Holidays And Recovery: Tips for Families of Addicts – Part I
Finding Warmth And Joy Amidst Addiction, The Holidays And Recovery - Part I Tips to help you gain and maintain serenity this holiday season
Unnatural dependence, or addiction, to another person(s) can be at the core of holiday dis-ease and discontent. We fantasize, expect, hope, wish, manipulate, insist, cajole, request, require and demand that circumstances be a certain way because it is the holidays. We act as if the holidays are a time in which life should be altered or suspended from the realities and conditions of life itself. This is evidenced in our holiday expressions, “What a magical time of year,” or “May the magic and the wonder of the holiday season stay with you throughout the coming year.”
In reality, addiction and family dysfunction are not subject to the “magic” or the “wonder” of the holiday season. They are conditions that exist no matter the day, the season or the time of year. They are not determined by our wishes, hopes or expectations. They simply exist, and it is helpful and even healing to address addiction and the recovery process not as we wish them to be, but as they are: constant, relentless, progressive and ensuing.
I have been teaching a class this holiday season for families battling a substance use disorder. The purpose of my class is to help individuals prepare for family and holiday gatherings and addresses new sobriety, long-term sobriety, white knuckling sobriety, active addiction and general family dysfunction. If someone you love and/or live with is dealing with active addiction or in early recovery, you might feel increasingly on edge during this season of family gatherings, parties and added stress, wondering how to keep your stress levels down and sanity in check.
The holidays can be tricky and difficult to navigate for most families, but families battling substance use disorders have additional complications, stressors and both current and lingering trauma to address. This time of year ushers in a great deal of anxiety and depression for many people, and many of us have painful experiences and memories that can be triggered around holiday situations, traditions, family gatherings, food and drink. We are conscious of some of these painful experiences, and some we are not, but all are stored in our cellular memory.
We may find ourselves easily triggered and become restless, irritable, anxious and depressed—sometimes without realizing why. Addiction, the holidays and recovery triggers may cause us to act out—unable or unwilling to regulate our own emotions—and we turn to other people, places or material things to gain emotional stability. We can become critical, easily offended, selfish, self-righteous, hardened, hopeless or filled with despair.
During these highly triggering times, it is important to remember that feelings are human emotions and are subject to change. The experience of real and raw emotions is generally not the problem. A problem is, however, created when we develop a need or dependence on the circumstances, behaviors and actions of others in order to change our feelings or emotions. Rather, if a change in how we think, feel or act is necessary, it’s important that we make that change for ourselves and not based on what is occurring around us.
Putting pressure on or relaying on others to change so we feel better emotionally is dangerous, misguided and unhealthy—although this codependent behavior very often happens in families of addiction. Putting our emotional well-being on the mercy of another person’s impulses, reactions and feelings keeps us enslaved to him or her and beholden to trying to control their choices so that we can control our own well-being. Essentially, this level of dependence upon another is unhealthy for our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing. It leaves us in a cycle of dependence, creating unnatural dependencies on others.
This type of dependence on another person, place or thing breeds hopelessness and despair as we are never in control and always in submission to the other.
This type of dependence is the birthplace of discontentment, sadness, anxiety, fear, anger and criticism.
This type of dependence is defined as addiction.
I once formed an unhealthy dependence on my daughter, both as I was raising her and even more so when her addiction to the drug and drink began. Through years of education and recovery, however, I uncovered wisdom that helped me push away from unhealthy dependence and toward independence and freedom from the bondages of emotional distress and enslavement. These following two testaments are simple, but can be difficult to accept. However, if and once you accept them as your truth, they will be a game changer in your life. I can guarantee you that.
There are three things in life we cannot change: the truth, the past or another person.
There are three things that we can change in this life: our attitudes, our actions and ourselves.
Let these words sink in and marinate in them for a few minutes, days or weeks…
If you’re struggling with codependency and/or feeling overwhelmed or on edge this holiday season, the following tip and tips in my subsequent holiday blogs can help you cope with holiday stress and the triggers that often come with addiction, the holidays and recovery.
Do not make choices based on feelings.
Feelings are not facts. They are not good or bad. They are just feelings. There is more to decision-making and holiday and family event planning than feelings. For example, you can be angry at the disease and the behavior or choices that a loved one makes and still love the individual. The angry feeling doesn’t have to dominate you and fuel your actions. Rather than be overcome by a particular emotion, weigh the feeling evenly against the love you have for the family member or friend suffering from the disease. Weight it with self-love and compassion. Anger and resentment need not eclipse our feelings of love, family unity and compassion.
You can be afraid of new experiences and still move toward and through them. You can survive being hurt without giving up on love or hope. And, you can feel sadness and still be confident that you will experience happiness and even joy again.
As we learn to own our own feelings and increase our emotional independence, we can stop depending on people, places or circumstances for our happiness, contentment or even joy. We can learn to find peace, serenity and gladness from the choices, boundaries and conditions that we set for ourselves and with others, being dependent on no one other than ourselves for the “magic” and “wonder” that we seek and desire this holiday season.
Please look for the part two of this blog as we continue to explore ways that you can gain or maintain the magic and wonder of the holiday season—or at least maintain a sense of sanity and stability—whether your loved one is staying clean and sober during the holidays or not.