How to Enjoy the Holidays When You or Your Loved One Has an Addiction

15213920_sAnother year has gone by and “The Holidays” are fast approaching – although if you’re anything like me, you’re still wondering where September went!

The time has come when we are once again seeing commercials on TV and in magazines about how wonderful the Christmas season is, that it is better to give than to receive, and how warm and loving families are, especially at this time of year.

But the reality is that, for many of people, this is not a time of peace and joy…

However, because there is so much shame associated with not having positive holiday times, most people don’t talk openly about how difficult this time of year can be for them. This can lead to intense feelings of loneliness and disappointment.

And when any form of addiction is thrown into the mix, this season of the year can be anything but jolly.

If you can relate to any of the following, then this article may be give you some helpful tips for getting through the holidays…

  1. If you are still in “active addiction”…

If you are still using your addictive behaviour of choice, I want to congratulate you for reading this article, because it likely means that you are getting closer to reaching out for some help. Please know that all of us who have been in the throes of addiction have felt the same shame, guilt, hopelessness and despair that you are feeling right now. Every year, thousands of people all over the world are able to stop engaging in their addiction – and you can be one of them!

At this time of year, instead of spending time with your family, it may be wiser for you to sign yourself into a detox or a treatment centre, or to call a professional Addictions Counsellor. Although this may feel lonely, it may be easier than facing those same arguments and disappointments that you and your loved ones have experienced during past holidays.

If you are unsure of what to do, you might want to seek help from a trained professional to explore options and to make the best decision for yourself.

  1. If you are in “early recovery”…

I generally consider “early recovery” as anywhere between having one day to one year of not engaging in your addictive behaviour of choice.

If you are in early recovery and involved in one of the popular self-help groups, there may be alternatives to “going home” for the holidays. These can include potluck dinners, dances, and other social activities, as well as extra meetings that have been scheduled for this time of year. If you’re involved in one of these groups online, there are often chats and meetings that you can join to discuss your feelings, where you can give and receive some extra support.

If you are not involved in a recovery program, spending time with friends who understand where you currently are in your life can be a wise alternative. These friends can provide loving support without the emotional triggers that often accompany your visits home.

If you do decide to spend the holiday with family who live out of town, it is a good idea to have some support lined up for yourself. For example, before you leave, check out whether there are 12-Step or 16-Step meetings where you will be. You can also explore the online availability of these programs, either as your primary source of support or as backup.

In addition, you can line up some people to support you where you currently live. Keep in touch with your friends, if they are either non-users or in recovery themselves. If you have a sponsor, checking in with that person daily, either by phone or online, would be a good idea. If your counsellor or therapist offers phone counselling, book an appointment or two for the time you will be away.

There are also Crisis Centres in most urban areas that you can call. Some are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, while others have more limited hours of operation. Finding out when they are open and how to reach them is another wonderful way to be proactive and take care of yourself while you are away.

  1. If you are a “loved one” of someone with an addictive behaviour…

If you are a loved one struggling with a family member’s addiction, you may find yourself tempted to over-function in order to reduce your anxieties and to make certain that everything goes well. But having an addicted person at your gatherings can make everything much more difficult.

Don’t be afraid to openly address your loved one’s addiction BEFORE the family get-together. Otherwise, you may find yourself with “an elephant in the living room” that nobody acknowledges, and you will feel as if you have to walk on eggshells and continue your accommodating behaviours just to keep things under control.

For example, when dealing with family members who are alcoholic, you could let them know beforehand that you would love to have them there, as long as they understand that the expectation is that they will remain sober. If they choose to drink after being informed of this boundary, inform them that you will be asking them to leave.

If your loved one does not agree to this boundary beforehand, then it is best to not invite him or her to the gathering. Openly discussing these options with other family members and having their support when setting these boundaries can be crucial for the success of the gathering. Let them know your thoughts and feelings, and the specific help you need, whenever possible.

Please know that learning how to set these kinds of boundaries takes time and practice, but you can definitely do it! If you feel that you need help with it, get in touch with a professional counsellor or therapist who can assist you. Many therapists work during the holiday season because they know that their clients need them at this time.

I hope these suggestions will help you have a happier holiday season than you may have had in the past. Deciding on whether to spend time with family over the holidays is not an easy decision. Remember to do the things that will help you achieve greater self-respect, and to let that be your guide during a potentially emotionally perilous time.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Violence Against Women: Can We Really Be Shocked by Jian Ghomeshi?

