THE HOLIDAYS GET A BIT TOO MERRY
November, 2004 by Jim Robinson
Oh boy! The holidays are coming! The season of good cheer,
of celebration and toasts, a time of lifting the ol’
cup of kindness to our lips in anticipation of…of…
What do these thoughts bring to your mind? Glad anticipation?
a recovering alcoholic, I know all too well how potentially
awkward and downright embarrassing the holidays can be for
the family and loved ones of problem drinkers. Alcoholics
are always primed and ready for any good excuse to party—I
drank to ease my pain when things went badly, and drank to
celebrate victory when things went well. I drank because it
was Christmas, and I drank because it was Tuesday. I drank.
It’s what I did. And I did it well.
For those who love someone like me, though, the anticipation
of an upcoming holiday gathering can be daunting. In my counseling
office, things really pick up in the weeks leading into Thanksgiving
and Christmas. Spouses, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers…they
all file in with haggard looks and hopeful eyes. They know
what’s coming, and they wonder what to do about it.
How can they avoid another horrific experience like last year?
Sadly, the joy of the season is already compromised for them,
because they can’t enjoy the coming festive events for
fear of what might happen…and for anticipating all the
incredible effort they will have to exert just to keep things
from flying completely out of control.
Alcoholism is, of course, a serious disease. The disease,
however, is never limited to the alcoholic himself; the entire
family is affected. And because the focus is often limited
to the primary addict, those who love the addict often feel
helpless and confused. In my counseling practice, I deal more
often with those who love the addicted person than I do the
addict. There are ways to protect ourselves, and to avoid
remaining a part of the problem rather than a part of the
What’s the right/wrong thing to do? What kind of limits
should we make, and how do we enforce such a thing when the
alcoholic is the “head of the household?” There
is far too little space here to delve into the deeply complicated
dynamics of addiction and the related codependency involved,
but here is a basic primer for initiating healthier emotional
boundaries within the alcoholic home:
some help. This deal is way too big for you to
handle. You’re going to need a pro to walk through
this thing with you. In many ways, the immediate family
members are the worst candidates to help the alcoholic—there
is too much emotional involvement, and usually a long
and tortured history of going about things in very unhealthy
ways. If the alcoholic isn’t yet at a place where
they will willingly enter treatment or see a counselor
about their problem, take control of your own life by
seeking help for your problem—loving someone
with the disease of addiction.
Enable. Allowing an alcoholic to drink is like letting
a pyromaniac play with matches. Often, we try to “love”
the drunk in the most dangerous ways, by unintentionally
“helping” them to stay in bondage to the illness.
These behaviors might seem loving, especially when
we’re being manipulated by those masters of deception—active
alcoholics. But real help often looks rigid and uncaring.
It’s not. Seek professional help from an addiction
counselor on how to create new house rules. If the alcoholic
is unwilling to seek treatment, the family must learn
to protect itself from the disease by learning all they
can about alcoholism. In certain situations, and following
specific guidelines, a family can be involved in an Intervention
process. But this should only be attempted with a highly
experienced guide trained in this technique.
be insane. A guy sits in his doctor’s office. “Hey
Doc,” he says. “It hurts when I lift me arm.”
And the doctor says, “So, don’t lift your arm.
That’ll be a hundred bucks.” You’ve heard
the definition of insanity: Repeating the same behavior
expecting different results. Change things! Refuse to put
yourself in the same situations that are prime for abuse.
If your home is to host an event, lay down the law about
not drinking. If you’re going to someone else’s
house, do the same. Obviously, someone truly caught in his
or her disease mechanism will not put up with any of these
restrictions without a fight. And this is why you’re
going to need help. Either way, it’s up to you
to make up your own mind. Maybe everyone in the family
won’t be ready to get on board with you regarding
some of these tough decisions. But you can still protect
yourself, even if it means letting everyone else repeat
the madness while you sit it out at a friend’s house
In my book,
Prodigal Song: A
Memoir, I write about my own dysfunctional
childhood, and describe some of the internal dynamics of the
addicted family. And for practical, experienced-based wisdom
for the loved ones of those suffering from addiction, check
out this site:
www.al-anon.alateen.org. AL-ANON excels as an
organization that has been helping people for decades.
Above all, ask God to grant you the
courage to reach out. It’s our secrets that kill us. And God
often moves powerfully through the helping touch of those who
share our wounds.