The holidays can be a magical time for families. It’s a time for wonderful parties, great food, togetherness, memories of the past, and gift-giving. Family members often travel great distances to be together. For many people, it’s the one time of year when their family is all together as one.

However, for families living with addiction, the holidays can be a challenging time. Not knowing what to expect from the addict can leave family members on edge. Because the issue is often kept quiet, the anxiety that the secret will be exposed causes even more stress. Many times, family members will avoid social functions out of fear of embarrassment or embarrassment.

To make matters worse, alcoholic beverages are often a mainstay at holiday gatherings. If a family member is dependent on alcohol, this causes another strain. The person with alcohol dependence feels like a child who is being watched, and family members cannot relax for fear that their loved one will lose control. It’s no wonder that Christmas arguments are a common theme for families dealing with addiction.

So how do you enjoy the holidays when there is an active addict in your life? The following are some tips for overcoming anxiety and finding some peace this season:

Tip 1 – Take care of yourself. Vacations can become stressful, even without the problems of addiction. When you add the problems surrounding the addict, the stress can become overwhelming. Schedule time just for you. You have a right to enjoy the season, and to do so, you need to distance yourself from the addict in your life. This does not make you a bad parent, family member, or friend. In fact, this can be a wake-up call for the addict, a reminder that the world does not revolve around him or her. Take time each day to relax, go shopping, exercise, take a long bath, meditate, or any activity that helps you feel peaceful and content.

Tip 2: Learn about addiction and the challenges surrounding your loved one. It can be difficult to sympathize with the addict when he continues to make poor decisions. We just can’t understand why he or she won’t stop using or drinking. To the family, it seems that the addict doesn’t care enough to quit. Resentment can easily build up. Unfortunately, the addict’s brain no longer functions normally. Repeated drug use disrupts systems in the brain, eventually triggering a one-way mission to seek out more drugs. The addicted brain believes that it needs drugs or alcohol to survive. It is not simply a matter of willpower. Once we understand this, we can look for ways to help the addict get treatment and stop taking her behavior personally.

Tip 3: Stay focused on your own recovery. Although time constraints may tempt family members to skip recovery meetings, now, more than ever, it’s important to take advantage of support groups. If you haven’t been involved in Al-Anon or other recovery groups, this is an ideal time. Through these groups, loved ones of addicts can share their experience, struggles, and hopes, in order to gain strength and solve their common problems.

Tip 4 – Let go of past feelings. Much of the stress family members feel is due to bad memories of past vacations. Instead of holding on to resentment and expecting the same negative outcome, learn from the past. Some family traditions may need to change. For example, maybe your family would be better off going out for Christmas dinner. Wine and other alcoholic beverages should probably be left out of the plans. Perhaps a new tradition of going around the table, and each person sharing what they are thankful for this year, would be a good way to keep the atmosphere positive.

Tip 5 – Don’t set your expectations too high. We all want the perfect vacation, but in reality, nothing is perfect. Every family has its challenges. Statistically, addiction affects one in four people. You are not alone. It’s time for families to open up and learn from each other. That’s why family recovery meetings like Al-Anon are so important. Make smart changes to your family traditions to make the holidays less stressful. And, most importantly, relax and enjoy the good times. If we constantly look for a crisis to occur, it is likely to appear. If, on the other hand, we work to be positive and stay in a grateful frame of mind, we are more likely to enjoy ourselves.

As the wife of a recovering addict, it always seemed like the addiction would get worse during the holidays. The addiction wasn’t actually getting worse, but my stress was that the addiction would get worse. Weeks before a family reunion, I was worried about the outcome. Every time my husband slipped up, my fear that our vacation would be ruined by addiction overwhelmed me. Because he kept his addiction a secret for many years, my fear that the rest of our family would find out was just another reason to worry.

Once I opened up to my family members and started reaching out for help, a world of weight was lifted off my shoulders. I encourage you to reach out to the people who care about you and let them help you lift your load. Learn to take care of yourself and relax a little. And, most importantly, don’t take your vacation too seriously. It is a time to have fun and to be thankful. Regardless of whether or not there is an active addict in your life, you can still create happy memories and enjoy this holiday season.

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