Surviving the Holidays
It seems like every year goes by faster and faster, and before we know it, the Christmas lights adorn the trees and front yards are filled with inflatable snowmen and Santa Claus. For those of us who live in South Florida, the end of November brings the promise of cooler weather, which only serves to accentuate the smell of the fresh pine on a Christmas tree. It is a time that people start to gather family members together, bake cookies, and reconnect with loved ones who perhaps we don’t get to see as often as we might wish.
But there is another aspect of the holidays that can often be overlooked and underestimated. We are conditioned as a society to embrace the holiday season, and we are supposed to get into the family spirit, but this leaves us with a great deal of room for expectations, and the disappointments that so often come with them. We spend many months before the holidays thinking about our travel plans, gift ideas, and maybe we even fantasize about how it will feel to see family members we have not seen in some time. We get to imagine how wonderful it will be to sit around the fireplace, sipping hot cocoa and unwrapping gifts. It is everything that television and social media would have us believe. But the truth is often quite different. Getting together with family can often transport us back to another time in our lives,when perhaps we were kids, and our parents were fighting all the time. Maybe we get to be reminded about Uncle Bob and his excessive drinking problem, and his lack of appropriate behavior once he has had a few. Possibly, we return to our family home, only to be faced with the harsh reality that one of our family members is no longer with us, because they died from a heroin overdose this past year.
The possibilities of the holiday season are endless, and while we would all love to buy into the fantasy of the perfect Christmas, the truth is often more painful. All too frequently, addiction hovers over the family like a black cloud. Some of us tiptoe around the problem, and some of us are caught in the cross-fire of heavy-duty family fights. Maybe we are early in recovery and are so fearful of relapsing when we are back in our old neighborhood. Possibly we are scrutinizing our brother or sister, wondering if they are truly sober or perhaps they are sneaking off to get high while pretending that they are not. Or, we are the family member that is being scrutinized, because everyone is just waiting for us to relapse again, because, well, isn’t that what always happens to us?
The beauty and charm of a perfect holiday time is often miniscule compared with the pain and suffering that so many family members experience when addiction has wreaked havoc. And so the purpose of this article is not to destroy what you hope your holiday time will be like, but instead, it is an opportunity to reach out and tell you that if your holiday time is not perfect, you are not alone. There are tens of thousands of family members grieving the loss of a loved one this year due to opioid overdose. There are so many people who are fighting to hold on to their recovery with everything that they have. There are so many who will not be able to fend off the urges and cravings to use during the holidays. You are not alone.
It is helpful to remember that there are a few things that we can all do to help prepare us for the not-so-perfect Christmas holiday season. We can anticipate that family gatherings are not always ideal, and we can tell ourselves that it is okay for things to not always be okay. We can give ourselves and our loved one’s permission to have moments of sadness, grief, or even a meltdown. We can planahead and find 12-step meetings for ourselves. We can reach out to any friends in the area that are sober, or friends who may have sober connections, so that we can meet up with others and go to meetings and get support. We can make plans to stay connected with our sober support system by phone or FaceTime, so that when we travel away, we still remain connected with people in our homebase. We can be gentle with ourselves and understand that sometimes holidays are not picture perfect. Holidays can be a time to slow things down just a little bit, to ground ourselves, and to reflect on what is important to us.
From our Boca Recovery Center family to yours, we wish you a healthy and happy holiday season, and all the best for 2019.
By: Dr. Alison Tarlow