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Surviving the Holidays – With an Addict (Whether in Recovery or Not)

Love Yourself First to Enjoy the Holiday

By Brian McAlister

Whether the addict in your life is in recovery or not, you need to put yourself first to survive and enjoy this holiday season.

During the holidays, expectations run high. It is a season of hope, but also one of resentment and stress. As a friend or family member of an addict, you likely fear a dramatic situation, another family gathering ruined, another DUI, another New Year’s Eve fiasco. Let’s face it, the holidays offer an addict ample reasons to use and misuse, whether in celebration or in frustration or simply to be part of the crowd.

Many friends and family members are consumed by caring for an addict. You need also to care for yourself.

Here’s why.

  • A drug or alcohol problem never gets better on its own.
  • You deserve a better holiday.
  • You need to care first for yourself before you can help someone else.
  • You need to break the dynamic of an unhealthy relationship.

You already know what doesn’t work.

  • Yelling and screaming aren’t effective.
  • Hiding alcohol isn’t the answer.
  • Pleading doesn’t work.

Here’s the simple truth: You can’t control someone else’s addiction. The more you chase an addict, the farther away he runs.

What Happens at a Meeting?

Al-Anon and Nar-Anon offer support for friends and family members of addicts. Meetings are held daily at locations throughout the nation. This season, give yourself the gift of support. Find a meeting, and go. Today.

Going to that first meeting can be intimidating. You may resent it. Why should you be the one seeking help when it’s the addict who has the problem?

Yet Al-Anon and Nar-Anon meetings are designed specifically for friends and family of addicts. And they are welcoming. Everyone in the room has walked in your shoes. There is no need for shame or embarrassment. Feel free to simply announce: “I’m here to listen.”

In fact, for many friends and family members of addicts, that first meeting can be incredibly freeing. You finally can exhale in relief. You witness the support. You realize that there are many, many people who are not only available to help you but who want to help you.

Education begins at your first meeting, and you may be surprised by what you learn. The truth is that many friends and family members of addicts are inadvertently doing exactly the wrong thing.

Helping an Addict by Helping Yourself

I know firsthand how effective a different approach can be. I am sober today thanks to my wife, who decided to detach herself from me and my addictions and to pursue a better life for herself. She made a decision to seek help, not for me but for herself, and suddenly our whole family dynamic changed. I’d fly off the handle, and she no longer responded. I was deflated. It’s just not possible to argue with yourself. It was eye-opening.

Addicts are selfish people. They like to be center stage. When the drama stops, the dynamic shifts. A hands-off approach can change everything.

The reality is that the more you try to control an addict, the more defiant he becomes. Defiance is a characteristic addicts share. Addicts don’t like to be told what to do. It’s a circle that just leads to more drinking and drugging.

As a friend or family member of an addict, you need a better solution. You need a different solution. You need the support of people who understand exactly what you’re going through, and you need the help of experts. This is why a meeting is so critical.

Set Boundaries for the Holidays and Every Day

You are powerless over the addict and his addiction.

This is a difficult truth.

Kathleen Bendul, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Full Recovery Wellness center in Fairfield, N.J., points out another difficult truth: Family members must make peace with the fact that an addict must hit his or her personal bottom before recovery can begin.

It is painful to watch the deterioration of someone you love. As Bendul says, none of this is simple, and every situation is different. Yet it’s important also to know that people can, and do, get better.

Meantime, Bendul offers encouragement. Friends and family members can take steps toward a better holiday, no matter what the addict does.

  • First, be safe. Don’t get into a car with someone who has been drinking or using drugs.
  • Be wary of false expectations. Nobody has a perfect Hollywood holiday. It doesn’t exist. Don’t expect it.
  • Don’t host a celebration; you can always leave someone else’s party.
  • Don’t give cash to an addict.
  • Don’t believe everything an addict says.
  • Celebrate an aspect of the holidays without the addict. Choose, for example, to go to a movie with friends.

For those with a family member in recovery, Bendul offers this advice.

  • Seek a balanced approach; you want to encourage but not hover.
  • Know that you can say no. You don’t have to go to that party, and you don’t have to serve alcohol in your own home.
  • Help the recovering addict stay close to his/her sober network.
  • Work to assure a healthy diet for the recovering addict, along with enough sleep and exercise.

Bendul also stresses the importance of Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. The meetings, Bendul points out, are not filled with tales of horror, but instead offer stories of strength and hope.

It may take courage to go to that first meeting, but that meeting will give you courage in return. Give yourself that gift.

Brian McAlister’s sober date is August 2, 1990. He is now the President and CEO of the Full Recovery Wellness Center and Freedom 365 Virtual Recovery System™. He is also the best-selling author of Full Recovery, The Recovering Person’s Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Power. Brian recently created Freedom 365 to put a full year of 24/7, secure, and private addiction recovery support in the palm of your hand, anywhere, and on any device. His mission is to help others have access to the life-changing and life-saving tools of recovery that he uses every day – even after 28 years in sobriety. Why? Because currently only 4% of people in America who need addiction recovery support get it. Find out more here.

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