This year, the holidays are hitting me hard. Thanks to Pandora, I’ve heard “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “(There’s No Place Like) Home For The Holidays” about 20 times every hour for the last three weeks. And yes, of course, I know I’m wallowing in my grief, so here’s how I’m going to deal with this epic disappointment.
1. Face The Truth: What A “Home” With Addiction Looks Like
My Mom and Dad live in a small, dirty, rural town. Their house has two bedrooms. My 40 year-old-brother lives in the upstairs bedroom. My dad and his gigantic gun collection live in the master, and my Mom sleeps on a twin bed in the dining room. Stacks of mail and empty food packages cover every counter surface. The room temperature is a blistering 85 degrees while the humidity hovers somewhere around 5%. It’s impossible to breathe. The fridge is packed with butter bowls filled with leftovers, most of which are moldy.
Worse than the physical atmosphere is the addiction, anger, and anxiety. My dad distracts himself by blaring the TV. He loves old Westerns, Cops, or violent movies that are wildly frightening to me. My Mom sequesters her anger to the front porch, where the volume of her HGTV reruns and Hallmark movies rivals my Dad’s. My brother Ricky deals with this by sleeping all day and all night.
There is no room for my family in this house. Addiction has literally pushed us out. My Mom’s denial is so deep that she doesn’t see this as a problem. She has another twin bed on the front porch my husband and I could share.
2. Peace Is More Important Than Going Home
In my parents’ house, everyone is mad at someone. My Mom’s mad at my Dad. My Dad’s mad at Ricky and my Mom. Ricky hates everyone, especially the mailman. He’s got a lot of pent-up anger.
No one is happy with what anyone else is doing. Ricky cannot keep a job and doesn’t clean up after himself. My Mom gives him money, washes his clothes, and balances his checkbook. This drives my Dad crazy. At the same time, my Mom’s mad at my Dad for not doing more to help Ricky. Recovery teaches me this is all an adventure in insanity. I have to detach from this chaos.
Furthermore, I’m tired of walking on eggshells, coddling everyone, and distracting people with jokes. Most of all, I’m sick of pretending like Ricky’s life isn’t slowly and painfully ending.
3. Redefine “Home” For The Holidays
My “home” for Christmas is now MY home. It’s great that Perry Como can call his Mom’s house home. I cannot, nor would I want to. When I hear those sappy Christmas songs, I have two choices:
- I can feel sad about the Hallmark I will never have, or
- I can make my own story-book worthy memory.
My home is lovely because it’s filled with people and pets I hold dear. I don’t have expensive possessions, most are thrift store treasures that I’ve repainted, and I adore them. I can cook what I want and watch the movies I love. Plus, after dinner, I can take a walk on the beach in the warm sunshine. I am finally living my dream, and I’m not going to let some sappy song trick me into believing a snowy fairy-tale is any better.
4. Remember My Reason For The Season
All of this family madness reaffirms why I am in recovery. I was completely enmeshed in my family of origin’s drama and addiction. I was miserable and wasting away. Finding a 12 Step program literally saved my life. I learned right away that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. I tried everything to fix my family’s problems. Nothing worked. I needed a Higher Power.
For me, recovery isn’t a religious program but it is a spiritual journey. My Higher Power has restored my peace and serenity. He has blessed me with a recovered family of friends who love me. All I have to do is trust that “He will make all things right if I surrender to His will.” (Yes, my Higher Power is a He, and this passage is from the Serenity Prayer.)
5. It’s OK To Have A Blue Christmas
I have some blue moments this Christmas for sure. I think they are coming now because I have enough recovery hours under my belt to process them. They don’t last long and they don’t persuade me to do anything crazy like visit my parents out of guilt.
The truth is, I really do love my family, and I’d be lying if I said none of this bothers me. I’m not “Fine,” but I’m not going to crumple into a marshmallow either. More than anything, on my “Grown-up Christmas List” I’d love for all of them to find recovery. I’ve told them my story and when possible I carry the message (Step 12) to them.
Recovery again reminds me that I can’t make them do anything. Everyone in my family is doing the best they can. Addiction is a cunning and baffling disease that affects the entire family. In my family, some of us are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Others are addicted to worrying and controlling.
Even though their choices make me anxious, I love them more today than I did three years ago. Not because their addictions have gotten better, but because mine have.