Addiction hurts families when celebrations can’t include everyone
Addiction hurts families in ways that make celebrations difficult or impossible, but there are ways to feel better. Each season brings holidays and family events that have the media and internet screaming gifts and togetherness on every device. These are times to remember, enjoy and embrace the importance of our relationships. But what about those who don’t have good relationships with their families? Families with substance use disorder all suffer from damaged relationships which make celebrating all but impossible.
That makes the images of happy family reunions and parties an especially painful reminder of what was lost, or what could be if only we could heal. Whether it’s teens, adult children or parents who are in active substance use or recovery, addiction hits families hard.
Addiction hurts and everyone feels the pain
No matter what your role in the family, you are impacted by the substance use of a family member. Siblings are frightened and don’t know what to do; parents often have to witness their children’s illness from afar. Mothers’ and fathers’ unconditional love, however, is a powerful source of strength. But it can also an easy quality to abuse. In active addiction, we do horrific things to our parents that we wouldn’t do in a sound state of mind.
Addiction behaviors create guilt and shame
One recovering addict shared that he would steal his mother’s cancer-related pain killers and then help her look for them. Another shared that she would take money from her mom’s wallet, and once even got into a physical altercation with her. From keeping our mothers up all night with worry to the lies and embarrassment … we’ve run them to hell and back. As result, we suffer immense levels of guilt and shame, especially around this holiday.
Recovery repairs what addiction destroys
Those of us who recover are given the chance to make amends to our parents. We are blessed with the privilege of sobriety and putting an end to the behaviors that caused such harm. My favorite part is being permitted to be a daughter again and giving my mother, especially, the gift of resuming typical motherly duties. Nothing is greater than being granted forgiveness and the opportunity to rebuild a relationship. Moms need this hope every day.
Addiction hurts families when children have lost their parents trust
But what about those of us that have destroyed our connections with our family members through active addiction? Just because we get sober, doesn’t mean we automatically have our loved ones back in our lives. Trust takes time to restore, and time takes time. A recovering addict with 5 years sober shared that one of her greatest consequences is irreparably destroying her relationship with her mother (who refuses to have contact with her). In some cases, there may be no “getting it back,” which fills us with inner turmoil. That means every holiday and family celebration has an element of sadness for all time.
Addiction hurts families when mom or dad has a substance use disorder
Let’s flip the card. Children of addicts mourn greatly during all holidays as well. They may not have a mother or father present because of active addiction and are grieving the loss of the relationship. Festivities are a heavy reminder of what they have lost or what they are working toward again. Both aspects can be overwhelming and scary.
So in any case — what can we do? How can we cope through sensitive holidays? It is important to be proactive, because it is never fun to be uncomfortable. I suggest practicing self care, forgiveness, acceptance, or detaching with love … or a combination! Whatever applies to you, there is a solution.
Accept your relationship with your family members
Accept where you are pertaining to your relationships with each family member. It is possible that circumstances will not change or patience is needed to see it through. Sitting on these feelings can be tortuous. Recognize it and radically accept it. You can begin to change by making healthy relationships with others to understand what healthy relationships look like.
Forgive in your heart even if you can’t in person
Forgiveness may be a great option for relief. Resentment causes more harm within than it does to the person we resent. Have a constructive conversation leading to forgiveness or taking steps toward it. This will help lift the burden of negative emotions from your shoulders. If you’re suffering from guilt and shame, forgive yourself! It is time to turn over a new leaf and move forward in our relationships.
That being said, forgiveness is not something you have to do in person with anyone. For some, our family relationships are toxic; and contact could be detrimental — therefore, forgive in a way that is conducive to your health. Writing a letter containing all the things you’d like to say to your family member and never sending it is a great way to find some relief.
Detach with love
In some cases, detaching with love is all we can do for a parent or loved one who is sick and suffering. Create a boundary that keeps you safe from destructive behaviors. This is not easy by any means. Try to find comfort in the positive memories you have.
Take care of yourself
And most importantly — self care. Any of these tactics should be paired with self care. Forgiving, acceptance, and detaching with love come with an emotional price regardless of the outcome. Tumultuous relationships create a weight on our mental health, which can only be repaired with putting your well-being first. Take a walk, relax in a bubble bath, meditate … however self care looks for you — do it. It is one of the most powerful tools in keeping yourself healthy during holidays when others seem to have the togetherness you lack.
Remembering those we’ve lost
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the lost loved ones. Some of us do not have mothers or fathers or siblings or children to share holidays with. This is the most raw reality of opioid addiction — it so often robs us entirely of irreplaceable relationships.
It’s not easy to keep the notion that addiction is a disease in the forefront of our minds, especially when it affects the people closest to us. Whatever your status is with your mother this holiday, take care of yourself. This holiday time is temporary; it will pass. And above all, remember that you are not alone. Check out Al-anon, or Nami for help