Guest Post by Lisa Frederiksen
If you live in a family with alcohol abuse and/or active alcoholism, the holidays can be fraught with angst and worry about how to make “this” holiday great (or at least better than the last one), which in turn sets up expectations for how it will turn out. You worry about how to keep him (or her) from drinking too much, keep his sister from making nasty comments about his drinking, keep his wife from nagging him about ‘having another beer,’ and hope dinner is served before he passes out. Likely all of this will have you on pins and needles, snapping at your children, ‘listening’ for signs that things are about to go badly; almost giddy with angst trying to keep it all ‘happy.’ And, if it goes like it usually does, all of your expectations — your dashed hopes and dreams — will turn into resentments before the New Year.
So what can you do?
- Remember that when a person drinks too much, it causes them to engage in any number of drinking behaviors — the key concept here is “drinking behaviors.” Drinking behaviors are related to a person drinking more than their body and brain can process, not to the person’s ‘core’ nature. These behaviors include passing out, starting a fight, continuing inane trains of conversations that only they can follow but the other is afraid to break for fear of them getting mad, being all lovey or being all nasty mean. You cannot control drinking behaviors because your loved one’s brain is no longer functioning properly. The only thing you can control is how you react. For this holiday season, try not to react (remember, that didn’t do any good last year, either.)
- Try put yourself in a mental bubble. Not that you don’t enjoy your holiday, but try not to keep track of what everyone else is doing. When one or the other complains to you about what the other is or is not doing, smile and gently say, “I think that sounds like something you should talk to him or her about.” And then, WALK AWAY…easier said than done, I know, but you can always excuse yourself to go stir the gravy.
- Keep your expectations low — not ‘off’ but not Norma Rockwell, either. Try not to put stock in the hope that this will be the holiday you’ve always dreamed of because it can’t be when there is active alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism present. The drinking behaviors that ensue set up a whole host of behaviors in everyone else as they try to grapple with what to do in their own way and with their own set of expectations, emotions and views of the situation. Controlling all of that is utterly impossible.
- Count to 10 or 100 or take a walk or head to the bathroom and lock the door when it feels as if you’ll explode — do anything to break the moment so you can collect your wits about you.
- Enjoy the parts you can. When you aren’t so focused on trying to stop what is beyond your control, you can focus on a child or another guest or your own admiration of the meal or… basically, try to be ‘mindfully’ engaged in whatever it is that gives you pleasure and focus on that.
- Read the following links for further suggestions and/or information. The most important message is that when a person drinks more than their brains and bodies can process, they are no longer thinking straight, nor can they act responsibly, nor will they be able to understand you and your feelings or give you the reactions you desire (and deserve, by the way).
About Letting Go…
SPECT Scans Showing Impact of Alcohol Abuse on the Brain
Sometimes Understanding How the Body Processes Alcohol Can Help Explain How a Person Can Drink Too Much
This is not meant to be all gloom and doom because there is always room for joy in every situation. Rather, it is just a reminder that staying realistic and keeping unrealistic expectations low will likely improve your holidays considerably and that will keep resentments at bay.
Lisa Frederiksen is a researcher, writer, speaker and consultant specializing in 21st century brain and addiction-related research as it relates to addiction, substance abuse, mental health, and secondhand drinking/drugging(SHDD). She is the author of If You Loved Me, You’d Stop! and Loved One In Treatment? Now What! and writes the blog, BreakingTheCycles.com.