Another year has gone by and “The Holidays” are fast approaching – although if you’re anything like me, you’re still wondering where September went!
The time has come when we are once again seeing commercials on TV and in magazines about how wonderful the Christmas season is, that it is better to give than to receive, and how warm and loving families are, especially at this time of year.
But the reality is that, for many people, this is not a time of peace and joy . . . And that is especially true this year – in our second Covid Christmas season. Like our first year of the pandemic, many people have lost loved ones – to the corona virus, to opioid overdoses, and to many other heartbreaking occurrences and diseases. Even though more vaccinated people are deciding to travel this year to spend time with loved ones, this will not be a happy time for a great many families.
Even for those of us who have not lost our loved ones, this can be quite a challenging time for a variety of reasons. However, because there seems to be so much awkwardness associated with not having uplifting holiday times, most people don’t talk openly about how difficult this time of year can be for them. This can lead to intense feelings of loneliness, disappointment, and even shame.
And when any form of addiction is thrown into the mix, this season of the year can feel anything but jolly.
If you and your family can relate to any of the following, then this article may give you some helpful tips for getting through the holidays.
If you are still in “active addiction”. . .
If you are still using your addictive behavior of choice, I want to congratulate you for reading this article, because it likely means that you are getting closer to reaching out for some help. Please know that all of us who have been in the throes of addiction have felt the same shame, guilt, hopelessness and despair that you are probably feeling right now. Every year, thousands of people all over the world are able to stop engaging in their addiction – and you can be one of them!
At this time of year, instead of spending time with your family, it may be wiser for you to sign yourself into a detox or a treatment center, or to call a professional Addictions Counselor. Although this might feel lonely for you, it may be easier than facing those same arguments and disappointments that you and your loved ones have experienced during past holidays.
Attending a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, 16-Step, or SMART Recovery can help you feel less lonely, as you get to know other like-minded people who can truly understand you, because they too have been where you are now.
If you’re unsure of what to do, you might want to seek help from a trained professional to explore options and to make the best decision for yourself.
If you are in “early recovery”. . .
I generally consider “early recovery” as anywhere between having one day to one year of not engaging in your addictive behavior of choice.
If you are in early recovery and involved in one of the popular self-help groups, there may be alternatives to “going home” for the holidays. These can include potluck dinners, dances, and other social activities, as well as extra meetings that have been scheduled for this time of year. Because of Covid, many of these groups continue to be online, which means that there are often chat rooms and meetings that you can be part of to discuss your feelings – where you can both give and receive some extra support – no matter where in the world you happen to be.
If you are not involved in a structured recovery program, then spending time with friends – either in person or on Zoom calls – who understand where you currently are in your life can be a wise alternative. These friends can provide loving support without the emotional triggers that often accompany your visits home.
If you do decide to spend the holiday with family who live out of town, it is a good idea to have some support lined up for yourself. For example, before you leave, check out whether there are 12-Step, SMART, or 16-Step meetings where you’ll be and also familiarize yourself with the groups that are currently online, either as your primary source of support or as backup.
In addition, you can line up some people to support you where you currently live. Keep in touch with your friends, if they are either non-users or in recovery themselves. If you have a sponsor, checking in with that person daily, either by phone or online, would be a good idea. If your counselor or therapist offers telephone or Zoom counselling, book an appointment or two for the triggers that can come up during the time you will be away.
There are also Crisis Centers in most urban areas that you can call. Some are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, while others have more limited hours of operation. Finding out when they are open and how to reach them is another wonderful way to be proactive and take care of yourself while you’re away.
If you are a LOVED ONE of someone with an addiction . . .
If you are a loved one struggling with a family member’s addiction and have invited them to your family get-together, you may find yourself tempted to over-function in order to reduce your anxieties and to make certain that everything goes well. But the truth is that having an addicted person at your gatherings can make everything much more difficult.
Don’t be afraid to openly address your loved one’s addiction BEFORE the family event. Otherwise, you may find yourself with “an elephant in the living room” that nobody acknowledges, and you will feel as if you have to walk on eggshells and continue your accommodating behaviors just to keep things under some semblance of control.
For example, when dealing with family members who are alcoholic, you could let them know beforehand that you would love to have them there, as long as they understand that the expectation is that they will remain sober. If they choose to drink after being informed of this boundary, inform them that you will be asking them to leave – likely taking their keys and calling a cab for them, as a gesture of the love you have for them.
If your addicted loved one does not agree to this boundary beforehand, then it is best not to invite him or her to the gathering. Openly discussing these options with other family members and having their support when setting these boundaries can be crucial for the success of the gathering. Let them know your thoughts and feelings, as well as the specific help you might need, whenever possible.
Please know that learning how to set these kinds of boundaries takes time and practice, but you can definitely do it! If you feel that you need help with this, get in touch with a professional counselor or therapist who can assist you. Many therapists work during the holiday season because they know that their clients need them at this time. If you’d like to have a free 30-minute consultation with us at Love With Boundaries before the Holidays, just fill out our Questionnaire.
I hope these suggestions will help you have a happier holiday season than you may have had in the past. Deciding on whether to spend time with family over the holidays is not always an easy decision. Remember to do the things that will help you achieve and maintain greater self-respect, and to let that be your guide during a potentially emotionally perilous time.
Happy Holidays, Everyone!