As the holidays near, many families face a growing sense of apprehension.
Although the holidays are meant to be happy, the reality is that this time of year is often stressful, thanks to financial concerns, travel, family dynamics and more. And for those struggling with addiction, the holidays present a slew of other concerns and problems for both the addict and his/her family.
During this time of year, I find myself flooded with memories of my past. Unfortunately for me, the joy and excitement I once had as a child during the holiday season has been replaced by the shame and guilt of my recent past.
During my active addiction, I had the unfortunate privilege of spending Christmas in jail…on two separate occasions. I will never forget the phone call I made to my parents on Christmas Eve to tell them I had been arrested…the disappointment in my father’s voice, the strain in my mother’s words as she held back tears, my own feelings of being completely and utterly lost.
My parents wanted nothing to do with me. My criminal record was, like me, anything but clean. My future looked so bleak, it was hard to find a reason not to completely give-in to my addiction. I thought my life was over. I felt alone, confused, and hopeless. I was desperate. I wanted out.
As I began detoxing in jail on Christmas day, I was struck by the enormity of the situation I was in. As I lay on the metal bunk shivering with cold sweats from head-to-toe, I distinctly remember imagining the two roads that lay in front of me. I could continue to follow the path I was on – destroying my life and every relationship I held dear. Or, I could choose another path by finding a new way of living, by getting clean and forgetting the people that were holding me back.
Today, as I reflect on this turbulent time in my life, I wonder how I got away with hiding my addiction from my family for so many years. It has to have something to do with the fact that parents want nothing more than to think the best of their children…or at the very least, they don’t want to think the worst. As a result, denial and naivety take root and obstruct a parent’s ability to see a growing problem clearly and rationally.
My addictive behaviors began in the seventh grade and were cultivated in high school. As a result of my drug use, I became adept at lying. Addiction can teach people to become master manipulators and cunning liars because doing so allows the addict to continue to use.
For addicts, being around family can be rough. The addict is intent on hiding his/her addiction. And the family is intent on turning a blind eye. In addition, for an addict, being surrounded by happy and joyous family members is never an enjoyable experience. While everyone else is busy chatting and sharing stories, the addict is plotting how to sneak off (unnoticed) in order to use drugs or alcohol. While everyone is unwrapping presents, the addict is scheming a plan to turn his or her presents into another bottle or another bag. It’s a miserable existence – I know from firsthand experience.
As Thanksgiving approaches, I feel grateful for how far I’ve come.
I see money as money – I don’t immediately convert it into grams and milliliters. I can look forward to graduating from college in a little over a month. I have a healthy mind and a healthy body. I have passions and am able to enjoy them. I have friends who appreciate me for who I am, instead of what I have and what I can do for them. I have a relationship with my family which is by no means perfect, but it is steadily getting better and better.
So much has changed and so many opportunities have been revealed themselves to me that I no longer dread the consequences of my past. Instead, I relish the prospects of my future and can finally embrace the phrase, “Happy Holidays.”