Getting Through the Holidays With A Loved One in Recovery

Having a loved one in recovery is such a blessing but navigating the holiday season and integrating your now sober loved one back into family gatherings can be daunting to think about.

This will be the first time in two years my son is spending the holidays with the family. He is currently doing well and is sober. We have had many Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations with him being high or simply not showing up at all.

My family members are all aware of his addiction struggles. In hindsight, I don’t know if that was a good or bad decision telling them about his drug use. I know it is difficult for me to not keep an eye on him when he is at my house and it can at times make things tense. Do I ask the female family members to lock their purses in their car, just in case he gets the urge to take some cash? He is starting a new job so he should not have to take money from others anymore. But if something happened and money went missing, how would I handle that. Based on past situations just like this, I can already picture in my mind what will happen: I will overreact and start yelling at him and he will come up with a good story to make me feel guilty for even asking if he took it. Then the evening will have been ruined.

Will my family be watching him to see if he has any off behavior? I can imagine how hard it is for the addict to feel like he is the black sheep of the family and thinks that everything he says and does is being judged. I was at a Families Against Narcotics forum a few weeks ago and it was suggested that we ask our addicted loved ones how they are feeling about the upcoming holidays and what the feel is the best way to deal with the family celebrations. A few of the people in recovery admitted that the holidays are very hard for them. For some, it makes them feel bad because of all of the missed holidays or ones where they embarrassed their parents by making scenes or passing out after dinner or sometimes even during dinner!

“I think we as supportive family members need to really listen to what our loved ones are telling us and not make them feel bad if they decide not to show up for Christmas dinner or whatever your celebration may be.”

All of this pressure on both sides can easily lead to a relapse for some who are new to their recovery journey or even for people who have been in recovery for years. One person said after a few years of trying to be okay and act the way he felt was expected at these functions, he finally had to tell his parents he was not going to participate anymore. It was a difficult decision but one he felt was necessary to keep sober.

I think we as supportive family members need to really listen to what our loved ones are telling us and not make them feel bad if they decide not to show up for Christmas dinner or whatever your celebration may be. Some even said they needed to step out and attend a meeting. If that is what needs to be done to keep them feeling strong then that is what they should do. The important thing to remember is, their sobriety is the most important thing. Without that, the family is destroyed once again and celebrating anything when your loved one is in active addiction is very hard.

One of the most important things to be thankful for any holiday season is the gift of sobriety in our loved ones. Nothing else compares to the happiness and relief it brings to all parties involved.

Wishing you a peaceful and happy holiday season.

Karen Damian has a son in recovery and feels that it is a privilege to share the ups and downs of addiction with other parents.

How to Stop Regretting Conversations with Your Addicted Loved One

“In an ideal world, we would like to think before we respond.  This can be difficult when you are dealing with an already emotionally charged situation with a person who is not thinking straight.”

Effective communication with an addicted person can be challenging for many reasons:

  • This person, if in active addiction,  may not be thinking clearly, let alone have the reasoning skills to have a meaningful discussion.

  • They may be trying to get an emotional response by pushing your buttons.

  • The addict is attempting to get you to accept responsibility for their problems.

  • They have a need and won’t take no for an answer

In an ideal world, we would like to think before we respond.  This can be difficult when you are dealing with an already emotionally charged situation with a person who is not thinking straight.

When being confronted with these circumstances it can be very helpful to be prepared with some brief statements to keep the conversation calm while allowing you time to give the response you can be comfortable with.

Consider the following stopgap responses.  When they tell you one of their stories or predicaments they are in,  you could try saying one or more if the following. While they may seem simple, it can leave the addict with little to come back at you with.

  • Wow!

  • How about that!

  • I wonder if there is some other solution (other than the one they are trying to get you to buy into)

  • I’ll have to do some research on that.

  • Do you have any ideas?  I am sure you can come up with some.

  • That is one solution (if they give one that is less than ideal)

  • I know you understand I need to focus on __________ right now.  (let them know their problem is not the only thing in your life that demands attention)

  • You are ____ years old and I feel you must do this on your own.

  • You are ____ years old and I feel I must limit my involvement.

  • I need more time for a response

  • I need to think about that

  • I need to rethink that (if they say something like you already said yes, or you didn’t have a problem with it before)

  • I will get back to you

  • I need 24 hours before making important decisions

  • I have done the best I could.  I know you understand

  • I did what I could do at the time

  • I don’t think that would be helpful

These responses can give you the time you need to come up with a response to whatever they are coming at you about.  I know from my personal experience, many times I have been caught off guard or just so irritated at the whole conversation and just want it to be over that I give in without really understanding what that might mean in the long run.  In the end, I am usually frustrated with myself. These responses have given me more time to really figure out what I am willing to do, if anything, to help.

