with Candace Plattor, Addiction Specialist
As anyone who cares about an addict knows, these relationships can be very difficult. The basic challenge for loved ones of addicts of any kind is to continue to care without losing themselves in the process. One of the most important ways to do this is to be setting consistent, self-respecting boundaries with those you love.
AN ADDICT’S LEAST FAVORITE WORD
It’s been said that the word an addicted person least likes to hear is “No.” Even though it may seem to be that way because of an addict’s stubbornness and sense of entitlement, the reality is that most people who are struggling with addiction are very scared to let go of the substances and/or behaviors they are entrenched in—and will go to just about any lengths to hold on to them. Their unspoken question to themselves is “Who am I without this?”
If you have an addict in your life, the most loving thing you can do for them is to challenge that way of thinking and behaving—and the best way to do that is to set healthy and appropriate boundaries with them, even if they don’t like them.
Addiction is a childish way of coping with life. Every time we reach for an addictive behavior, we are basically saying that we don’t want to deal with reality on its own terms, whether it’s a situation we don’t want to face or an emotion we don’t want to feel. Ultimately, we will either have to use more and more of the addiction or we will have to bite that bullet and deal with the discomfort of the reality we’ve been trying so hard to avoid.
SETTING BOUNDARIES: A LOVING ACT FOR YOURSELF AND OTHERS
As the loved one of an addict, you may be trying hard to avoid the anxiety you expect you’ll feel if you actually say “No” to your addicted friend, partner, parent, sibling, or child. If you’re used to being the peacekeeper in your relationships—never creating any waves because of your own fear of conflict—then doing something like setting boundaries with the addict in your life may feel very scary indeed. It’s important at times like these to ask yourself two questions:
1. What is the most loving thing I can do for the addicted person I care about?
2. What is the most self-respecting thing I can do for myself?
The way you respond to the above questions will tell you a lot about yourself, if you choose to take the time to explore this.
For example, do you understand that when you allow an addicted person to get away with unhealthy and inappropriate behaviors—toward you or anyone else—without holding them accountable in any way, that this is essentially not a loving act?
Also, how do you feel about yourself when you allow others to treat you in disrespectful ways? The reality is that no one can disrespect you without your permission. Do you see that each time you allow that kind of behavior from another person, your all-important self-respect takes a hit?
TO ENABLE OR TO HELP: WHICH DO YOU CHOOSE?
If you are the loved one of an addict, you’ll need to remember that nothing positive can come from allowing inappropriate behavior to continue. Not setting boundaries will enable your loved one’s addiction to continue. When we truly love an addict, we need to change our own behavior, so that we are helping the addiction—theirs and our own—to stop. A first step toward this vitally important goal is to recognize, establish, and maintain boundaries that hold everyone involved accountable for their own actions.
Perhaps you already know you’d like to give up your enabling ways, but you’re not sure how to start. If you would like some assistance about how to set healthy, clear boundaries, there are several options available to you. There are a number of 12-Step support groups you can attend, such as Al-Anon and Codependents Anonymous (CODA). As well, a skilled counselor who is knowledgeable in working with addiction can also help you explore the types of boundaries you’re ready and willing to set.
My book, Loving an Addict, Loving Yourself: The Top 10 Survival Tips for Loving Someone with an Addiction, can also be a great resource for you as you navigate the tricky waters of being in relationship with an addicted person—including the how’s and why’s of boundary setting. If you are in this kind of relationship, you will see yourself reflected on many of the pages of this book.
TWO NOTES OF CAUTION
One—It’s imperative that you are willing and able to follow through on the boundaries you set. Addicts who are still fearful of giving up their favored ways of coping with life will very likely try to test your resolve when you first begin to draw your lines in the sand. You may have tried before to set a boundary, only to feel manipulated in some way to go back on it—in fact, you may have already taught the addict you love that all s/he needs to do is cry or threaten and you will back down. If this is the case, you’ll need to start over again. Set another boundary—one that you believe is truly important—and stick to it! Each time you do this, you’ll find your own self-respect increasing and you’ll be acting in the most loving way toward your addicted loved one.
