Facing the Festive Season When Your Child is Chemically Dependent

“Retreating to different parts of the house, we avoided the sad festivities and phoney smiles until tradition beckoned us to sit down at the table across from my son’s very empty place.”


1. Make room for your feelings and let go of old expectations

There’s a lot wrapped up in this festive season that rolls around for one short period a year. A lot of hopeful hopes, fears, disappointments, and stress—when holiday tradition and expectation meet addiction it can be madness. But it’s possible to look at things differently, to do things differently, especially if the whole family is recruited to open their eyes and minds. Face reality, don’t try to re-create what can’t be re-created, start new traditions, and spend quality time with some happy old memories.

“I no longer stuff down my sadness, putting on the dressing of normal life in the same way I shove myself into my jeans after a big meal—by taking a deep breath, swallowing the pain, and pasting on a smile. Instead, I plan ahead. I take the time to face my feelings—I take the time to grieve and cry for what was and what isn’t—and then, acknowledging the pitfalls I don’t want to fall into, I figure out ways to make the holiday work. And one of those ways is to ask for help—from friends, family or a support group like The Family Programme.”


2. Celebrate those who are at the table and let go of perfection

Let Go of thinking that you are the only one who can make the day perfect, for anyone. Or that you can please everyone. Christmas is made all the better with family participation. Together you can prepare and adapt to the fact that your addicted loved one might not show up (or worse). But, those who are not at the table shouldn’t take up more space than the people who are.

“There is no end to the room I have at my table. And in my heart. But both my heart and home have rules. Before the big day, I set my boundaries (and set up escape hatches), knowing that it’s possible that not everyone who shows up is going to behave. I can’t control the actions of anyone else, but what I can control is me. By facing reality, my actions don’t need to be reactions. My boundaries don’t need to be rough, they just need to be strong.”


3. Try something different; open your heart to something new

When the holiday hurts, maybe it’s time to try something different—something smaller, or bigger, or somewhere new. The meal, the menu, an old family recipe, the way (or the place) that you’ve always celebrated…. the little traditions mean nothing compared to the meaning of the big tradition itself.

“There was a time when I would spend weeks shopping and chopping, mixing and rolling, cleaning and decorating, for a meal that, for all of its hype, actually took less than thirty minutes to eat (not counting the time spent talking). But I enjoyed all the creative chaos. Until things changed. And then I didn’t. I felt a bit guilty at first, serving store-bought pie or stuffing from the deli, but the reality is, that isn’t what matters. And no one ever noticed—or if they did, they didn’t care.”


4. Share your gratitude and give back

Make every effort to live in the moment. To give gratitude for the moment. To be grateful to those around you—the people who matter, and who deserve to feel like they matter, no matter what else is going on. Take the time to soak in and appreciate everything you have to be grateful for.

“Who is at the table is more important than what is on the table (or where the table is). In the holiday hubbub, it’s easy to forget what the holiday is really about.”


5. Accept what is, one day at a time

“I’m finally strong enough to fill the hole in my life where my son should be with things that make the holiday better, not worse. I’m strong enough to face reality—to accept what is—to start new traditions, and to spend time with some happy old memories; those are mine to keep and enjoy, forever. Old memories still have the power to bring tears to my eyes, but I’m finally able to treasure my memories for what they are: gifts. I am blessed to have had so many years of such happiness, and not even addiction can take that away. After everything that has happened, I still have my sons’ smiles, the sounds of their voices, and the feel of their hugs, no matter how far away they may be.”

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