Episode 14 - Gifts to Give Yourself During the Holidays
How to bring joy back into what can be a difficult time of year.
The holidays are the most wonderful, but often the most dreadful time of the year if someone you love is suffering from or has lost their battle with the disease of addiction. This will be my second Christmas without my daughter Laura who struggled for 15 years with addiction but lost her life to overdose on December 21, 2017, right before the holidays. But even when Laura was with us, holidays were often stressful because I never knew what kind of tension and drama she might create for the family.
For those of us who have been through the struggle our perfect holiday gift might be that of peace, tranquility, and for the person who we remembered before they developed the disease to be the one that shows up for the holidays. For me, my perfect gift would be just one more moment to watch Laura unwrap her gifts, sit by the fire or laugh at the dinner table.
So, knowing that we likely get gifts that are well meaning, but not exactly what we wished for, here are some gifts that you can give yourself for the holidays that can last you throughout the year and hopefully for a lifetime.
Give yourself the gift of knowledge. I’ve talked to countless parents and family members who are struggling to make sense of their loved one’s substance misuse, crazy behavior, and personality change. Yet, they have failed to research the disease of addiction, understand how it progresses, learn how it changes the brain, and what it takes to treat it. You would never think to fight cancer without going online, understanding the symptoms and how the disease progresses, checking out treatment options and learning how to beat it. The same applies with the disease of addiction. Give yourself the gift of knowledge so you can understand it, have a strategy to respond and know what to do to fight the disease.
Open up the gift of forgiveness. It’s not your fault. I repeat, it’s not your fault. Because I’m empowered with an understanding of the disease, I don’t blame myself for my daughter’s death or her 15-year struggle. And I’ve forgiven myself for any wrong decisions I made along the way when we were in the middle of the fight. Addiction is complex and often the decisions the person afflicted makes are irrational and confusing. Until that person decides to get healthy and manage the disease, you don’t really have the power to cure it for them. If a diabetic eats cake, fails to take their insulin and doesn’t follow the doctor’s instructions, do you blame yourself if they get sicker? The same is true with addiction
Unwrap the gift of self-care. It’s super hard battling the disease and believe me the fight takes a toll on you personally. There is the stress of not knowing what is going to happen next, the lack of sleep when you stay up through the night hoping to hear the door open and your loved one walk in. There’s constant anxiety. If you don’t care for yourself, then your health and wellbeing will suffer. Self-care is complex, but may involve a health and wellness routine, mindfulness & meditation, counseling, or connecting with friends and doing something fun.
Look for the gift of community. Going this alone is never a good idea. You need help and support around you to give you perspective, a sanity check, relief, and acceptance. There are many communities you can connect to, but for me, I turned first to my close friends and family who watched Laura grow up, saw how I parented, and didn’t judge my parenting skills. Then, it was going to a community of other parents who had put their children into treatment and who were going through a shared experience with me. I relied on Al-Anon to gain perspective on the disease of addiction and our role in the process of healing. I’m now involved in several Facebook groups where parents share their experiences in losing someone to overdose. Remember, you are not alone.
Trust me, that I personally understand how it feels not only to battle addiction with a loved one, but to lose someone when they lose the fight. But my personal philosophy is that if you don’t understand the disease, forgive yourself for the things you feel you did wrong, care for yourself so you don’t become one part of the collateral damage, and look for help and support in others, you will have a much harder time coping with the circumstances you now find yourself in.
Now, I haven’t always followed my own advice. When Laura died, I stopped doing the things that were keeping me healthy. I ate poorly, gained weight, stopped exercising and didn’t manage my grief as well as I could have. But that is changing, and I’ve given myself the gifts that I just shared with you which is part of my journey to return to health, wellness, and happiness.
Keep tuning into the Audio Journal over the holidays, because I am going to give you some practical advice on each of these gifts, how to find them, and how to make sure you unwrap them.