Two—Make sure that you are physically safe when setting boundaries. If you do fear for you own safety—or for the safety of others around you—you’ll need to take care of that situation before setting any lasting boundaries. If this is the case for you, instead of taking any unnecessary risks, find safety first—with a friend or relative, or perhaps in a temporary shelter. Only when that is done should you continue with the boundary setting that will need to happen at a later time. Seek out professional assistance if you need it—physical safety for yourself and others has to be your most important initial concern.
I am also the loved one of an addict, and I know how frustrating it can be to maintain these relationships. But most addicts are really good people once the addiction is arrested, and many of these relationships are worth trying to salvage and improve. I wish you the best on your journey, as you learn how to assert yourself and speak your truth.
Photo credit: morguefile.com
For several years, I’ve been writing and speaking about what happens to the loved ones of people with addictions, and the roller-coaster chaos they often experience while desperately trying to ‘help’ the addicts in their lives. While there is now a lot of help out there for the addicts themselves – in the form of treatment centres, detoxes, and outpatient counselling—there is still, to date, little assistance offered to those who suffer right along with them.
LOVED ONES OF ADDICTS STRUGGLE TOO
To me, this is a travesty because for every one person using addictive behaviours of any sort, there are always a number of people who are affected by the many manifestations of that addiction. When I give talks for loved ones of addicts, I often ask for a volunteer from the audience to come to the front of the room to represent the addict. Then I ask the audience who might be affected by this person’s addiction. When I hear ‘mother’ called out, I ask that person to come up and represent the mother—and I do the same when I hear father, spouse, children, co-workers, neighbours, fellow students, teachers, bosses, doctors and even therapists—and the multitude of many other relationships that are negatively affected by one person’s addiction. At the end of that exercise, I often have more people onstage with me than are remaining in the audience!
Thankfully, some loved ones of addicts are gradually discovering they are not alone. They are hearing about support groups like Al-Anon—which, although they work well for some, are not a fit for others. Addiction treatment centres have begun to offer programs to the families of their clients, and some outpatient addiction counselling centres sponsor ‘affected others’ groups for loved ones of addicts. As wonderful as this is, there are still so many more services needed for this population.
IS YOUR LOVED ONE AFFECTED BY ANOTHER PERSON’S ADDICTION?
Recently I became aware of another type of relationship that can also be just as difficult and frustrating to deal with as being the loved one of an addict: being the loved one OF a loved one of someone struggling with addiction.
Last week, while at a local Vancouver hospital having a minor test done, I struck up a conversation with one of the nurses assisting me as I waited. She told me about her job and asked me about mine. When I told her I was an Addictions Therapist working primarily with the loved ones of addicts, she began to tell me her story.
Her brother is the loved one of an addict; in fact, his only son had already died from a heroine overdose and his daughter was also in the throes of drug and alcohol addiction. Despite all of this evidence, her brother (we’ll call him Bill) refuses to accept that addiction even exists in his family and will not tolerate anyone telling him anything different.
As a well-known person in his small community, Bill chooses to stay in some very deep denial because he doesn’t want anyone to know that his family is being torn apart by this. He won’t allow his wife to discuss it with anyone either—so there is no counselling or true healing happening. The people who know this family are aware that their son has died, but the actual cause of death—a drug overdose—has not been publicly revealed. Many people know that their daughter is acting out with mind-altering substances, but this behaviour is also diminished by the father’s massive denial.
The nurse (we’ll call her Sarah) explained that she has tried on many occasions over the years to talk with her brother about this—she is devastated by the tragic loss of her young nephew and extremely concerned about the dangerous path her niece is travelling. But each time she broaches the subject with Bill she is told, in no uncertain terms, that she is to mind her own business and not come to him with her feelings about this.
Of course, Sarah feels very hurt and angry about her brother’s response. She feels like she has lost not only her beloved nephew but also her brother—and she is clear that her niece could be the next statistic. But Sarah also feels like she has been emotionally bullied and abused by Bill for so many years that she has chosen to no longer have any contact with him or his family.
After hearing Sarah’s compelling story, I began to understand that there is yet another part of this equation of ‘loved ones of addicts’—being the loved one of a loved one of someone with an addiction. I understand now that there are many, many people who love people who love addicts—and who are sometimes quite powerless to do anything to help them.
