Guest Post by Lisa Frederiksen
Holidays can be a wonderful time of family get-togethers and gatherings with friends – that is until the alcohol flow throws a switch in someone’s personality and changes everything. And in family or friend groups where it’s known that one member of the group has a problem with their drinking, it can be a real stressor for those planning or attending because they just never know “who” might show up – the “real” person or the one that comes out when under the influence. And on the day of, if that person drinking gets excessive, the anxiety and tension can build as others 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. Inevitably, one or the other of the remaining guests finds themselves on pins and needles, snapping at their 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, hopes and dreams for the perfect holiday will turn into resentments before the New Year.
So what can you do to keep someone else's drinking from sabotaging your holidays?
- 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.
- Understand Secondhand Drinking and learn to count drinks in order to protect yourself from the drinking behaviors of those who drink too much.
- 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.
AND PERHAPS MOST IMPORTANTLY know that you do not have to serve alcoholic beverages just because some of the guests like to drink. You can let people know there will be no alcohol served this year – with no further explanation, either. Whether the person who likes to drink comes or not, that’s their choice. Remember – it’s your holiday, too!
Lisa Frederiksen is the author of nine books and a national keynote speaker with over 25 years public speaking experience. She has been consulting, researching, writing and speaking on substance abuse, addiction, treatment, mental illness, underage drinking, and help for the family since 2003. Her 40+ years experience with family and friends’ alcohol abuse and alcoholism, her own therapy and recovery work around those experiences, and her research for her blog and most recent book, "Crossing The Line From Alcohol Use to Abuse to Dependence," frame her work with individuals and families, businesses, parents, students, medical professionals, treatment centers, public agencies and the like.