I love Christmas, it’s truly magical to me, in my mind. Since being an addict for over 20 years, most of my fantastic Christmas’ have been fantasies in my mind. The truth of Christmas for me always ends up the same. I was clean last year and have had 4 or 5 clean Christmas’ during my 20 year run with opiates. The crazy thing is it doesn’t matter, at least not yet, if I am clean or not. Christmas always ends up making me feel like a subhuman.
These are some ways that Christmas would be easier for me, and this is using or not. If your loved one is actively using or even new to recovery, they may not have something nice to wear to the get together you want them to attend. A week or two before the event if you know they don’t have anything to wear, take a bag of hand me downs over and tell them so and so was cleaning out their closet. Don’t mention they can wear any of it to Christmas, they will figure it out.
As a kid, we craved the approval of our parents. As we mature, very little changes in our need for approval (often beyond just our parents). So if you are the parent, family member or friend of someone struggling with addiction, do your best to let them know that they are cherished and valued. This underlying message opens the doors of communication and brings them that much more likely to confide in you when they are ready for help or just for an ear while they are on their recovery path. If I ever look into my mother’s eyes and see something other than disappointment, it will be the happiest day of my life.
For the person abusing substances, as well as for family and friends, gifting can be tough. Before exchanging elaborate holiday wish lists, consider trading in material objects for “healing gifts.” This can relieve tremendous pressure that may be placed on addicts who are often just getting back on their feet financially and can’t afford to purchase presents. So you can do like letter writing to each other instead of gift exchanges. Something where the addict can express their feelings and give a gift without it costing money.
You will be surprised at what a difference even a minor attitude change can make in behavior. Your loved one is likely under a lot of stress just keeping up with the rest of family or friends and staying in high spirits, so remind them of a phrase that’s said a lot in recovery: “It’s progress, not perfection.” It’s a valuable reminder for them to continue moving forward like they say one day at a time and, though it might not always feel like it, a holiday is just another day like any other in the broad scope of one’s sobriety journey. If the person is still using and they show up to the holiday events that could be a big step in the right direction but make sure that no one yells out OH LOOK WHO GRACED US WITH THEIR PRESENCE, stuff that seems very simple but is huge to an addict. Just writing this has got me in tears.
Don’t Hover: Have the strength to let your loved one feel safe, even if it means giving up some control. If they need to skip out on the customary touch-football game to go to a meeting or meet up with recovery friends, you should give them room to do that and permit their absence at this event. No accusations, no judgments. Period.
With some awareness and understanding, Christmas might be great again.