Just like the loved ones of addicts, people like Sarah will not be able to help someone who doesn’t want help. Try as she might, her efforts are in vain because her brother chooses to stay mired in his own ego-driven denial. Rather than trying to help his daughter—and feel his very sad, devastatingly uncomfortable feelings about what happened to his son in the process—Bill has instead made the choice to preserve his own VIP standing in his community. And even though several years have passed since she has been in contact with her brother, Sarah’s eyes welled with tears as she relayed her family’s tragic story to me.
UNHEALTHY BOUNDARIES IN A FAMILY
Another family I’ve been working with consists of the parents and the two siblings of a young woman with a heroin and pot addiction. There are four other people involved here who are definitely entrenched in the roller-coaster chaos that I call being ‘addicted to the addict’s addiction,’ because all of the attention goes to the addict in the family
Unfortunately, before coming to see me for counselling, the parents disagreed often about how to deal with this situation—one was the stricter parent while the other was more lenient. This contributed to even more confusion and stress in the household than would normally be present before any type of addiction is thrown into the mix.
The young woman with the addiction (we’ll call her Erin) had been allowed to live in the family home for several years—using drugs there and often coming home drunk or high. Because she was not working, Erin was not required by the parents to contribute financially to the household. She also did not do any chores in the family home, and became quite belligerent and verbally abusive whenever anyone tried to talk with her about that. She often was awake at 3 am, high with the munchies, noisily banging things around in the kitchen while making herself a snack—and waking up the other four people who also lived there.
When, after a few counselling sessions with me, the parents finally decided together that they had had enough of that kind of behaviour, they set some boundaries with their addicted daughter: she would no longer be permitted to use drugs in their home or come home drunk or high; she would need to get a job and contribute to the household; or if she refused, she would have to move out.
All of this actually sounds very healthy, but the problem was that they gave her no time deadlines and they didn’t maintain the boundaries they had set. They were basically teaching their daughter how to treat them—which was, in a word, disrespectfully—each time they gave in and allowed her to continue her toxic behaviours. They had great trouble understanding that ‘caving’ in this way was not a loving act toward Erin, or toward themselves, or toward their other two children.
Another sticking point occurred when Erin finally decided to leave home, after quite a while of being pressured to conform to the rules of the household. At this point, she was told by her maternal grandmother (who was 85 and not in good health) that she could live with her—a decision that could only be a recipe for disaster. Because neither parent saw any benefit to this plan, they tried to dissuade the grandmother from enabling Erin in this way.
In this scenario, Grandmother was ‘the loved one of the loved ones’ of the addict. Although on the outside it appeared that she meant well, the decision to let Erin live there was really about meeting her own needs—she was a lonely widow who wanted to have someone help her with household chores, go shopping for groceries, and provide her with warmth and company.
But being a self-absorbed addict in active addiction, Erin was completely unwilling to meet any of her grandmother’s needs in exchange for room and board. And because Grandmother refused to support Erin’s parents in the healthy boundaries they were striving to set for the daughter they loved, Erin was able to continue her toxic manipulative behaviours—and her drug and alcohol misuse—for an even longer time.
Once again, this was not a loving act toward Erin, but Grandmother did not feel like she could set any healthy boundaries with her without risking a major confrontation, which she wanted to completely avoid. It was only when she became even sicker and required hospitalization that she felt she was able to evict Erin from her home with the help of a couple of well-positioned hospital social workers.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO SUPPORT YOUR LOVED ONES?
There must be as many—if not more—loved ones of ‘loved ones’ as there are actual loved ones of addicts in the world. And unless a united front is established by all concerned, there can be no positive outcome. I see this as one of the worst kinds of lose-lose situations, because so many people continue to needlessly suffer when loved ones don’t work together to help the addict as well as themselves. If you are the loved one of a ‘loved one,’ you will need to find a way to have healthy boundaries and learn how to take care of your own life, as you support other family members in their time of need. As painful as it may be to watch a family imploding, as both Bill’s and Erin’s have been doing, nothing can happen until at least one person in that family decides to do something differently—such as setting and maintaining healthy boundaries and actually letting help in.
As the old saying goes, if nothing changes, nothing changes. But it is also true that when one thing changes, everything changes. I have hope that people can—and do—change, especially when they can see the benefit of making that choice. I witness this every day with my own clients, and it happened that way in my own personal life as well. The power of transformation is the same for all of us—all we need to do is embrace that possibility and start experiencing the benefits of that courageous choice.
