Thanksgiving through New Year’s, the holidays are often depicted as an idyllic winter wonderland of joyful family reunions, romance and fun. But it can be hard to live up to the ideal even in a “healthy” family not plagued by alcoholism or addiction. So, how do you prepare for visiting family if you grew up with an alcoholic parent or drug abuser?
More here on what can you do in order to survive the winter celebration season. We explore healthy and affirmative ways you can get through the holidays in a family with addiction. Then, we invite your questions, feedback, or comments in the section below.
The Five W’s for a Serene Holiday
Being with family around the holidays is often beset with anxiety, stress, resentment and a sense of coercion. We feel like we “have to” go home, we “should” spend time with family, we “have to” get along, or whatever the dysfunction is that feels like our responsibility and makes the holiday time something to dread. But finding the right skills to cope with addiction in the family is about awareness and affirmative choices.
When you grow up with or live with alcoholism or addiction co-dependence, care-taking, and attempts to control family dysfunction become second nature. We might not even know what we are doing. We do know that something doesn’t feel right and that rather than experiencing the lightness and the freedom of joy, we feel constricted, anxious and compelled.
Making affirmative choices
This holiday season make a commitment to yourself to make an affirmative choice about where you want to be and how you want to be there in order to truly enjoy the season. These five tips will help you choose how you want to experience the holidays:
1. Be who you are
Are you an adult going “home” for the holidays? Are you a teen living at home? Spend some time thinking about who you are today, and what the role of that person is in the family dynamic. If you are an adult, then when you “go home”, it should be as an adult. If you still live at home, think about the role that is true for your age, and see if you can let go of some of the responsibilities or conditions that others may be asking of you. Be who you are without feeling like you have to be more, or different.
2. Decide what you want to do
Knowing what you want to do does not mean that you are going to get it; but it certainly helps clarify the choices you are making. Before you head off to spend time with family ask, “What do I want to do right now?” If the answer is emphatically that you do not want to be with your family, then it might be a good idea to politely decline attending.
The fact is that you aren’t going to be pleasant to be around if you don’t want to be there. If you don’t want to be present, but you decide to go anyway, that is an affirmative choice. Embrace that feeling and show up knowing that attendance at the family event is your choice.
3. Understand when you need to leave
You should always have a plan for keeping yourself serene and sane. If you know that there are certain behaviors that trigger you, or certain people you can’t be around, think about that in advance and know what you are going to do if those situations come up. If you can’t leave the situation entirely, then plan to take a book that you can escape into, say that you need to lie down, go to a movie, go for a walk-whatever will work in your circumstance. Define “if” and “then” so you have a plan. For example, if Uncle Bob starts to yell at cousin Sue, then I will call a cab and go to the movies; if Mom starts to cry over the spoiled dinner, then I will go for a walk.
4. Be where you are
Remember wherever you are, you have made the choice to be there; that means you need to be present in the reality of that place. Don’t dwell on what it was like years ago, or waiting for Dad to start yelling at Mom, or sitting in resentment wanting to be somewhere else. Be in the moment that is happening. Interact with the people around in that moment. If you really can’t stand being there, then leave!
5. Know why you are doing what you are doing
You might need to think about this before you go, and then (again) when you are there. Know why you have made a certain choice so that you can better understand your decision as an affirmative choice. Simply knowing the why becomes a key to answering all of the other questions, and helping you in the difficult moments decide exactly how you want to respond.
If you are an adult and you think, “I am going home because I have to” then stop immediately because you don’t have to. No one is going to bind you up and drag you back to the family home. This is a choice, and you might make this choice because you feel an obligation, or you want to avoid conflict, or you think it will please someone else. Going home can be an affirmative choice and it is important to think about why you are making this choice.
Give yourself the gift of serenity
A “holiday” is supposed to be a day for festivities or recreation, not obligation, resentment, anger or anxiety. This holiday season give yourself the gift of choice, serenity, and empowerment by understanding the who, what, when, where, why and how of your experience.