Jian GhomeshiJian Ghomeshi is one charismatic guy.

He’s been revered as attractive, popular, successful, a ladies’ man—until now. Now we see that this man, nearly 50 years of age, has been thinking and acting like a spoiled child who totally believes the world revolves around him—and that he is completely entitled to have all of his needs met, sexual and otherwise.

Now, he is a man reviled. But I have to wonder why we, as a society, are shocked by his behaviour. Personally, I am more surprised that we are so surprised!

This morning I read an article by renowned author and psychiatrist Gabor Mate, discussing the element of male narcissism and how it plays out as rage against women. I agree with much of what he explained, especially about how women are generally our primary caregivers when we are babies—catering to every need we have—until we begin to grow up and find that we, and our needs, are not the centre of the universe. I believe it‘s true that children of all genders develop rage against parents who don’t continue to dote on them—and that it’s our parents’ responsibility to teach us how to deal with that normal frustration and disappointment in healthy ways.

Unfortunately, since there is so very little affordable training available for most parents these days, that job very often goes un-done. In most cases, little boys (and little girls too) get mad at their mommies but somehow understand that rape and other forms of sexual abuse against women will not be tolerated when they grow up.

Or will it?

Sexual assault takes many forms in our society. When I watch TV these days and see all the young women sexually strutting their stuff in videos, on stage, and in commercials, I’m aware that this is done merely for the bottom line—the money that this behaviour rakes in for the performers, their entourage, and most significantly for the advertisers and TV execs, most of whom are males in powerful business positions. I recently read that Beyoncé is the most highly paid singer in the biz. How can she not be, when sex sells so completely? And Miley Cyrus continues to be the wrecking ball she has created herself to be—making piles of money doing it.

One of my favourite TV shows over the years has been Dancing with the Stars. I’ve particularly enjoyed watching the back-stories each week, seeing how the celebs have overcome both physical and emotional challenges to be able to give us their wonderful performances. But this season, I’ve been more aware than usual of the skimpiness of the costumes, as well as the dances that seem like orgasmic writhing more than anything else. When I watch this kind of thing, I can’t help but think that the women involved are selling themselves short and giving in to the male-dominated sexual culture that we have all allowed to be created.

If women want to be on TV, this is the price a great many of them seem to have to pay, while the men behind all of this nonsense rake in all the cash. It’s crazy! And it’s hurting our children, who are all—without exception—growing up in this sexually drenched idiocy that can so easily lead to confusion about how boys and girls should be with each other. They are sexting at very early ages now. Where do we think this comes from?

And let’s not forget all the hoopla that “50 Shades of Grey” and its many sequels caused. How could a man like Ghomeshi, who was already twisted in his views about women, not feel totally validated? How could he possibly think that there was anything wrong with what he was doing, when that series of books was so wildly successful?

I’m hoping the movie won’t do as well.

I’ve worked as an Addictions Therapist for 25 years—and I know that many men watch porn on the Internet, frequently to the detriment of their significant relationships. I hear about this from clients, both male and female, all too often. Do we really believe that the women who perform in these videos do it because they love male-dominated, often violent sex ‘games’? How naïve are we, that we can’t understand how resentful most women really feel, having to debase themselves in this way to earn the almighty buck from the very men who salivate—and more—while watching them perform?

As a woman, I’m concerned with the direction that all of this nastiness has taken us. I’m glad that Ghomeshi’s behaviour has been pounced upon as the news-story-flavour-of-the-month. I hope it sparks a lot of very meaningful and necessary conversations, and that more and more women who have been sexually assaulted will come forward—and be treated respectfully when they do—so that this horror can stop.

But what I’m most concerned about is this: What happens once the men who pay the women to degrade themselves lose interest in this story? Will it just fade back into the woodwork, just like ‘addiction and mental health’ did merely weeks after Robin Williams’ suicide?

I believe that the women of our society must keep this issue alive, if any real and lasting change is going to happen. Let’s make sure that Justin Trudeau and other male political leaders like him continue to fire men who sexually and emotionally harass women. Let’s make sure this isn’t a one-time occurrence, happening so that he and others like him can look good for a day and get some votes.

