Another year has come and gone: The tree is up and the carols are playing on the radio. It seems like last Christmas, you were hopeful for a new year – hopeful that by this time around, your loved one would have made some progress.
But, as you watch the calendar slide to the end of December, it’s painfully clear that this year didn’t bring the healing that you had wished and prayed for.
This is Christmas with addiction. There is a frenzy in the air and it seems like there are a million things to do. You want everything to be perfect – to make up for those times that things didn’t go well. You aspire to create an idealized version of Christmas, with everyone together and in good spirits. You long for your addicted loved one to be present and alert – just like he used to be before addiction took control.
This is Christmas with addiction. Your feelings are magnified. It’s easier to sense the pain of the world right now – and you’re feeling exhausted, sensitive and over-committed. The smallest things can trigger you into tears. You feel like you could sleep for days.
This is Christmas with addiction. You feel like you’re the only person in the world who loves someone with a drug or alcohol addiction. You find it’s easier to steer clear of social gatherings, holiday parties and other people in general. You’re worried about your privacy, the gossip and the perception of your addicted loved one, your family and yourself. You find yourself isolating.
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This is Christmas with addiction. You try to keep yourself busy with shopping and wrapping gifts – but your mind is constantly racing: Where is he? Is she ok? Is she hungry? Broke? Is he even alive?
This is Christmas with addiction. Your thoughts are filled with every situation possible. Will your loved one show up to Christmas dinner drunk or high? Will she make a scene? Will he be alone? Will the rest of the family be mad? Who will keep an eye on her to make sure she doesn’t drink too much? Should we hide our valuables? Will he even show up?
This is Christmas with addiction. Your family is fed up – they only want a peaceful holiday. No drama – no addicted loved ones. But you? All you want is for him or her to be home. You’d like to respect your family’s wishes, but how could you not welcome your loved one?
This is Christmas with addiction. Then, there are the presents. Do you get your addicted loved one a gift for Christmas? You know they’ve been pawned off in the past. But, she’s really down on her luck right now and you know how hard it’s been for her lately. Maybe you should buy him that phone he’s been wanting? Maybe you should just do some gift cards? You don’t want to enable him or her – but you also don’t want to feel heartless.
This is Christmas with addiction. Your loved one isn’t sure that he wants to attend the holiday gathering. He says it’s too painful – he’s ashamed of where he’s at and what he’s done. Your heart breaks but you know there’s only so many ways you can beg and plead.
This is Christmas with addiction. The guilt has been poured on heavily. You feel like there is more you could have done to make this Christmas special. You feel like you let another year slip away without any change. You feel bad that you don’t have the answers. You feel like you’ve let your loved one down – and you’ve let yourself down as well.
Although only one person in your family may be addicted to alcohol or drugs – the entire family can suffer from addiction. An American Journal on Addictions study found that, on average, family members reported that four other significant others were directly impacted by one person’s addiction. In other words – if a son is addicted to heroin, his mother, father, sister and grandmother could all be suffering immensely from the effects of the drug addiction.
If your family is dealing with a loved one’s addiction this holiday season and you’re carrying an extra load of stress, finding yourself with anxiety or racing thoughts, or isolating yourself from other family members or friends – know that you’re not alone, and neither is your loved one.
- Don’t exclude your loved one from holiday celebrations. Forbidding an addicted loved one from participating in family gatherings can backfire: Instead of helping him or her, you’re only fueling the guilt, shame or isolation that they already feel. All they want is to feel normal – give them that opportunity.
- Define clear boundaries. Long before the celebrations begin, decide on boundaries that are important to you; boundaries that must be adhered to by your addicted loved one in order to participate in the festivities (ie., showing up on time, showing up sober and well groomed.) Keep your boundaries simple and manageable – and be sure to communicate them with your loved one ahead of time.
- Follow through. When laying out the boundaries for Christmas celebrations – make sure both you and your loved one understand the consequences for non-compliance with those rules. Don’t overlook it just because it’s the holidays. If boundaries are crossed without repercussions, you risk further enabling the addictive behavior.
- Manage expectations. If your loved one is addicted, he or she is sick. Your loved one wants to be true to his or her word – but may not be able to. Your loved one’s inability to meet your expectations isn’t personal; it’s the nature of the disease that they are struggling with right now.
- Reach out. No matter what type of addiction-related challenges you may be facing this holiday season, you won’t be well-equipped to handle it, unless you find self-care. Strategies for self-care include eating healthy, exercising, engaging in a hobby or activity, finding time for quiet restoration – and connecting with a support group. By reaching out and attending groups like Nar-Anon or Al-Anon, you’ll be in the presence of other families members who understand exactly what you are going through. There is power and healing in numbers – and knowing that you’re not alone.
The Vertava Health treatment team is available 24/7 – even through the holiday season. We’re here to help you find a solution, customized to your specific needs. We send you the warmest holiday wishes – and want you to know we’re here for you. Give us a call at 888-614-2251.