Yes, we can look forward to family gatherings with a smile.
Are you one of those people who looks at the calendar, sees there are holidays or family events nearing and then begins to panic? Do your insides begin to churn and your head begins a slow boil? For many years, that was my reaction to family gatherings.
Having addicts or extremely difficult people in our lives can be quite trying during holidays and family times. We begin to think about all the things that have gone wrong in the past and imagine what can go wrong in the future. Do we want to live with this uncertainty? This takes away the fun, pleasure, and anticipation of being with our families and enjoying the surrounding love and good will. No one wants to feel this way, but sometimes it is impossible not to.
We can be proactive, take action, and take some of the uncertainty out of the picture by using some simple tools and strategies.
There are many tools and strategies we can use, and I will share a few of them here with you.
The first way to prepare is to fully understand that we are not, or at lease should not be, in this alone. Having a brain-storming session with at least one or two other family members takes away some of the anxiety. Even if you are not on the same page, it’s not your secret anymore. I remember worrying about how to keep my son’s addiction secret in front of the extended family and how to keep him from displaying his terrible addict-behavior when everyone was around. Of course, I could not control any of that, so with a few others we could think about what would be acceptable, make a plan, and agree on what we would do (in solidarity) if the unacceptable happened. For instance, we could politely ask “Aunt Janie” to leave if her alcoholic outbursts begin making everyone uncomfortable. If we agreed this is what we would do ahead of time then, when/if it happens, we already know who will do the asking, who will take the time to drive her home, who will keep the party going, etc. We already have a plan. Those of us who have been there, and there are many of us who have been, know that taking the element of surprise out and having a plan and sticking to it can relieve much of the stress of family gatherings.
Let’s say we don’t have the energy or desire to orchestrate the above or believe we are capable of implementing the plan. Here is another possibility. If we have, for example, someone who would normally be invited but characteristically ruins every gathering due to impossible behavior. Despite all, we love them dearly. How about having a separate gathering at another time that will just focus on them? This is something difficult to do, I know, but it will show our love for them as well as take into consideration our love and respect for our other family members and even ourselves. Taking the entire possibility of drama out of the equation can be quite calming, even if we have a little residual guilt.
How about asking everyone to leave their coats and purses in a room that can be locked during the entertaining so we don’t have to constantly be worried about watching our addicts—who have been known to steal for their habit. I know we don’t want to even think this is a possibility, but let’s be realistic and plan for that.
I hope you can see how planning ahead can help with promoting more calm and enjoyable holidays and family gatherings throughout the year. We are all unique. Think about small actions you can take tailored to your own family situations and enjoy all of your family members with a smile.