Entering my fifth year of recovery, I continue to notice how families struggle to deal with the holidays and their loved ones in recovery.
There seems to be a severe disconnect of knowledge, acceptance, and hope. I am writing this piece to shed light and provide solutions for all families looking for answers. As David Ogden Stiers said, “Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.”
Around this time of year, recovery meetings are packed with people speaking about family stress. Holidays are designed as a time of reflection, laughter, and togetherness. As a child, we all would gather at my Aunt Jeanie Fisher’s house and have a blast. The event was catered and included a memorable game of charades. All the kids would play together and share their latest Christmas gifts. The night began with prayer and hymns that followed with short testimonials of gratitude from all the guests. There was a peace, love, and connection each of these events displayed, making family life attractive.
Fast forward a few years, and my Mother enters sobriety. The holidays came around, and I had waited all year for the family party. I had my best outfit, cologne and could not wait to share the news of my grades in school. However, this excitement was put on hold as my Mother explained she could not attend. I was angry, baffled, and felt betrayed at the highest levels. My Mother explained that there would be alcohol there, and that was not good for her recovery. I argued and cried about how important this event was, but there was no changing her mind. Now, as a motivational speaker and a person in recovery, I understand her stance entirely. However, my experience has shown me that many families do not garner this same understanding.
I believe many families do not understand what their loved ones are being told in treatment regarding this new life of recovery. I have attended twenty drug treatment facilities, and they all have given the same directive on how to deal with loved ones. They are clear that attending any family function with alcohol or drug use is highly detrimental for their recovery. In my experience, most family members are offended and often state, “Why can’t we drink because you cannot? Why can’t you have a glass of wine or beer with us for Christmas? Why do we have to change our holidays because of the problem you have? All the problems you have caused, can’t you take a day to be with your loved ones? So now you’re better than us? What about the family that loved you when you had nothing? Wasn’t treatment supposed to make you better so that you could be with us for the holidays?” For years I was bitterly angry, but I have realized there is a severe disconnect of knowledge. When a person returns home from treatment or has entered into the new life of recovery, the family must enter recovery as well.
The family must now accept that their loved one has a disease and become educated on the topic. Families must attack learning about this disease as if they received any other diagnoses like cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. Even if you refuse to accept it as a disease, why not be safe than sorry? The family must put themselves in the other person’s shoes. Imagine you started a brand new life? You felt good and were striving for greatness. Your children were back in your life and were excited to spend a holiday together as a new family unit. Then as the party starts or during the one thing that helped destroy your life was right in front of your face? There is damage to a person’s self-esteem when their loved ones refuse to love them as they are. Regardless if you understand why a person once told me, “Freddy there is nothing illegal about being safe!”
My substance use and untreated mental illness left me in shelters during many holiday seasons. A blessed friend asked me to attend dinner at his house for Easter. I tried saying no because I was so ashamed of being new in recovery. I did not want to risk being around alcohol and how that may ruin our friendship. When I got there, they immediately greeted me with loving arms, and I never saw any alcohol. While having dessert, I asked if they were drinkers? They stated they do drink; however, their son is in recovery, so they never have alcohol in the house when he is there. I almost fell to the floor, and they laughed in amazement because they understood what I was thinking. They stated, “Freddy, we love our son and want the best for him. If that means alcohol cannot be a part of this house, then so be it. We can put our pleasures to the side if it means a better life for our son.” These people never attend conferences on substance use disorder, never listened to motivational speakers, and did not educate themselves on the disease. They understood that their son was in a fight for his life, and having anything that helped destroy his life available was not right.
The world has never been more open regarding information and access recovery. Platforms like Workit Health have allowed people to share their wisdom and experience to help educate the public. I have lost loved ones to relapse and seen the pain of overdose funerals. If there is anything you can do to help your loved one in recovery, DO IT!
Understanding that not all family members will change is a reality as well. Luckily recovery gives us the ability to seek new areas of life. We cannot pick the family we are born into; however, we have the right to find a new family. Luckily for us, there are billions of people on the planet, and I am sure we can find a family to join. The right family will love you as a person in recovery and never put you in harm’s way. As people in recovery, we must not lower our standards to appease the dysfunction of others. Never feel ashamed for doing what is best for your recovery. In the end, you will live with the consequences.