What if we stopped buying into the culture that makes Beyoncé the most highly paid performer because she knows how to sexually writhe so convincingly on stage? What if we, as women, truly take back our own power and actually are the role models for all those who are looking to us to guide them?

If not now, when?

Stephen Collins’ Secret is Out: How Society Enables Addiction

Say it ain’t so­—Eric Camden, a child molester??

That’s as bad as finding out that Richie Cunningham’s dad beat his wife, Marion.

I’m not in any way trying to diminish this. It’s horrific. According to news reports that first came out, Stephen Collins’ voice has yet to be authenticated on that taped confession, but we all know that it sure sounds like him. And it probably is.

Let’s face it, sex addiction is very real—and it’s alive and thriving in our society. We see it everywhere—from Internet porn, to Jennifer Lopez flaunting her ‘booty,’ to the obvious glee that sick perverts very likely experience when they post nude photos of innocent celebrities taken in the privacy of their own homes. But please understand that sex addiction in the media is alive and well only because we—the audience—perpetuate it with our hard-earned dollars when we choose the movies we watch and the music we buy. That is the truth about any kind of addiction: the only way it can flourish is if it’s enabled to continue. And as a society, that’s exactly what we do. In my opinion, it’s a form of craziness.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we choose to be bamboozled into living in a fantasy space when it comes to our celebrities. We choose to forget that they are flawed human beingSCs who put their pants on one leg at a time and who make mistakes, as we all do. We choose to forget that they are not, in reality, the characters they play when we invite them into our living rooms night after night. We don’t know these people! But we choose to put them on pedestals and pay them exorbitant wages to entertain us so that we can forget our own problems for a while—which is what addiction is essentially about. We are addicted to our celebs, and until they go horrifically astray—as Stephen Collins has allegedly done—we choose to believe they can do no wrong.

We are not responsible for Stephen Collins’ gross and perverse child molestation, but we have enabled his sense of entitlement—and I think that we, as a society, need to own this and make some different choices. We also have allowed our lawmakers to historically slap ridiculously small penalties on those who abuse children. Why, then, are we so surprised?

In our societal addiction to fantasy, we also enable in other ways—a case in point is the recent excessively, embarrassingly lavish wedding of George Clooney. How many millions did he shell out for that? Ok, so he loves the woman on his arm—hopefully he does see her as the powerful person she is rather than just the stunning eye-candy she also is—but that’s for another blog post.

The point here is that we, as a society, ooohed and aaahed over this on such TV shows as Entertainment Tonight and even CNN. Personally, I would have ooohed and aaahed a whole lot more if he’d donated those millions to feed hungry children, or to fight terrorism, or to fund research for Ebola.

I’m just sayin’…

But let’s be crystal clear: sex addiction of any kind—especially toward children—is never about sex. It’s about those who feel powerless within themselves, doing something absolutely abhorrent to avoid having to feel that way. I don’t want Stephen Collins to be a child molester. I don’t want ANYONE to be a child molester—or a rapist or a wife beater or a terrorist. I don’t want to see anyone misuse personal power by lording it over someone else. I don’t like entitlement in any of its ugly forms. But if we keep paying enormous sums of money to people we think we know to be the fictional characters they portray on TV, we are going to keep on being disappointed, blind-sided, and yes, sometimes horrified.

But hey, it gives us something to talk about at the water cooler, right? It gives us something to text our friends about. Once again, it gives us a reprieve from our own lives. And that’s what addiction is about in our society, in whatever form it takes.

Are we courageous enough to pop the bubble we’ve stuck our collective heads into and start living life on life’s terms—preferring to deal with reality instead of choosing to stay stuck in fantasy? If not, then we need to prepare ourselves to continue to see more and more of this type of travesty—for as long as we’re willing to financially fund it. Our entertainers are only human, nothing more—and if we continue to enable them, many of them will continue to feel—and act—entitled.

But alas, that’s not as exciting to discuss at the water cooler, is it?

Attention All Loved Ones of Addicts: Let’s Come out of the Shame Closet and Recover!

SEPTEMBER IS RECOVERY MONTH

Do you know that September is Recovery Month? I think it’s amazing that a whole month has been set aside as a time to honor recovery from addiction—this shows that the times definitely are a-changin’ and that a great many more people are getting the message that recovery truly is possible.