If you are a loved one of a ‘loved one’ and currently don’t know the best ways to support the situation, you have a few choices. A support group such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, or “Affected Others” might be a good start—you can find these in your area by Googling them online or by calling local addiction treatment centres. My book Loving an Addict, Loving Yourself: The Top 10 Survival Tips for Loving Someone with an Addiction will help you to understand addiction in a new way and also provides tips and solutions for best supporting both addicts and other loved ones. There are also skilled counsellors who will allow you to explore the differences between the behaviours of helping and enabling so that you can make the healthiest choices when dealing with the people you love.
I wish you all the best of luck!
Ah, Valentine’s Day, the fantasy-filled holiday that comes right after we’ve managed to get ourselves through another year of Christmas and New Year’s Eve!
Have you ever wondered whose bright idea it was to have those three holidays in a row? For many people, the 3-month period of December through February can be the most difficult and depressing time of the year, and this is especially true for those whose significant relationships are problematic. For people with addictive behaviours, as well as those who love them, their most important relationships are also often the most troublesome and rocky.
Think about it—first comes Christmas with all its potential addictive pitfalls. It begins right after Halloween when TV ads try to sell us the concept of the perfectly happy family, stores begin putting up their colourful Christmas displays, and we hear those bells start to jingle. Compulsive shoppers spend far over their budgets, people-pleasers agonize over the right gifts to get so that everyone will be happy with them, gamblers worry about that elusive big win that will allow them to provide the fantasy Christmas for their loved ones, to make up for the grief they may have caused them over the rest of the year. Food addictions run rampant as junk food becomes even more plentiful and overeating abounds. And people with substance abuse issues try to hide from it all by getting high or drunk.
Are we having fun yet?
And then, just one week later, we have New Year’s Eve—a particularly difficult time for people who are not in a satisfying personal relationship or who may be in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. At this time of year, all the advertisements tell us that we are supposed to be:
• having tons of fun with our huge circle of friends,
• drinking every alcoholic beverage imaginable, from beer to vodka to Bailey’s to Grand Marnier,
• partying the night away with our beloved significant other.
Although it is true that some people do have that kind of experience on New Year’s Eve, many also feel very lonely on that night, wondering what is wrong with them if they don’t have that “special someone” to spend it with.
Photo credit: Kozzi.com
And now we come to Valentine’s Day, the third in the trilogy of difficult holidays for so many people. The fantasy involved in Valentine’s Day has now reached epic proportions: We are all supposed to be wildly in love with a “perfect” (read: physically beautiful with lots of hair on his head and no cellulite on her hips) person who will shower us with diamonds and expensive chocolates while gazing soulfully and lovingly into our eyes. In that same dream-state, we become the perfect person for him or her as well, unable to do anything wrong in their estimation. Life is beautiful!
FANTASY OR REALITY? IT’S YOUR CHOICE!
In my opinion, what the media is selling us, and what too many of us are still buying, is “fantasy.” As a direct result of the emotional distress people feel at these times of the year, it is no wonder that fantasy often feels like the best option. Because the use of fantasy works quite well to fend off pain and discomfort in the short run, this method of coping with life can easily become the favourite addictive behaviour of those who do not wish to see reality as it is.
If I sound a bit jaded, it is only because I have witnessed, both personally and professionally, the misery caused by expectations that are unrealistically high. When we are encouraged to be anything but our authentic selves, when we mistakenly set the bar too high for our actual, real lives, disappointment and unhappiness generally follow. And when fantasy is what is needed in order for us to feel worthy of being loved, something is wrong with this picture.
Loving others is a wonderful part of the human experience. It is a tribute to ourselves that we set aside several days each year specifically to show our loved ones how we feel about them. But what if we chose to do this in a more genuine way? Could we find ways to respect ourselves holistically and celebrate our love for ourselves at the same time that we deeply honour others?
The truth is that the way you treat yourself is the very foundation of the love relationships you will allow yourself to have. If you do not like yourself, if you are disrespectful with yourself because you feel you don’t deserve better treatment, that is also exactly what you will attract to yourself—other people who also see you that way.
It is simply not true that you have to wait another minute to begin feeling love for yourself. We are all worthy of being loved. But until you choose to love yourself, you will probably feel like a “nobody,” a fate that no human being—including you—deserves.
