season – it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with a sense of urgency to feel happy.
The pressures of the holidays often stem from the desire for things to be “perfect” – the way things “should be” this time of year. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve tend to be holidays that summon nostalgia and we’re flooded with memories of the past: Good memories of how things used to be – and bad memories of where things went wrong. These overwhelming emotions leave many people feeling disappointed, wistful and isolated.
A major trigger for pain in the holiday season is dealing with a family member’s addiction.
The Holidays Can Amplify Addiction Struggles For Families.
If you log onto social media any time from mid-November to the end of the year, you’ll likely see photos and announcements from friends on how they’re spending the holidays: “Our first Christmas in our new home!” “Our son Matt took time out of his Law School studying to surprise us this Thanksgiving!” “Christmas on the beach this year!”
Social media can become a breeding ground for judgment – and comparing ourselves against others. It can make you feel that you’re the only person in the world dealing with an addicted loved one at Christmas; the only person with an empty seat at Thanksgiving dinner; the only person realizing another year has gone by and your loved one is still addicted.
And what about those Christmas cards? The cards with the smiling family photos? The ones your friends send every year, letting you know how wonderful everything is in their lives? “Ashley just got accepted into medical school!” “Brian and I are planning our 14-day Europe trip for this spring to kick off his retirement!”
Reading about the joys of success and marriage can seem especially difficult when a loved one has been struggling with drug or alcohol addiction and your family is emotionally, mentally and financially drained.
And then there are the holiday parties and extended family gatherings where people ask you about your year and your family members. You wish you could just blurt out how bad it’s been and how exhausted and worried you are – but, instead, you hold it in and muddle through. You feel as if no one would understand or care about the horrors of addiction – especially at a holiday gathering.
The holiday season can make families dealing with addiction even more acutely aware of their pain.
Easing The Pain Of A Loved One’s Addiction At The Holidays.
Although only one person in your family may be addicted to a substance, the rest of the family may be suffering, as well. According to a study in the American Journal on Addictions, family members reported that on average, four significant others were directly affected by a person’s addiction. There is no guidebook when it comes to handling life when a loved one is addicted. However, there are things that you can do for yourself to ease the pain of a loved one’s addiction. In turn, helping yourself may just help your loved one to get the help he or she needs, too.
Below are four ways to mentally take care of yourself this holiday season:
- Feel Joy For Others
I’ll be the first to admit, when I am in pain and others are happy – it’s really hard to be happy for them. In fact, without a conscious effort otherwise, a knee-jerk reaction can be feelings of envy, judgment and comparison: Why do they get to spend their holiday as a happy family while mine is miserable? Why don’t I have that? Why am I not that happy?
Envy doesn’t feel good – and rather than easing your pain, it will only hurt worse. Feeling joy for others take practice, but it starts with channeling your thoughts on their smiles and their love and laughter. When you think about the people you love enjoying themselves, you can start to feel that they’re having a good time for you. Even if you are sad, knowing that someone you care for isn’t sad, it can help you to find joy for yourself.
- Find Compassion For Yourself
How are you feeling? Be honest. You may be putting on a false smile for the world as your loved one battles with his or her addiction, but it’s time to acknowledge how you truly feel. Are you angry, heartbroken, overwhelmed – or all of the above? Don’t try to deny how you feel.
After first acknowledging how you feel, speak to yourself about these painful emotions – and allow yourself to find compassion. Softly or silently, repeat a phrase or two to fit your particular situation. For example, “I am sad my daughter did not show up for Thanksgiving dinner”; “It hurts to see my family falling apart.”
If you find your own words bringing you to tears – that is alright. Those tears are your compassion for yourself, which you need in order to take care of you.
- Find Compassion For Others
Finding compassion for others while you are the one who feels sad, broken and angry may seem counterintuitive – but it works. Here’s why: For all the many other families, parents, spouses and siblings that are sad, isolated and angry about a loved one’s addiction – you are not alone. Think about breathing in the suffering, sadness and pain of all of those other families who are battling addiction, and breathing out kindness and peace of mind for them. In doing so, you’re also recognizing and releasing that same kindness and peace of mind for yourself.
Sometimes, you may feel like you have no kindness or compassion left to give for anyone. However, recognizing the simple fact that there are other mothers, fathers, partners and adult children going through exactly what you are going through this holiday season, you’ll find connection and peace.
- Understand There Is Help And Healing
You may feel isolated and stranded with the internal and external battle you and your family members are facing. But, if it were hopeless, there wouldn’t be tens of millions of people in recovery from addiction. No one, including your loved one, is too far gone in their addiction to find healing. At Vertava Health, our treatment specialists are available 24/7 every day of the year – even holidays – to help families in the throes of addiction.