THE BLOG
11/22/2010 09:21 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

14 Holiday Tips for Dealing with the Family Alcoholic or Addict

According to one of the many definitions of holiday, "it is a day designated as having special significance for which individuals, a government, or religious groups have deemed that such observation is warranted."

To some, the preparation of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah or whatever special winter holiday you may observe is as joyous as it gets and an opportunity to be and feel festive. Family and friends come together to celebrate taking out the old and bringing in the new.

Hmm... a lovely thought, but what if there is an alcoholic/addict in your life, and you both desire to spend all or part of the holidays together, yet maybe you are both anxious nonetheless?

The desire to have the family together can be a strong pull for any parent, spouse, sibling or friend, and even with the hopes, desires and promise that everything will go as planned, it is that wise parent, spouse, sibling or friend that presents a clear head as to how they would like to see the festivities gel as it pertains to the involvement of their loved one, the alcoholic/addict.

For healthy openers, you will be more comfortable and confident if you keep in mind that you are in control, not the alcoholic/addict. This active role on your part has you establishing fair yet concrete boundaries and keeping your expectations to a minimum.
I have written previous blogs on boundaries and expectations, but since they are the cornerstone for you in dealing with the alcoholic/addict in your life, they are worth repeating.

Here are a few concepts that, if implemented, could make the difference between a successful holiday experience or a disaster:

  1. Pick boundaries that are important to you and must be adhered to by the alcoholic/addict in order to be welcomed to participate in the family festivities. Such boundaries include arriving at the designated time, being well groomed and dressing appropriately; being clean and sober (this is paramount to participation: if you smell alcohol on their breath or they act intoxicated or high, you will not let them in, or if they live there, you will ask them to stay away from the festivities until the event is over); and maintaining a cheerful and kind demeanor (this is also an entry ticket, as anger or a woe-is-me, chin-on-the-buttons attitude is not welcome).
  2. Keep your boundaries simple, doable, short and to the point.
  3. Discuss these boundaries at least a week before the holiday activity is happening.
  4. Don't defend yourself regarding your decisions. If you don't engage and stay neutral, you will be perceived as having a plan that is well thought-out and smacks of self-respect.
  5. Please don't bring up old examples of how the alcoholic/addict let you down in the past, as doing so might provoke an argument, which serves no purpose.
  6. Have clear ramifications if your conditions are not met.
  7. Make sure that you both understand what those consequences are so that no one can dispute a misunderstanding or feign ignorance as to the intention of the plan. This is important!
  8. If the alcoholic/addict doesn't like your holiday rules and regulations, be committed to a response like, "That makes me sad that you won't be joining us, but that's your choice." They now have to shoulder all the responsibility for their decision even though they may try to blame you.
  9. Don't let your boundaries be built on quicksand, where you acquiesce because the alcoholic/addict spins an excuse as to why he or she has not lived up to his or her end of the bargain, or because he or she resorts to tugging at your heartstrings by yelling and screaming. Please don't fall prey to thinking, "Oh well, I'll overlook this because it's the holidays," or, "It's the holidays and I just don't want to be unhappy or make my loved one unhappy." This will turn out to be a lose/lose scenario all around.
  10. Tell the other family members what that arrangement is so that everyone is on the same page and there can be no surprises.
  11. Keep an open mind. If your loved one opts out of the family festivities for one reason or another (e.g., he or she doesn't care for someone who is going to be there, or isn't ready for a public appearance, etc.), respect that with no guilt, judgment or cajoling placed upon them.

Now let's look at expectations.

  1. Keep your expectations in check. Realize that you are dealing with someone who might not be as true to their word as you would like them to be. Though you might be disappointed, you won't be surprised.
  2. Try not to involve the family too much in your jubilant desire that the whole family will finally all be together. Conversely, help them to keep their expectations curbed as well.
  3. If your expectations are not met, please remember that this is not an affront to you. It's not personal; it's just the nature of their disease and what they may be struggling with at this particular time.

Boundaries and expectations are extremely hard to implement and curb, respectively. I know this all too well, as I have struggled with them for the last 20 years while dealing with my own family's substance abuse issues. A few months ago I wrote a blog post about my own daughter's relapse. This will be the first Thanksgiving in many years that we will spend together. I don't know whether she will show up with her sweatshirt hood pulled so low that I can barely see her chin or with clean hair, makeup and a smile on her face. I have clearly given her my boundaries, and she has agreed to abide by them; I pray to God that she does, for it will break my heart if I have to turn her away, but turn her away I will if I feel compromised or disrespected. I must be true to my boundaries and leave my expectations in the trunk of the car.

Please remember that you, too, deserve a fulfilling and memorable holiday. Don't allow your loved one, who may still be struggling in various parts of their disease, to take that away from you. I am more than certain that if you don't spend this holiday season with them, there will be others.

I want to wish everyone reading this blog a joyous and healthy holiday season with a stocking full of self-respect and dignity. Remember that you are in charge and can empower yourself to make anything happen that you want!

Love,
Carole

If I can be of service, please visit my website www.familyrecoverysolutions.com, and I invite you to explore my new book "Reclaim Your Life: You and the Alcoholic/Addict" at www.reclaimyourlifebook.com.