If the thought of spending time with your family this holiday causes you to feel anxious and apprehensive, does that makes you ... a very bad person?
Actually, it makes you human.
If you’re feeling stressed about family time with a loved one who has an addiction, you aren't the only one.
How do you deal with your loved one's addiction during the holidays without stepping on land mines and having things flame out of control?
If you have someone in your family struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, you may not know exactly how to relate.
And to make matters worse, you might blame yourself. You might beat yourself up for not telling hard truths or being more authentic with your family members.
But what if you’re setting the bar too high?
As recovering alcoholic and drug user and bestselling author Glennon Doyle Melton once wrote:
“When it comes to authenticity: Family is not the starting place; family is the FINAL FRONTIER. Practicing authenticity with family is like practicing cat grooming in a lion’s den …. Don’t start with your family, start with your mailman.”
With that in mind, here are 7 tips for coping with your loved one’s addiction during the holiday season.
Tip #1: Focus on taking care of your own basic needs.
This might sound obvious, but many family members neglect to tend to themselves when loved ones are in crisis. We want to do all we can to help them through it, even if it means taking verbal abuse or having a blowup at a family gathering or celebration.
However, your own needs are just as important as theirs.
Sufficient sleep, food, and exercise are essential, not optional.
If you’re having trouble integrating your own self-care, then that’s an issue you need to address as soon as possible … ideally, before a swirl of holiday-season events adds to your stress.
Tip #2: Stash the booze and provide a safe space for celebration.
If you’re looking for a practical, concrete way to help someone with an alcohol or other addiction this season, consider talking with them about possible triggers and coming up with a plan to prevent slips.
Note that this works best if you’re quite close to the other person; if you’re not, it might come across as intrusive or pushy.
In any case, be gentle and thoughtful in your approach, tailoring it to your loved one’s needs.
Consider hosting an alcohol-free celebration at your own home instead of attending a bigger, boozier affair at your relative’s house.
As Jennifer Anderson wrote in her post Helping Your Addicted Loved One Through the Holidays:
“... Celebratory rituals might be triggers for your addicted loved one. If family gatherings have historically involved heavy drinking and/or conflict of any kind, you may consider taking things down a notch. In lieu of pressuring your loved one to partake in the traditional events, gently suggest an alternative.”
Tip #3: Reach out and resist self-isolating.
If you spend a lot of time supporting your loved one in healing from addiction, it’s easy to get too isolated. You’ll need to make a conscious effort to break through the bubble.
Go to coffee with a close friend, set an extra meeting with your counselor, or head to a support group … whatever mode of connection feels right for you.
If in-person meeting feels too scary, you can start by joining an online group.
For example, SMART Recovery Online Volunteer Facilitators offer Concerned Significant Others (CSO) meetings as well as in-person groups across the nation.
Often disconnection becomes a habit, especially for people with an “I can do it all myself” attitude.
As Cindy Brody wrote in her DrugFree.org article Have a Family Member with an Addiction? Don’t Isolate Yourself During the Holidays:
“ … 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.”
Tip #4: Set your intentions and clarify your boundaries.
Before an interaction with your loved one, set the intention for how you want to behave, regardless of what they may say or do.
Take a moment to center yourself and choose your intentions from a loving space.
Use positive language, affirming what you do want rather than focusing on what you don’t want.
Don’t say, “My intention is not to get angry.”
Instead, say, “My intention is to remain calm within myself.”
Other powerful intentions might include:
- “My intention is to be honest.”
- “My intention is to be kind.”
- “My intention is to be wise.”
Likewise, clarify your own holiday boundaries in advance and communicate them to your loved ones in advance whenever possible.
You may decide that you’re not willing to interact with your loved one when they’re drunk or high. If they call under the influence, you can tell them, “I love you, and I will be here to talk with you when you’re sober.”
Tip #5: When you’re feeling upset, vent your emotions in a healthy way.
In our Program, we teach Participants several strategies for processing their “hot” emotions in a safe manner. One of these techniques is called Free Form Writing.
Here’s how to do it: The next time you’re angry or upset, slip away to a solitary place, grab a piece of paper, and write as fast as you can for a minimum of 10 minutes.
Be as raw and uncensored as possible; no one is going to see this paper but you, and you’re not even going to reread it. Instead, you’ll either shred or burn it immediately.
If you try Free Form Writing, you’ll probably be surprised at how cathartic it is to give yourself space to feel your emotions.
This exercise is particularly helpful for people who deal with depression and anxiety, because it helps them to give voice to their feelings rather than stuffing them down or denying them.
Tip #6: Educate yourself and focus on compassion.
Loving an alcoholic or someone with a drug addiction is a difficult road, but it is possible to walk it with love and integrity.
If your partner has an addiction and you’re ready to learn how to engage from a compassionate place, then we have a book recommendation for you: When Your Partner Has An Addiction: How Compassion Can Transform Your Relationship (And Heal You Both In The Process) by Christopher Kennedy Lawford and Beverly Engel.
(We recently spoke with Christopher Kennedy Lawford about the book, so stay tuned for the video interview, which will be published here on our blog!)
Tip #7: Remember your power to choose.
As you read through this list, you may have noticed that all of the points outlined here involve your choices.
That’s not a coincidence.
You are the only one who can decide how you’ll handle this holiday season. You can go through it frustrated and fearful.
Or you can choose to live from a place of calm, peace, and love.
The Principles of Spiritual Psychology explain it this way: “Nothing outside of you causes your disturbances.”
And while you have no control over others, you do have power to influence them.
Your support and encouragement can make a positive difference in your loved one’s life.
The paradox of personal development is that only person you can change is you … but when you change, your choices may influence others to shift their behaviors.
Want a free resource to help you along? Check out our free ebook, Supporting A Loved One Struggling with Addiction.
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