Other strategies that may work as well:

  • Pause, don’t respond at all until you have an answer you are comfortable with sharing

  • Repeat back to them their response (sometimes it helps them see how unreasonable they are being)

  • Avoid triggers (they know what to say to get us upset)

  • If you can anticipate their response, say it before they do

  • Instead of saying what you won’t do, say what you are willing to do

Try using one of these responses or tactics and then move onto a different topic or end the conversation.   Hopefully, it will help alleviate heated discussions or arguments if you are in better control of your thoughts.

Karen Damian has a son in recovery and feels that it is a privilege to share the ups and downs of addiction with other parents.

Finding Gratitude Within Addiction

““Now is no time to think of what you do not have..think of what you can do with what there is!””

— Ernest Hemingway

Often when substance use disorder is present in the family system, we find ourselves distanced from a sense of gratitude. We may long for the days before our loved ones struggled and resent the fact that words like boundaries and codependency became a normal part of our language.

As a mother of someone who has struggled with addiction and has been in and out of recovery for years. I would like to encourage you to begin thinking of all the gifts you have received as a result of the process of recovery. It can be hard to think of anything to be grateful for some days when things seem impossible to overcome, but even on the worst days there is always something to be thankful for. Even small things can help bring back some joy in your day. I know that by coming to my support group meetings to help with my recovery I have found wonderful people who share the same heartaches and struggles that I have had. It has truly been a gift finding a place where I feel safe to tell my sometimes awful and unbelievable stories.

I have also learned through the process of finding gratitude and positivity in my life that I need to reflect and ask myself these four questions:

Have you started to heal your own life?  This is a hard one for me. Sometimes I feel like I have come so far in my recovery and then a fear creeps in and I start my what ifs and worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet. I guess like with our loved ones it is a day by day process with us too.

Have you developed new self-care habits for yourself?  It can be simple things like going for a walk, getting your nails done, or making sure you don’t miss meetings. Even when you are having a bad day!

Has your circle of friends gotten bigger?  I know by joining a support group mine has!

Have you reengaged in activities that were once lost in the midst of the struggle with your addicted loved one?  I used to avoid seeing friends that were not part of my intimate inner circle or going to parties because I didn’t want to admit to them what a mess my life was or have to answer questions about what my kids were up to. Now I own the mess and try to educate and share with my friends about addiction and what we have been going through.

Try to carve out time this week to reflect on the things that you may have taken for granted and be intentional about expressing your gratitude to your higher power, your family, coworkers and friends.

Karen Damian has a son in recovery and feels that it is a privilege to share the ups and downs of addiction with other parents.

How To Tell Your Friends and Family About Your Childs Addiction

To tell or not to tell? That is a difficult question to answer.

I remember when I found out my son was first smoking marijuana. Everyone said its a phase kids go through and it is no big deal, so I didn’t tell my friends or family. After all, I did not want my son to be labeled an addict and have them think poorly of him. My son would sometimes act erratic when my family was over for a special occasion. Luckily, or unluckily he is a Type 1 Diabetic too, so, many times they would brush off his odd behavior as his sugar being too high or low and would leave it at that. I was more than happy to let them think that instead of telling the truth, my son was high. How do you tell your family or friends that your 12 year old son is smoking pot? We all think at first that it is a reflection on our parenting. What did we do wrong, how could they do things like this? We gave them all of the warnings about what drug use can do to you and yet here you are, making up stories or excuses for their poor behavior.

It’s just a phase, that’s what we tell ourself.

We think why tarnish their reputation with family and friends when they could stop and be like the rest of us in a few months. Unfortunately, those months turn into years and you find yourself avoiding questions about how your kids are because you might have to spill the beans that your child is an addict. I went many years without telling a soul about our problems with our addicted son. His pot smoking turned to him taking other drugs: antidepressants, pain pills, mushrooms and then our greatest fear heroin. That’s when it got much harder to hide the truth, but still I hoped if he went to rehab and straightened himself out it could just be our secret. After a while, it was impossible to hide his absences at family gatherings, Christmas, you name it, he had no interest in doing family things. If he did show up, I was a nervous wreck wondering how he was going to act in front of everyone or if he would show up high.

After a while the burden of keeping the secret was just too heavy to bear alone.

