A look at relationships, personal growth, & living/working in the 21st century.

Posts tagged ‘alcoholic’

The Holiday Season and Addiction Recovery – Family Ties

The holiday season is here again. It’s supposed to be a joyous time, but for many people, especially those recovering from an addiction, that’s often not the case.

Let’s start with the expectations we harbor.
First – Society’s Expectations. We’re expected to be joyfully anticipating the holidays and all the traditions – getting together with loved ones, giving and receiving gifts, etc. So, the pressure’s on to have a good time celebrating with family. However, when a family member is caught up in an addiction, holiday time can seem more a reminder of strained, increasingly distant relationships than a time of joyous celebration. Arrival of the holiday season does nothing to ease the pain of addiction. Nor does holiday time lessen the tension and emotional pain of unresolved family strife. The problems present throughout the year have not resolved with the changing calendar. In fact, problems sometimes feel worsened when facing a major holiday.

Second – Family Expectations. What about the expectations family members put on the addicted person? Family members often expect the addict/alcoholic to happily be present at their holiday table. But facing one’s sometimes judgmental family members is not easy. Family members, even those who truly have the best intentions, are often unsympathetic of the addict/alcoholic’s struggles to soberly cope with emotional pain. Breaking the pattern of using alcohol and/or drugs to ease one’s emotions is a truly monumental task. Such a challenge cannot be easily comprehended without having had personal experience doing so.

Third – Our Personal Expectations. We all have hope that our lives will continue to progress and improve, even the alcoholic/addict. We try to look forward to the holidays. We try to regain that feeling of holiday innocence and joy we remember from long ago holiday celebrations. Though those were likely less than perfect times, our memories often work to leave out the painful moments and fill in those blanks with, at worst, neutral feelings, and, at best, joyous emotions. All of this leaves us, emotionally anyway, seeking a simple, happy holiday time. Intellectually, the more objective parts of our brain tell us that the simple joy we seek will never be found. The mistakes of the past -the regrets- cannot be erased, and the resulting pain from grieving the loss of what-will-never-be can seem intolerable.

So, all of this having been said, what can someone in recovery do to survive the holidays without relapsing? One can choose to have hope and look forward rather than remaining stuck in the pain of the past. The alcoholic/addict may not like where they are today, with regard to their personal life, career, finances, etc., and that person may struggle with related self-pity. However, that same alcoholic/addict may readily accept that today they are better off than where they were before starting their recovery. Thankfully, those small steps forward do add up to huge changes and real progress toward lasting sobriety.

Was my Grandfather an Alcoholic?

I never even considered the possibility that my grandfather had a problem with alcohol.  At least, not until he told me his doctor said he had done so much damage to his liver he couldn’t even drink diet pop.  I was shocked at this revelation.  He had never said anything before to me to suggest that he had done anything in the least bit self-destructive.  As he told me this during a brief conversation, he never used the word ‘alcoholic’ or ‘alcoholism.’  He just said that he couldn’t drink pop or anything stronger.  I thought about this conversation for a long time and I had a hard time making sense of it, given my experiences with my grandfather.  I had never seen him drunk or in any apparent way impaired by alcohol.  The more I thought about it though, when I visited him at home, he always had a certain 12oz. glass within reach, and I knew it held rum and coke.  He had a bar set up in the corner of the dining room.  It was liquor bottles and pop bottles on top of an attractive wood piece of furniture.  I always thought of it as a classy, antique or some sort, with its purpose unknown to me.  To me it signified his leisure time and one of his famous collected items, as he was a collector. 

It was at some point late in grammar school that it really began to sink in that he had had another life before he was my grandfather, and my grandmother’s husband (common-law).  Now, looking back, I see he was an alcoholic and he apparently soothed his unresolved pain with alcohol, I guess.  At his funeral I read a poem chosen by my grandmother, his wife, who adored him.  My grandfather adored her too, and I never heard him say anything bad or even passive-aggressive about her.  The way they loved and accepted each other is an example I’m glad I witnessed, as they taught me about loving and respecting others.  Anyway, at my grandfather’s funeral, his daughter and her sons were there.  As was his sister and her husband.  His daughter, who we have always had sporadic contact with, told us that her mother kept she and her brother away from their father (my grandfather).  She said that her mother told them that their father wanted nothing to do with them.  His daughter told me one way she later found out this was not true was when she saw that my grandfather faithfully paid child support until she and her brother were adults, while their mother was at the same time saying he had abandoned them. 

Long story short, anyway, yes, my grandfather was an alcoholic.  I guess you could say a functional alcholic.  I say that because he always paid his bills, kept his long-term job, took care of elder family members, and treated my grandmother and everyone in our family with love and kindness.  I’m in no position to judge anyone, and I don’t write this to in any way judge him.  I write this to let others know that people can be alcoholics, addicts, whatever and still love those they care about.  Being the ‘adult grandchild of an alcoholic’ does not mean anything to me other than to sound kind of silly.  Alcoholics, like anyone else, are all different, and trying to group them with labels is generally not helpful or fair.  As a counselor/licensed therapist I see the value in those terms (i.e., alcoholic, addict, etc.).  But I also know it’s best to keep those terms in the proper perspective, because they refer to people, not things to be described simply with a trite label. 

My grandfather was a loving person, an imperfect person, but a person who cared about others and wanted to treat them with kindness.  He may not have been my ‘biological’ grandfather, but he was all I would have ever wanted him to be.  I was a very young child when he entered my life, and, until he died of prostate cancer, I could not think of a time in my life when he wasn’t there for me.   He’s been gone a year now, and I often think of him.  I miss him and may he rest peacefully. 

Peace to you all, and be kind to yourself and others.  I’m trying to be better at doing that myself – like my grandfather.