The holidays bring out the best and worst in all of us. How can we deal with family, co-workers, and our partners if addiction plays a role? Sharon Martin, LCSW helps us navigate our way to peace.
You’ve been dreading the holiday office party for weeks. Not because of the awkward small talk or bad food. It’s your girlfriend. There’s a pit in your stomach. You’re on edge and can’t concentrate. Memories of past holiday disasters keep you up at night. You’re tired of making excuses and apologizing for her loose tongue.
You decide to talk to her. Yes, a rational conversation will be good. How can you tell her you’d rather go to the party alone? She’s usually really tired and cranky at the beginning of the week. The weekend binge starts on Thursday. So, Wednesday it is. But Wednesday comes and you don’t say anything. What’s the point?
This year will be different you tell yourself. She promised she’d stop. Denial helps only momentarily. Then you catch a glimpse of her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She tosses a couple of Xanax in the back of her throat and gulps them down with the rest of her Chardonnay.
Eleven a.m. on Saturday morning and she’s still in bed. You’re pissed and don’t care who knows it. She was supposed to be up at 8 O’clock for the annual trek to cut down the perfect Christmas tree with her sister. You lay into her. She snaps back at you, “I don’t want to go. What’s the big f*cking deal?” You feel the tears well in your eyes as you drive off. You’re starting to feel crazy.
You’ve got to get through your office party, Christmas dinner with your folks, Christmas Eve with her family, and New Year’s Eve with Carl and Christine.
It all just feels like too much.
Your Mom calls. She tiptoes around the “Sandra issue.” No one wants a repeat of her falling down the stairs and cursing out your 5 year old nephew. “Yes, Mom,” you promise. “Sandra will be sober.” Even as you say it, you know it’s a lie. Maybe there’s still time to get her to A.A. and dried out before December.
Damn, the holidays suck.
A slave to the addiction
Is your partner’s drug or alcohol use ruining your holiday spirit?
You don’t have to let someone else’s addiction ruin your holiday.
Paul is letting Sandra and her addiction control him and his emotions. He’s a slave to her drinking. His happiness directly correlates to the number of pills and drinks she has.
Boundaries are essential.
Boundaries are the physical or emotional space that you create between yourself and someone else. Boundaries ensure respect in a relationship. Your boundaries reflect the treatment that you’re willing accept from others.
I know that setting boundaries is extra hard during the holidays. You fall prey to wanting a perfect party or perfect day. You feel guilty about saying “no” because it’s not in the holiday spirit. You may make more allowances for the sake of keeping the peace, but be careful that you don’t stretch your boundaries too thin and allow yourself to be taken advantage of.
Spending the holidays apart from your addicted partner is an option. If s/he can’t respect your boundaries, you may need to tell him he’s not invited. One person should not be allowed to ruin the holiday for everyone else. Don’t be a victim to the same old patterns. Take control of what you can by setting boundaries that respect everyone involved.
There’s no faster path to disappointment than to have unrealistic expectations. Realistic expectations require you to wrestle with the ugly truths of addiction. Is your addicted partner inappropriate or abusive? Does s/he put herself or others in danger? If these things have happened in the past, don’t expect this holiday to be different (unless there’s been real change through treatment or other means). Don’t expect the holiday magic to transform your family into It’s a Wonderful Life when you’re really more like Bad Santa.
You can’t live in fantasyland and be happy at the same time.
Be supportive of partners in recovery
While, your partner’s recovery is 100% his or her responsibility, there are ways you can be supportive.
Understand that the extra stress and abundance of social events serving alcohol can be triggers for some people. If your partner’s in recovery, talk about what will be supportive (rather than making assumptions). Discuss how to make time and money available for recovery activities.
Being supportive may mean limiting or eliminating alcohol at functions you host. It may be time to give up the mulled wine and egg nog that you serve every Christmas Eve. It can also mean changing your plans or making compromises. Doing something or going somewhere new can be a fun way to create sober traditions.
Take care of yourself
Even if you love the holidays, they come with stress in the form of shopping, cooking, decorating, wrapping, school/work/family functions, houseguests, etc. There’s just a lot to do and pressure to make it perfect. Take time to slow down and really think about what you want to do and what you’re willing to let go of.
Seek support for yourself—it’s a great time to see a therapist, attend A.A. or N.A. meetings, or attend religious services. You are not alone in struggling with a partner who is abusing alcohol or drugs. There is a lot of comfort in connecting with others who truly understand your experiences and dilemmas.
Make your safety a priority—to the extent possible, try to avoid dangerous situations. For example, drive your own car or make arrangements for a sober ride home.
The most important thing to remember this year is that you have choices and don’t have to let your partner’s addiction ruin another holiday. I know it’s not easy, but you can choose to do something different this year. I hope you will garner the courage to put yourself first, to put your time and energy into relationships that are respectful and fulfilling, and to respect yourself enough to set boundaries that keep you emotionally and physically safe.