I told my best friend first. Not having to make up stories about how good he was doing or where he was was a relief. I no longer had to make excuses for him. I eventually told my parents and my siblings. Of course they just want to know why he just doesn’t stop. He knows its wrong and it could kill him.  It has taken many years explaining that addiction is a disease and no longer a choice. It took me awhile to understand this myself. When you see your child living in a cheap, dirty hotel room because he has been asked to leave your home, you realize that no one would choose to live like that.

“Addiction can creep into any family, both good and bad, rich or poor.”

Joining a few support groups in my community has helped me realize that I was not a bad parent and had nothing to be ashamed of. Addiction can creep into any family, both good and bad, rich or poor. Talking about my son and his problems helped me to open up to others outside of my group. I told close co-workers which was a big help. In fact, one of my friends at work told me her daughter was an addict as well after I had the courage to tell her about my son. Now we support each other when we have bad days and sleepless nights worrying about where our children are and some days if they are even alive. It has been a blessing to me to have the courage to open up to close friends, family and co-workers about how addiction has rocked our family to the core. There are days it is hard to even get out of bed in the morning knowing what the day ahead brings. Having people around you that understand what you are going through and support you through the hard times is invaluable. It is not a reflection on you.  You did not fail, it is a choice your loved one made. The only thing you can do is find support where you can. Sometimes having someone to just ask how you are doing and are willing to sit and listen to the heartbreaking details of your loved ones downward spiral is what you need to get through the day. My friends and family rejoice when things are going well and pray for us when they are not. There is not enough support in the world for parents, wives, children and friends of people caught in the web of addiction. If it is the right thing for you to do, you will find courage and more support than you can imagine if you are willing to open up to those around you who care for you and your addicted loved one.

 I will leave you with a post I saw recently that I found that I resonated with:

“Some of the most comforting words in the universe are, “Me Too”. That moment

When you find out that your struggle is also someone else’s struggle, that

You are not alone and that others have been down the same road.”

Karen Damian has a son in recovery and feels that it is a privilege to share the ups and downs of addiction with other parents.

How Support Groups Help Me Cope With My Loved Ones Addiction

I remember 3 years ago when my son’s addiction was really bad. He was still living in my house he would sleep all day, refuse to work, and would be up all night wandering around the house keeping me awake and irritated every night.

I couldn’t trust him because stealing had become a normal pattern. It was so bad I would hide my money in a cd case in my car so he wouldn’t be able to find it. That is when you know your life is out of control.

A friend of mine who had lost her son to a heroin overdose told me she would go to support group meetings and they really helped her. I had been toying with the idea of going to one for some time and then one day when things were really bad I realized I needed to do something.

“When you allow yourself to admit your part in this disease, it helps you to see the changes you need to make for yourself. ”

I walked into that meeting with a sick feeling in my stomach knowing that if I was there that meant I really had a problem. I was addicted to wanting to help my addict child. That is a hard pill to swallow. You want to just pretend all of your problems are because of the addict but in reality it is partly because you have enabled them, pleaded with them to get help, made excuses for their absence at family events and maybe even their jobs. I even tried to convince myself that this nightmare would end soon.

The first step walking into that meeting was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

When you allow yourself to admit your part in this disease, it helps you to see the changes you need to make for yourself. Taking a good hard look at your actions or reactions to your addicted loved one isn’t an easy exercise. Thinking that you possibly have prolonged the anguish both you and your addict have experienced is extremely difficult. We see it as loving our addict but in reality we are helping them stay in their active addition.

I met some wonderful people there that were very empathetic to my situation because in one way or another they had been there or still are in the thick of things. I did feel that attending and sharing what was going on and how I was handling it was helpful.

The one thing I didn’t expect to feel was resentment. My addict wasn’t going to meetings, my ex-husband didn’t go to meetings but there I was spending my Tuesday evenings after a full day of work sitting here and baring my soul. I decided that if they weren’t going to do anything about this problem why should I waste my time.

You can probably guess what happened, my problem got worse after deciding not to attend the support group meetings. I got even more involved in trying to “save” my son, researching rehabs, reading books, sending him job postings, checking up on him, driving by friends houses to see if he is where he said he was going. You name it I was doing it!

“My son may never get better but that did not mean I had to destroy my life, my marriage, and other relationships because of it.”

During this time my son was kicked out of the house for stealing yet again. We couldn’t trust him and it was hard to sleep with him up all night making noise. Having him living in his car on the streets was the worst nightmare I could have ever imagined. I started having panic attacks and would cry at the drop of a hat even when I was at work if I would hear from my son asking for money or needing a shower. It was then when my ex-husband called me and said he was worried about me and I needed to do something or I would have a nervous breakdown. You know if your ex-husband is calling you because he’s worried about you it must be really bad!