This is great for those who are struggling with addictive behaviors—from alcohol and drugs to gambling, to compulsive over-spending, to sex addiction, to Internet addiction, to eating disorders—and everything in between. I’m so happy that the stigma associated with addiction is being lifted in this way and we’re finally talking about it!

But—what about the loved ones of those who are addicted? These people suffer and struggle right alongside the addicts in their lives. They live in fear 24/7, with frustration, resentment, and confusion. They practice their own addictive behaviors too, such as codependency and people-pleasing, often with a severe lack of personal boundaries.

Are we talking about them yet?

Are they talking to each other?

FINDING YOUR WAY OUT OF SHAME

I am an Addictions Therapist in private practice in Vancouver, BC, specializing primarily in helping people who are caught in this struggle with addicted loved ones. Although there have recently been a few more resources popping up for them, there is still unfortunately very little help out there for those who are faced with this situation.

For several years, I’ve been hosting a Facebook page called Loving an Addict, Loving Yourself. A few weeks ago, in a newsletter I sent out, I suggested to the loved ones on my list to come visit my page and ‘like’ it—at that time, there were relatively few people there and only about 450 likes. But now, as of this writing, there are nearly 2000 likes and counting. A true community is developing there—it’s become a place where we can gather and support each other with compassion, understanding, and patience. We no longer have to feel so isolated, alone, and misunderstood.

It’s definitely time for those of us who are loved ones of addicts to come out of the shame closet we’ve been stuck in for such a long time—shame that results from believing that we have somehow caused our addict’s addiction and are responsible for making it stop.

That is simply not true—and I’m on a mission to help loved ones understand this.

THE TRUTH ABOUT ADDICTION—AND CHOICE

The real truth is that the addicts in our lives are making their own choices. Now, I’m not saying that people choose to become addicted—I don’t believe for a moment that anyone consciously makes that decision. I certainly didn’t, when I was in the initial throes of it myself. In fact, most people who do become addicted—to whatever their addictive behavior of choice is—believe that this will never happen to them. The other guy will get hooked, but not them! In their denial, they firmly believe they can handle the great harm they’re causing themselves. In the addiction field, we call this “terminal uniqueness”—when addicts believe that they’re so special and unique that it could actually kill them.

The irony about addiction is that it begins as a form of self-care: people just want to feel better. Unfortunately, addiction is a twisted form of self-care that only ends up hurting everyone it touches.

And the truth is that there is always another way to deal with a problematic situation or emotion.

Today, what I know to be true is that remaining in active addiction is indeed a choice. Whether or not addiction is seen as a disease, whether there is a genetic predisposition or it’s a learned behavior from our families of origin, and even though there is definitely brain involvement in addiction—underneath all of that, continuing to use an addictive behavior is ultimately a decision addicts make—and the loved ones are NOT responsible for that choice.

Today, what I know to be true is that we are all powerless over other people—we simply can’t and don’t make anyone else’s decisions for them. If we were able to do that, there would likely be a lot less addicts in the world! But because it’s not possible for us to make any addict stop using, choosing active recovery instead is entirely up to the addict.

WHAT CAN LOVED ONES DO DIFFERENTLY?

Despite all the funding cuts in the social services arena these days, there are still a multitude of services and resources available to help addicts who are ready to change their lives. There are detoxes, residential treatment centers, day treatment programs, recovery homes, mental health centers that also deal with addiction (dual diagnosis), 12-Step groups for nearly any addiction you can imagine—as well as many viable alternatives for those who don’t wish to follow those steps. The truth is that there is no excuse anymore for any person to stay entrenched in addiction.

No such luck for the loved ones of those addicts, however. The services for them are few and far between, so a great many friends and family members continue to do the wrong things when trying to help—simply because no one has ever suggested there might be another way.

And the good news is that there is another way.

In order to change what they can (themselves), loved ones need to understand that even though they did not cause the addiction, they have most likely contributed to it by enabling the addict in some way. Most of you know that you’ve done things you shouldn’t have done—such as giving money to the addict you love, or allowing him/her to live in your home rent-free with no consequences for negative behaviors. If you’ve been doing anything like that, please understand that this is not a loving act toward your addict, and it is definitely not self-respectful toward yourself. Please consider changing these actions into much healthier helping behaviors—ones that often halt addiction right in its tracks.

