Finding Warmth And Joy Amidst Addiction: The Holidays And Recovery - Part III
Two more tips for coping with the holidays in recovery
In part one of this three-part blog series, I discussed how trying to change the truth, the past or others is futile, unkind and, perhaps most importantly, unloving. We discussed how to find contentment and happiness without making others responsible for our feelings.
In part two, we looked specifically at expectations. We examined four questions that can inform our expectations:
Is what I am expecting realistic?
Are my expectations an attempt to force someone to change to meet my needs?
Is what I’m asking for based on mutual respect, understanding and acceptance of the individual I have an expectation of?
Am I respecting the individuality of the person or am I solely seeking to have my needs, wants and expectations met?
Secondly, we discussed the importance of always having a Plan B. Adopting a “Plan B mentality” demonstrates our willingness to accept life as it is. We accept that we have been relying on an untrustworthy person to be trustworthy, prompt or reliable, thus setting ourselves up for disappointment, despair and anger.
In part three of the Holidays in Recovery blog, we’ll explore self-care. I know self-care often sounds cliché’ and seems to be a common buzzword for holiday bloggers. BUT, for those who have family members battling a substance use disorder or who are in early sobriety, self-care is the less obvious and most often neglected aspect of our lives. We become so focused on our loved one that we tend to forget about ourselves and the things we need—big or small—to feel healthy, happy and whole. Self-care also includes basics needs, such as getting dressed, self-grooming, bathing/showering, brushing your teeth (at least twice a day), having alone/silent time for prayer, reflection or mediation, eating, exercising, etc.
When in the throes of family addiction, the only time we think about ourselves is in hindsight—often when we are trying to process resentment over misappropriated expectations. Tending to our own basic needs is often the least of our concerns. If you live in a house with active addiction, you know what I’m talking about. There were days when we didn’t change out of what we slept in. Brushing our teeth or taking a bath had to wait because (we thought) there were more pressing issues that HAD to be addressed regarding our addicted love one. OR, we simply did not have the will or the want to engage in a normal self-care routine after “fighting the fight” one too many days. Either way, self-care did not rank high on the priority list.
The holiday season can add to the already overwhelming sense of dread and despair you may already feel around developing healthy self-care habits and sticking to healthy routines. Addressing this issue now is critical. The following two tips can help you develop the practices needed for coping with the holidays in recovery—regardless of if you’re loved one is actively using or in early recovery. In order to adequately support anyone, we must first take proper care of ourselves.
Self-care includes finding community and setting well-defined boundaries.
Find Support Through Community
We spend a lot of time supporting our loved one in and through their addiction. It is easy to isolate due to sheer exhaustion, fear and shame. During these times, it’s important to make a conscious effort to seek a supportive community. Addiction is a dis-ease that impacts us mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It’s vital to seek a community that can support us in these three areas.
Find whatever resources, community and connection that feel right for you. Many people are drawn to 12-Step support groups for family members and friends of alcoholics and addicts. Others find their community through family recovery coaches and the support classes they offer. Still others find connection, support and solace through a faith-based community and the place they attend for worship. No one community is better than another. All that matters is that the community or communities that you seek out meet your mental, emotional and spiritual needs.
If the thought of in-person, face-to-face, group meetings is overwhelming, you can begin your healing process by working one-on-one with a family coach who specializes in family addiction issues, or a counselor who is trained in addiction and family systems issues. There are even online groups that you can join and attend from the comfort of your home. BUT, don’t limit yourself to just online, in-home forums. Although this can be a starting point, work toward developing the willingness to grow into a broader, more sustainable community of like-minded people who are willing to walk through dark, scary, lonely spaces and places with you.
Isolation is a hard habit to break, especially if you are by nature an introvert and recharge by being alone. The chaos and dysfunction that occur in a home battling a substance use disorder is draining. Seeking alone time to recharge and rejuvenate is one thing; however, isolating is another.
In her article, “Have a Family Member with an Addiction? Don’t Isolate Yourself During the Holidays,” Cindy Brody writes, “Isolation can creep up on you. This can be especially true for people who are used to being very busy … solving all of their problems pretty effectively on their own, not in the habit of asking for help … and feeling private or ashamed about this particular issue.”