I decided I needed to go back to my support group and really start working on my recovery. My son may never get better but that did not mean I had to destroy my life, my marriage, and other relationships because of it. I was so lucky to find two groups in my area, one for the general public in my county and one that I was invited to by the leader of my other meeting. It is a faith based group for Moms. In putting myself first and making the time to attend the meetings, I truly believe it has saved my sanity. Being able to talk to people who know exactly how you feel and give advice based on what is best not what would make us feel better in the moment makes a huge difference in the way you handle addiction. I have become so involved in my groups that I even lead a meeting every so often and have become a committee member for my local FAN chapter.

I would be lying if I said everything is better all of the time. I still have my ups and downs and struggles when I feel or hear that my addict is not doing well. But, instead of traveling down the path of despair, I try to remember the things I have learned or call one of my friends in the groups to talk some sense into me or to say a prayer for me and my loved one.

Consider finding a group that you can attend to help you with your recovery…just like our addict, it’s one day at a time for us too!

Karen Damian has a son in recovery and feels that it is a privilege to share the ups and downs of addiction with other parents.

Karen’s Story- Addiction From A Mother’s Perspective

At the end of 2018 my son went into the best rehab our money could buy. We thought this would be the answer to our prayers but the truth is, it’s not that simple.

We had 3 blissful months of not having to worry about where he was sleeping, if he had any food, or, I hate to say it, but if he was even alive. I had not slept that soundly in at least a year. When the end of the third month came, we were told he was not ready to be in the real world yet, and would benefit from a fourth month in rehab. No doubt so would we. Another 30 days of not having to worry that he was doing the right thing or if he was being taken care of. What a blessing!

We all thought for sure this was the answer we had been looking for. You think that when your loved one goes into recovery everything is going to be unicorns and rainbows. Unfortunately, we realized that could not be further from the truth. Now that my son completed his time in rehab he has a sober living coach that meets with him weekly to keep him on track and help him learn life skills. He reports to us how he is doing and this gives us peace of mind since he is now living on the other side of the country.

“You think that when your loved one goes into recovery everything is going to be unicorns and rainbows. ”

After about two months of being out and living in a sober house, my son started having problems with anxiety and depression. He had not been sober since he was 12 years old, so being a 22 year old living a sober life was nothing he was accustomed to. We all think just because someone is not doing drugs or drinking, things will just fall into place. But a lot of work has to be done post rehab to adapt to being an active member of society. Things that the person struggled with before using their drug of choice are still looming when they are no longer relying on the substance to numb them from their feelings. That means the underlying problem crops up and they don’t know how to cope with it. When this starts to happen and you get a glimpse of the panic the person is starting to feel. The panic and fear creep back in quickly for those of us who have to sit by and watch it all start to unravel one string at a time. Of course we beg, plead and bargain for them to either go see a psychiatrist in our case, to be put on some kind of medication to help with the feelings of depression and anxiety that make them want to start using again and most importantly keep them in recovery. Every day we face the fear that a relapse is looming in the near future and we just sit by and wait and worry.

“No amount of wanting, wishing, and worrying is going to make my son do what needs to be done. He has to want it for himself and all I can do is love him. ”

One day while I was sitting at work trying to think of ways that I can help my son. I realized that my son needed to focus on his recovery and I need to focus on mine. I am always so concerned that he isn’t taking care of himself but truthfully I wasn’t taking care of myself either. No amount of wanting, wishing, and worrying is going to make my son do what needs to be done. He has to want it for himself and all I can do is love him. The thing that has saved me from going back down the rabbit hole of despair is to fully engulf myself in the support groups that have now become like family. Relying on them and opening up about our families struggle with addiction has brought me back from the brink of depression and heartache more than once. I also learned that I needed to stop acting like my son doesn’t have a problem. It is not shameful for your loved one to struggle with addiction and the more we talk about addiction, the more of a support system we develop.

Please remember that you are not alone on your journey and they are not the only ones that have to keep on track. Trials and tribulations can and will rear their ugly head at any given moment and we have to be strong for our loved ones. It is essential to do whatever you have found to be helpful to not fall back into the dangerous habits we so easily start again because of the love we have for our addicted child, spouse, or friend.

Karen Damian has a son in recovery and feels that it is a privilege to share the ups and downs of addiction with other parents.