The holidays have come and gone, but the aftermath is still upon us. Many people feel drained after the holidays and need extra time to recuperate. Those affected by addiction can feel even more exhausted depending on how difficult their family gatherings were and how far along the addiction is. In this 3 part blog series, I have addressed the perspectives of the currently addicted and the recently recovered. In this final blog, we will look at those who are affected by another person's addiction.
Why are holidays so stressful for those who are affected by an addict?
Typically, the person who is affected by another's addiction feels like they are walking on eggshells. When they come home, they are rarely sure what they are going to walk into. Sometimes they can be greeted by a calm environment and other times they will be greeted by anger and yelling. Will the addict be using/drinking/engaging in the addiction? Will they be sober? Because of this uncertainty and unpredictable situation, they often feel like they need to expect the worst and prepare for it all. In theory, this is a good strategy to think ahead and be prepared but you were never meant to live in survival mode, which is often what ends up happening. You are always "on", assessing danger, the situation, and the possible outcomes. This is tiring. During the holidays, this can be exceptionally draining since there is often much more added stress. On top of the typical holiday stress, they are also trying to plan for the worst case scenario. "Will there be a fight? Will there be an accident? Do I need to find a place for the kids to stay just in case?"
Is there anything family and friends can do to support their loved one?
Yes! If you care about someone who is affected by another person's addiction, here are the five most common things I hear people find helpful:
1. Validate me. I see things that are going on that I do not agree with, but I am constantly being told that they are not that big of a deal, or that I'm the one who is seeing things wrong. I feel like there is something wrong with me. I just need to hear that that my feelings are okay to have, and that there really is a problem going on.
2. Don't judge me. I realize that you want to help me by encouraging me to leave my situation but telling me that I am "dumb for putting up with it" or asking,"why haven't you left by now", is not helping me feel better. It's actually making me feel worse. I love this person. I see the good in them. I'm not ready to leave. Or maybe I don't want to leave. I just want to feel better. I want this person to feel better.
3. Offer support. If I am struggling, let me know you are there for me, and I am not alone. Listen to me. If i'm not ready to talk, just be with me. Sometimes distracting me with something enjoyable helps me remember there are good things in life. Sometimes I just need a hug. If you don't feel like you are able to give me the support I do need, point me in the right direction. If delivered in a supportive way, I can be open to alternatives.
4. Remind me I have options. Sometimes I forget that I am allowed to leave the house to take care of myself. Sometimes I forget that I do not have to engage in the argument. Help me see that I have places to go to when I need a break.
5. Don't label. Telling me I am "enabling" the behavior or that this person is "just an addict" is making me feel unsupported. I feel like you're pointing fingers. I get that there are things that I am doing that are making the situation worse. It is not your job to point these out. I am not asking you to fix the situation. I just want you to be there for me.
What can you do as the person who is affected by an addict to get through the holidays?
If making a "Plan B" is too overwhelming, it's okay to give yourself a break from thinking ahead. Just make sure you have someone or something you can rely on for support. Do you have a friend you can call or a place to go to? If you are seeing a therapist, can you discuss with them what your resources are?
Make sure to set boundaries. If you don't want to talk about something, or someone is saying something that is upsetting, it's okay to say "no" or "I don't want to talk about this". This will help avoid intense arguments.
Sometimes it's okay to just give yourself some space. If you are worried that an event will be too much, it's okay to limit the amount of time you are there or to not attend at all.
Any of these 3 blogs in this addiction series can be applied to any time during the year. They don't have to just be specific to the holiday season.
When in doubt, ask for help from a person that you trust.
Take care of yourself. If you are uncomfortable, that is a sure sign that you need to get out of the situation you are in.
1-800-821-HELP (Recovery support line. Available 24/7)
1-800-662-HELP (SAMHSA’s National Helpline. Treatment referral and information service. Available 24/7)
https://www.ola-is.org/ (chat and telephone meetings for the al-anon community)
1-855-278-4204 (24 hour crisis and suicide line for Santa Clara County)