AND NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS…
The great news is that the way you see yourself can change. In 12-Step programs, there is a wonderfully simple saying for how that can happen: “Bring the body, the mind will follow.” So what if, this Valentine’s Day, you did something absolutely fabulous for yourself, whether you have a significant other to share the meaning of the day with or not? Maybe it would be something that costs money, like buying yourself flowers or a box of chocolates or taking yourself to the spa for a few hours to celebrate how absolutely amazing you are. Maybe it could be something that doesn’t financially cost much at all, such as going for a walk in the fresh air or taking the time to call or email cherished friends and family members to let them know you love them.
The following are some things you can do to have a different kind of Valentine’s Day:
• Plan in advance to spend time with people who help you feel good about yourself, rather than with those who are a drain on your energy and your self-esteem.
• Choose to volunteer with an organization that radiates love to our planet.
• Find a way to give of yourself to those less fortunate than you on that day—for example, maybe your local hospital has babies who need someone to hold them for a little while, or perhaps there are animals at a local shelter would love to have a visit from you.
• Rather than remaining “asleep” by continuing to believe one of the most dysfunctional messages our society imparts on Valentine’s Day—”You’re nobody till somebody loves you”—you can instead choose to make an awake, conscious decision to take care of yourself holistically on February 14th, while holding your head high and feeling proud of yourself. What a concept!
Whether you are in a healthy significant relationship with another person at this time or you’re not is in no way a reflection on your inner worth or your ability to love. And remember, you are always in the most important relationship of your life, 24-7—the one that you have with yourself. It’s very possible that you actually deserve far more than you’ve been giving yourself!
How will YOU choose to take good care of yourself on Valentine’s Day this year?
I am outraged.
We elect our political officials to work for us, don’t we?
And yet – we basically just let them do whatever they want, in so many ways.
WHY DOES THIS MADNESS CONTINUE?
I’m not even talking about the fact that they bemoan this ‘fiscal cliff’ as the latest buzzword tells us – while they receive gigantic salaries that they absolutely DO NOT deserve. Or the fact that they hire limos and private planes and drink $25 glasses of orange juice on the dime of the rest of us, the taxpayers.
Do you work hard? I know I do! Why do they get away with taking home so much money, not to mention their hefty benefits and severance packages? Why is it that people like the president and the superintendent of the many school boards make over $200,000 per year, when they turn around and say they don’t have the funds to make sure that all students have textbooks and that arts programs need to be slashed?
But I digress – that isn’t what I wanted to talk about today, so I’ll save that for another time…
Actually, today I want to talk about what most of us all over the world are thinking about – Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and what happened there. Like everyone else in the world, my thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the children and teachers whose lives were lost there, as well as the rest of the residents of Newtown and everyone else who was personally affected. My heart is so heavy.
HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN? A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
I know that there really isn’t anything I can say that hasn’t already been said, about what a horrific, unfathomable tragedy this is. So I won’t even try to do that. Instead, I want to ask the questions swirling around in my head – the biggest one being “What did our politicians expect?” – those same ‘leaders,’ as I stated before, that we elect to work for us. How could they not see something like this coming? Why are they all so surprised?
First of all, there is no effective gun control in most countries in the world, and none at all on the Internet. As we all know by now, anyone can get their hands on any weapons they choose, at any time, day or night. What a sham it is for our leaders – and those of us who elected them – to wring our hands and ask how this could happen. No legitimate gun control is, without question, one of the two major reasons for why this happened.
And with our complicit silence we, the public, have allowed this to continue.
But the other reason, as I see it, has to do with all the funding that has been cut in recent years to social services, especially to those programs that assisted people with mental illness. Here in Vancouver, Canada, the largest agency that helped and housed those struggling with symptoms of deep and disturbing mental illnesses – Riverview Hospital – was shut down due to ‘budget constraints.’ As a result, those of us who live here continuously see the people who clearly are no longer receiving help – and who often now have nowhere to live – wandering our streets, sleeping in doorways, begging for food and money, shouting out loud to themselves, accosting, hurting, and sometimes even killing strangers on buses – the list of very scary, terribly dysfunctional behaviours goes on and on.
And the rest of us, with our silence, put up with it.
WHO IS REALLY TO BLAME?
Are they the ones at fault? Are the people without proper assistance and medication, who are hearing auditory hallucinations telling them to hurt someone, or worse, really the ones at fault? How could we think so?
