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Holidays for Families with Addiction
For some people, Thanksgiving is great. They look forward to a long weekend of relaxation, eating well, and seeing family and friends. For many others, the holiday can be a stressful, unhappy event. A person or family who is dealing with addiction may face a host of issues during the holiday season.
Sometimes, friends and family members are suspicious and wary of the addicted person. They may have been hurt in the past by trusting and believing that the person was sober, but relapse happened and things went downhill. Most of the time, family and friends are afraid of being hurt or lied to again, so they keep their distance or don’t talk to the addicted person much. It’s hard to blame them for that; it can be a painful thing to be lied to or taken advantage of.
Try to point out positive qualities in your addicted loved one, because often they can’t see them. By doing this, you help them experience true relationships.
The key for the addicted person is to expect these normal reactions from people close to them. If you have struggled with addiction, you are going to need to show people that you have changed by your behavior, not just your words. You may get frustrated, but if you keep it up, people will see the changes and begin to trust you again. “The proof is in the pudding” applies here. Walk the talk.
How to React When Thanksgiving Makes Things Harder
For the addicted person, the holiday may worsen their feelings of shame and depression. On TV we see pictures of happy people gathering around the table with no apparent problems. This may lead the person to ask, “What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel so bad when I’m supposed to be happy?” The key for the addicted person is to expect these difficult feelings and reactions from people close to them. If you have struggled with addiction, you are going to need to show people that you have changed by your behavior, not just your words. You may get frustrated, but if you keep it up, people will see the changes in you and begin to trust you again. It’s okay to feel sad or angry, but don’t give up.
These things will pass with each day you commit to your recovery.
If people in your family group are hurtful to you during gathering times, an option is to not attend the family gathering. Many people are afraid to break family tradition, but sometimes it’s better to choose peace for yourself and your recovery, especially if there are people who act so hurtful towards you that your addiction is triggered.
As children you don’t have much choice, but as an adult you can create a new life for yourself, on your terms.
You can choose to spend the holiday with people who are supportive to you or even spend it by yourself. Try to attend support groups during the holidays — many maintain meetings during the holidays because this season can be difficult. Some people enjoy the peace of being alone, only choosing to socialize when they feel ready. If you are lucky, you will have a family that is willing to support you in your recovery journey.
Thanksgiving can be a great time to step back and look at where you are. Review your year and ask yourself:
- Is there anything else I can do to strengthen my recovery?
- What things were helpful?
- What things were not helpful?
For the coming year, do more of the things that worked for your recovery and less of the things that didn’t! We always hear about the “Holiday Rush,” but I would suggest that It is a time to slow down and stop rushing. It is so easy to get caught up in the rushing, but that can be unhealthy for you, especially if you are dealing with an addiction. When you eat, take each bite slowly and put your fork down. Pay attention to how good everything tastes. Ask yourself, “what is good in my life?” Really think about it and name them. If you aren’t reaching your goals, maybe they are too big. Try cutting them down. For instance, if you want to complete college, don’t just set a goal of “finish college.” Make a weekly or a daily goal for each class, like “finish the reading due for Thursday.”
So this Thanksgiving, try something different. Don’t repeat the old patterns that got you into trouble. You don’t have to get the turkey’s wishbone to make your recovery work…it’s yours for the taking, if you choose to do it. Next Thanksgiving, you can look back and celebrate the progress you made!
About the Author: Brian Carberg, LPC, NCC, BCPC
Brian Carberg is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private counseling practice in Connecticut. He is a National Certified Counselor, a Board Certified Professional Counselor in the American Psychotherapy Association, and holds a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Counseling. He has been assisting people in their healing journeys since 1990, serving as a counselor and supervisor in various Mental Health and Addiction programs. For ten years he worked as a Substance Abuse Counselor and Supervisor in an outpatient treatment program for people addicted to heroin and other opiates. In his current private counseling practice, he thoroughly enjoys assisting clients in all stages of recovery from various addictions. He believes today can be the start of the life you want, if you are willing to do the work.
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