For most people, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. But for someone who has a loved one dealing with a substance use disorder or has lost someone to addiction, the holidays are seen through a very different set of lenses.
Here are 5 things to remember this year when celebrating the holiday with the family or friend of an addict.
1. We still love the holidays.
Know that those of us dealing with our loved one’s addiction still want to celebrate the season. We just might need to celebrate from afar. Give us the space to do this, but still keep us wrapped in your kindness and good cheer as much as we allow. Let us set the tone, but if you're not getting a response don't be afraid to reach out.
2. We can openly mourn together.
You might think silence is best, especially this time of year. After all, why open a wound? But don't be silent. Let us know you're missing that person too or that you are grieving their loss this time of year as well. It’s OK to share and let us know we aren’t alone in mourning the addicted family member. This is a loss, whether they're still alive and absent, or they have succumb to the disease. The memories are alive and well especially this time of year.
3. We may laugh and we may cry.
A person with an addicted loved one may cry one minute, laugh the next and walk out the door shortly after arriving. While this might seem like abnormal behavior, it’s actually perfectly normal for us. Whatever we need to do to get through what’s happening in other parts of our lives is the right action for us and is in no way a reflection of how we feel about you or the season. Let us have our space to just "be."
4. We want to include our missing loved one.
Help us grieve for our friend or family member in addiction, whether they’re still with us or have passed on, by remembering them in the celebration. Include them in some meaningful way. Lighting a candle in their honor or going around the table and sharing a funny memory. A person suffering from a substance use disorder becomes marginalized, sometimes invisible and usually forgotten by most. This idea can be suffocating to us. Honor the loved one who is missing from the table.
5. We will heal.
This time of year can turn into a very dark place for those of us who have lost someone to addiction. However, there is also a magical quality to the season that will help us heal. As the saying goes, "Love conquers all." So, love us if you do nothing else.
Even if we may turn down your first few invitations, just know that the one we do accept can make all the difference in the world. From the hug you greet us with at the door and the “I miss her too!” whisper in our ear that will be met with a grateful smile, to handing us your favorite handkerchief that your grandma left you as our tears start to roll—all of this will be the kindest gesture you make.
So hold the hand of the ones you care about, honor those they may be missing, and remember to share your joy and life. These are the surefire ways to make sure their holiday feels a little bit warmer and brighter this year.