At the time of this writing, we don’t know yet what happened to Adam Lanza to make him ‘SNAP’ – which is what people like to believe is what happens in situations like these. I think that now, as a society, we are learning something different about this. The shooter at the Aurora movie theatre didn’t ‘snap’ – rather, he took his time laying out his horrible plan, spent plenty of money ordering guns and ammunition from the Internet – and then proceeded to booby-trap his apartment so the police (and everyone else in his building and nearby radius) would be blown up. Is that ‘snapping’?
But one thing can’t be denied – anyone who would commit such a grievous, hideous, and completely self-absorbed crime against humanity – especially against children – cannot be perceived as even close to being emotionally or mentally healthy. And those who commit copy-cat crimes are not operating on all four cylinders either. There are, unfortunately, plenty of those people out there, and some will fly under the radar for a long time until they’re ready to fly above it. But without the proper medical and therapeutic attention, without the mental health services that are so badly needed and too often neglected as a matter of course these days, there is really very little hope of us reaching and helping the ones who are capable of this unspeakable onslaught of violence.
And, of course, when we add the stodgers – the ridiculous hold-outs who continue to say that we don’t need gun control – into that mix (ok, theoretically they are talking about America’s 2nd Amendment, but many Canadians believe in their right to bear arms as well), there is only one thing that can happen. There will be more detestable violence and increased repetition of what we’ve already experienced.
Should we just sit around wondering who will be the next targets, and where that next strike will occur?
Tell me, how safe do you feel at the mall these days? What about at the movies? How will you feel the next time you send your kids off to school?
Isn’t it finally time for us to do something about all of this madness and compel our elected officials to do their real job?
Has anyone else noticed how early the Christmas Chaos began this year?
Here in Vancouver, a number of people became so disgruntled by the early onset of Christmas music in some of the stores—in the middle of October—that they took to Facebook en masse and complained. One store in particular, Shoppers Drug Mart, appeased the naysayers by stopping that music, but only after they drew their line in the sand, assuring us that the carols would resume again at the end of October. And they did.
ANXIETY FOR ADDICTS
Even before Halloween came and went, I noticed that several of my clients were already becoming quite antsy about the upcoming holiday season—for a variety of reasons. People who struggle with addictive behaviors—anything from drugs and alcohol to eating disorders, gambling, sex addiction, or relationship addiction—wondered if they would be able to maintain their sobriety when they began to actually feel the loneliness, fear, and isolation that they had used these behaviors and substances to avoid experiencing.
Those who have problems with compulsive overspending worried that they would max out their credit cards in short order when they went online or to the mall to do their mandatory Christmas shopping, while anorexics and bulimics worried endlessly about the food they would be expected to consume during seasonal festivities.
ANXIETY FOR LOVED ONES OF ADDICTS
As well, people who are loved ones of those struggling with addictions seemed to feel equally as pressured, although the source of the stress was a bit different for them. For example, they frequently found themselves overwhelmed with difficult decisions such as “Should I invite the addict in my life to our Christmas gathering?” and “What if I try to set some boundaries and my addicted loved one becomes angry with me?”
The fear of conflict and, even worse, of actual confrontation can quite often keep people stuck in dysfunctional relationships for a very long time.
And because many loved ones have a pattern of putting their own needs on the back burner and trying to make things go smoothly for everybody, they routinely find themselves mired in their own personal versions of perfectionism. The source of their stress becomes issues like “How can I make this season wonderful for everyone else?” And, more often than not, that becomes their own addictive behavior.
Doe any of this sound familiar to you?
SOME HELPFUL STRATEGIES
Whether you’re reading this as an addict longing to be clean and sober, or you’re already in recovery for your particular addiction(s), or you’re the loved one of someone addicted to a substance or behavior, here are some tips you can follow for making this season a little easier for yourself.
Tip #1 – Lower Your Standards
The Christmas holiday season has become a set-up for chaos. Think about it—jingly bells and familiar carols blaring weeks—sometimes months—before the actual day, decorations designed to entice you into ‘the spirit,’ plenty of well-marketed merchandise on hand so that you can oh-so-easily part with your money—not to mention all the ads on TV showing loving families that always seem to give each other the very best hugs and presents ever.
Is there no end to the commercialism and the rose-colored glasses we are expected to wear throughout November and December?