NO MORE SHAME!

Your job as the loved one of an addict is to practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness, and to do the inner work it takes to more deeply understand why you’ve been enabling in the first place. Your work is to love your addict enough to do the next right thing, over and over again, so that the addiction can actually stop.

You must not take on responsibility that isn’t yours. Stop believing that you’ve somehow caused the addiction or that you can somehow force the addict to quit if you just try hard enough. Stop believing that you are somehow defective because someone you love is making negative choices—and stop living in shame because of it.

Remember that September is Recovery Month…

Let’s hear each other’s feelings and stories. Let’s continue to come together in places like my Loving an Addict, Loving Yourself Facebook page. Let’s learn how to transform our own lives—which is what we can and do control—and start feeling deep and healthy pride for the positive changes we’re choosing to make in ourselves.

Let’s continue to come out of that closet of shame and live our own best lives. The ripple effect may well be that as the addict you love sees you role model this new behavior, they will also choose to make healthier, positive changes in their own lives.

Robin Williams, Dead at 63: Words No One Ever Wanted to Hear

“Robin Williams: Dead, Apparent Suicide”   

How could this happen? We are asking ourselves this question today as we shake our heads in disbelief. Robin Williams, the uproariously funny comedian, dead? Apparent suicide?

How can this be??

Yes, we all knew he had problems with addiction—he’d bravely allowed that to be common knowledge, probably in the hope that his struggle could also help others. He carried the message in the true spirit of one who was walking the walk of addiction recovery, and I greatly respect him for that.

Some of us knew that he also struggled with a chemical imbalance in his brain and with the often severe depression resulting from that. When addiction and depression go hand in hand, as it unfortunately did for him, it can take a tremendous amount of courage just to put one foot in front of the other on a daily basis.

I do think Robin was a tremendously courageous man, for as long as he could be.

THE STIGMA OF MENTAL ILLNESS

Why is mental illness such a stigmatized condition? As an Addictions Therapist, I have never understood that. The way I see it, mental illness is exactly the same as physical illness—it is, in fact, physical illness just like any affliction having to do with the body. My Crohn’s Disease is the same as chemical depression—it’s just in a different part of the body. But the shame that continues to accompany illnesses of the brain is, in my opinion, both preposterous and unnecessary—and it often prevents those afflicted with it from seeking and receiving the help they so desperately need.

That shame may have been, in large part, what ultimately killed Robin Williams.

Dual diagnosis, co-occurring disorders, co-morbidity—these are but a few of the various names given to the condition where substance addiction and mental health intersect. Perhaps this dreaded stigma exists because many, if not most, of the people who are homeless and on our streets are dealing with that intersection of conditions. Robin understood this, as is shown by his tireless work for Comic Relief, along with his terrifically funny cohorts Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg. In my opinion, we should be ashamed of ourselves as a society to not be offering more help to those who are downtrodden because of this situation.

And at the same time, many of our funniest and most talented entertainers are also afflicted by this same disorder. Most of us understand that the best comedy comes from pain—and unfortunately, Robin Williams personified this to the hilt. Aside from being an amazingly compassionate human being, he was also hilarious, wacky, and cutting-edge. At times he teased us by perhaps intentionally making us uncomfortable with his non-stop antics and with his raw, raving political commentary. There was never any doubt that he was a genius when it came to transforming his emotional pain into both brilliant comedy and deeply compelling dramatic performances. He was at his best when he made us laugh—and when he made us cry.

What we know now is that he himself was laughing and also crying—and I’m so very sad to know he’s gone.

ROBIN3REMEMBERING ROBIN

My profound hope is that Robin’s death will not be in vain. I deeply hope that what happened to him will shine an enormous spotlight on the ridiculous stigmas of both addiction and mental health—especially when combined—as well as the lack of services we have to combat and treat these issues. Whether he killed himself or not (the jury still seems to be out on that, as of this writing), I believe that Robin’s death could have been prevented. Hopefully many other deaths can now be prevented as well, if we’ll just collectively get our heads out of the sand and accept that mental illness is not the appalling, terrifying issue that we, as a society, so treacherously scorn and fear.

Let’s honor Robin Williams’ life—both his deep struggles and his amazing triumphs. He was a courageous man, and he will surely be missed.

Rest in Peace, dearest Mork.