Isolation is fed by shame and secrets. Shame expert Brene Brown says, “Loneliness is a threat to our survival.” And, indeed, it is. We cannot survive the loneliness and isolation of addiction on our own. We need community, much like we need oxygen to breath. There are things in your self-care routine you can omit, however, community is not one of them.
The fear and shame we harbor as family members plays a big part in creating isolation. I feared what others would think of me as a mother and a person if they knew that my daughter was an addict. Would they think I was neglectful, lacked the ability to parent appropriately and effectively and/or that I was a bad parent? I got in my own way by not sharing what was really happening in my home and the struggles I was facing as a result.
For the first few years of my daughter’s addiction I kept my shame and the painful feelings of humiliation and sorrow bottled up. My shame was my secret and I wasn’t sharing it with anyone—until I did. And the only reason I opened up the festering wounds of shame and isolation was because I joined a community and heard others sharing stories of their families—of their children, partners, spouses, parents battling addiction. I realized that shame, fear and isolation had bullied me from making connections with like-minded individuals.
Please don’t let these dark forces bully you. Find an individual, group or community and begin the self-care routine of sharing your secrets.
Setting Healthy Boundaries
Family members of addicted loved ones often neglect self-care in times of crisis, and there is always a crisis in a household battling a substance use disorder. We tend to want to placate or minimize the crisis—or the pain our loved one is in—even if it means taking verbal or physical abuse.
This where appropriate boundaries come into play. Boundaries are both external and internal mechanisms that serve to protect and contain an individual’s body, mind, emotions and behaviors.
The purpose of developing strong, healthy, loving boundaries as part of self-care is that boundaries help to stop the unhealthy behavior patterns of both the family member and the addict.
Boundaries serve three purposes: they prevent an individual from being victimized; they prevent an individual from being an offender; they give an individual a sense of self.
When setting boundaries it’s helpful to use positive language, promoting your intentions of what you will do or what you want rather than focusing on what you won’t do or don’t want.
Instead of saying, “I am never going to allow you to talk to me that way again,” try saying, “I am unwilling to subject myself to this type of language. I choose to end this conversation.”
Boundaries are intended to be honest, kind and wise. Be honest regarding your intentions. Be kind in what they are and how you state them. Be wise in how and when you choose to impose them.
You may decide that you’re unwilling to interact with your loved one when he or she is drunk or high. If your loved one arrives at a family gathering under the influence, you can say, “I love you, and I will be here to talk with you when you’re sober, but for now you will have to leave. I am unwilling to subject myself to the conditions that come with your being drunk/high.”
Start now in evaluating and developing your holiday boundaries. Communicate them to your loved ones in advance whenever possible. I always advise my clients to use this rule of thumb when stating their boundaries: “Say what you mean and mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.”
When we learn to set and communicate appropriate boundaries, we replace fear-based reactivity with informed and loving responses. In this way, we begin to regain control of our lives, moving toward sanity and away from the victimization, shame, over-responsibility, grief, and chaos that is produced by a substance use disorder.
Boundaries are a critical component of a healthy self-care regiment for a family member or loved one of an individual battling addiction.
I hope the five tips I’ve shared in this holiday blog series have or will be helpful to you and/or your family this holiday season.
You may have noticed that all five tips focus on you and your power of choice, which is not a coincidence.
The wonder and magic of this holiday season will in large part be determined by your choices. Will you choose to react or respond? Will you cultivate your own sense of wonder and magic this holiday season or will you allow others to “Grinch” you and steal your joy and serenity? You can go through the holiday feeling frustrated and fearful OR you can take personal responsibility for your happiness and develop a plan that enables you to spend this holiday season in contentment—whether your loved one is drinking and drugging or not. When we accept what we cannot change—the past, the truth or another person—we gain the freedom to change what we can—ourselves, our actions and our thoughts, which is what enables us to live A Wonderful Life.
If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear from you. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you like what you read here, please look me up and follow me on Facebook @recoverrebuildrestore The Refuge Center of Houston or Instagram @therefugehouston. To learn more about my story and recovery coaching practice and to read more of my blogs, visit my website www.therefugecenterhouston.com.