We are completely encouraged to believe that we can all have the perfect holiday if we only try hard enough, buy enough, and put up the very best Christmas lights of any house on the block. As I said, it’s a set-up.
In order to survive this season intact, the first thing you need to do is lower the bar and keep your expectations realistic—especially if you’re a perfectionist. Having your expectations up there in the stratosphere can only be a recipe for disappointment. Although it’s good to have a plan, it’s also important to understand and accept that your well-intentioned blueprint might end up changing. Try to relax and see if you can let life unfold as it’s going to. And perhaps most importantly, you’ll need to use your sense of humor—with yourself and with others—when some of your well-laid plans inevitably go awry.
Tip #2 – Be Aware of What You’re Buying Into
The happiness and joy we’re supposed to feel in this holiday season don’t come to us through a credit card. Of course, this is entirely contrary to all the hype and crazy messages we receive at this time of year to buy-buy-buy. In fact, we are led to believe, day in and day out, that the only way we can be fulfilled in our relationships is if we give and receive the perfect, store-bought gifts and some Hallmark cards to go with them.
In my family growing up, there was always a big lead-up to opening presents and how wonderful that was going to be. Because my family was quite dysfunctional in a number of ways, that positive glow didn’t last very long. Once the cards were opened and the gifts were exchanged, we all went right back to going our separate ways—the warm, loving family moment lasted for about twenty minutes if we were lucky.
I wish someone had taught me then that being more realistic about my expectations would have actually brought me more ongoing emotional ease than the fantasy of the Leave-It-To-Beaver family—the one I didn’t have—ever could.
Seeing reality as it is gives us more of a chance of remaining holistically healthy and resilient during this time of Christmas madness. The best way to do this is to explore your own values and priorities so that you can decide—sometimes moment-by-moment—what is truly important to you.
You’ll begin to see that it’s not really about what you’re going to buy—it’s actually about what you’re choosing to buy into.
Tip #3 – Take Good Care of Yourself
There are so many things to do at this time of year—especially if you’re busy with families, children, and jobs. There are trees to decorate or menorahs to set up. There are festive cards to write and mail out. There are parties, and bake sales, crafts tables to make items for, and lunches or dinners with people you usually don’t see at any other time of year. There are special events at churches and synagogues, and there are special outfits to purchase for these functions, not to mention the gifts most of us buy for family and friends. There just seems to be no end to all of it—bop till you drop.
So ask yourself—Are there any ways I can reorganize? Can I delegate some of these tasks associated with the holidays? Do I have to be all things to all people?
There is a wonderful saying known as K-I-S-S, which seems to have originated in 12-Step programs: “Keep It Simple, Sweetie.” This is a great suggestion for life in general, and perhaps most especially at this time of year. Even with a lot on your plate, how can you keep it simple for yourself so that you don’t have to feel completely overwhelmed?
Many people who are in recovery from addictions have heard of the acronym H-A-L-T, which provides a wonderful template for self-care. It stands for “hungry-angry-lonely-tired.” When you find yourself feeling just a bit off but you don’t really know why, try asking yourself the following questions:
- What do I need to do for myself in this moment?
- Am I hungry? Is my blood sugar low? Do I need to give myself a snack or a good meal?
- Am I angry—or perhaps hurt, sad, or confused? Is there an unresolved emotional issue that I need to deal with? Would it help for me to talk to someone about how I’m feeling?
- Am I lonely? Has it been a while since I’ve seen or talked with my close friends? Do I need to set up a weekly romantic date with my partner or a play-date with my BFF? Maybe I could speak with a professional counselor if my loneliness has been going on for a while?
- Am I tired? Do I need a nap? Am I getting enough good sleep at night? Would a warm bubble bath or a soothing cup of chamomile tea before bedtime relax me? Do I perhaps need to consult with my doctor if I’m not sleeping well on a regular basis?
In recent years, Addiction to Christmas Chaos has become a widespread phenomenon—it happens in many countries the world over, often starting prematurely in October. Business owners and shopkeepers can hardly contain their excitement, as visions of wallets wide open and credit cards screaming to be swiped dance in their heads.
When you find you’re beginning to lose yourself in the Christmas Madness this year, you might want to try something different: keep your expectations realistic, be aware of what you’re choosing to buy into and, above all, take the best care of yourself that you can.
I wish you all a Holistically Happy and Healthy Holiday!