The Family Drug Addict and Thanksgiving

The Family Drug Addict and Thanksgiving November 25, 2014


I don’t know what it is about the holidays. All I know is that the family alcoholics/drug addicts cannot stand the happiness that might happen at this time of the year.

So, they rouse themselves from their self-absorption and go to work, manufacturing crises and doing everything in their power to pull the rest of the family into the traumas of their own devising. They won’t stop until you stop them, or until they’ve made such a mess of the holiday that everyone — Every. Single. Person. — from the littlest baby to the senile old lady is a frazzled wreck, and sullenness and misery hang over the turkey like a fog.

The holidays are their deal. You can set your calendar by the oncoming train wreck that your family drug addict/alcoholic will provide.

I missed it this year. Things have been so lovely lately. I’m deep into a prayer time and I am free of the weight of public office and I just got my piano tuned, and my kids are doing great and my husband loves me and my Mama is precious and, and, and … all is well. Sigh. Close your eyes and breath in the peace.

All this contentment made me a sitting duck for the family drug addict and her annual permutations on holiday-destroying crisis creation. I missed it entirely when I got the calls about going to the hospital. Now, I wasn’t so stupid as to actually drop everything and rush over to the hospital to do some grade-A emergency hand holding. Been there. Done that. Not doing it again.

No, I listened and then started rationing my answers to the phone calls. That helped. But it’s still peace-destroying to have 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 (I kid you not) phone calls in a few hours. I put the phone on silencer, but even the constant buzzing sound of the vibration can make me tighten up inside.

When none of that got me involved, it became a matter of me making decisions which would have gagged Solomon, decisions which I flat-out refused to make. Drug addicts are manipulative to the max, and I got a full dose. Every button that love can create got punched.

It was at this point that I finally realized that, hey, Thanksgiving is this week and this is the Annual Ruin the Holidays whatever. After I finally “got” it, things simplified.

I no longer feel harassed because I no longer feel pulled in two directions. My normal instinct to go and save someone I love is disconnected now. I realize that this is just her, doing her druggie thing that she does every year and I have no reason to feel conflicted about not allowing her to jerk me into it. I am actually doing the responsible thing for myself, my family, my guests and for her.

As soon as Thanksgiving is past, she will go back to her usual drug doing life and all will be quiet until she ramps it up again for Christmas.

Because nothing any of us can do will “fix” the family drug addict/alcoholic. That’s all on them. There is so much help out there for them; our whole society runs around with its hands out, trying to convince them to take treatment.

I’ve done the deal with my family drug addict. We’ve been through the phoney-baloney-hyped-up uselessness of the most expensive treatment center in Oklahoma. It did no good, largely because it catered to its privileged clients and went in for touchy-feely puff and stuff instead of demanding the raw grit of honesty.

For my money, AA — which is free — is the single best program. It works. I’ve seen it work.

But nothing is going to do any good unless the drug addict/alcoholic wants it to work enough to swim through the misery of change. Change, even without alcohol and drugs, is never easy.

Giving up an addiction to a substance is both physical and mental. It requires going through some unpleasant detoxing and some even more unpleasant honesty and then topping that off with leaving behind the warm bath of your old drug/alcohol supporting friends and lifestyle and jumping into the cold snow of living life naked, without the drugs/alcohol to blur out the edges.

I know people who have recovered from addiction. They did it the hard way. It began by making a decision that they didn’t want to die. That’s a wise and realistic decision, because alcoholism and drug addiction are killers. First, they destroy your personality. Then, they destroy your family. Then, they lay you in the ground.

I’m not writing this to vent about my experiences with the family drug addict. I’m writing it to tell you what you must do with your family alcoholic/drug addict this holiday.

Send them away.

Shut the door and don’t let them in. If you have children, you must keep them away. Children deserve and must have a stable environment to be able to grow into the people they were meant to be. Children deserve a Thanksgiving free of the manufactured and utterly unnecessary drama that alcoholics and drug addicts inflict on people. As their parent, it is your job to protect them from the crazy destructiveness of the drug and alcohol addicted.

If you have children, give the family drug addict/alcoholic the heave ho. I mean that. Kick them out and nail the door shut behind them. They can stop when they want to stop. There is a whole world of help out there, begging them to allow themselves to be aided in their recovery.

But you can not stop them. You can not help them.

What you can do is save yourself, your family, and most importantly, your children from the chaos and complete destruction that will happen if you let these people in.

Just to make my point clear, I’m going to repeat it: If you have children, your first responsibility is to keep the kids clear of the drug addict/alcoholic and their soul destroying behavior. Protect your kids: Kick the drug addict/alcoholic out.

I’m going back to my retreat now. That may sound a bit counter-intuitive, after this rant. After all, aren’t Christians supposed to forgive? Aren’t we supposed to lend a helping hand?

In truth, forgiveness doesn’t enter into this. I love the family drug addict, and love always forgives. I’ve forgiven her already. It’s not a matter of forgiveness, it’s a matter of accepting reality. And the reality is that until/unless she really wants to stop using, I can’t help her.  My only choice is whether or not I let her destroy other people along with herself.

I have a lot to pray about. The one thing you can do for drug addicts/alcoholics is pray for them. That does work. Again, I’ve seen it work. Pray for them and for yourself and the rest of the family. And then trust them to God. You’ve done all you can do.

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56 responses to “The Family Drug Addict and Thanksgiving”

  1. Rebecca, This is one of the best pieces on this topic I have seen. You totally nailed it. To say NO! is the hardest thing to do but it is the RIGHT thing to do. Like you, I have managed to say NO! and I am talking about my own daughter. Listening to her SCREAM for me to help her when she had just been brought into a hospital lockdown facility and saying, “Good luck, I will pray for you.” and then hanging up the phone on her was the hardest thing I have ever done. She was also six months pregnant at the time. Today, seven years later, she has her MSW and heads up the Substance Abuse Program at a state run addiction center. Next year she gets her LCSW. All things are possible with God in your corner. HAPPY THANKSGIVING—Proud to be able to type this note to you.

  2. Thank you Larry. I needed to read this today. Blessings to you and your daughter. Your “no” was your part in allowing God the room to do His work.

  3. This is excellent, but I want to add one more crucial piece of advice to folks who are struggling with someone else’s addiction: Go to Al-Anon. Al-Anon is a group that is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, but its purpose is to help family and friends of addicts deal with their own behavior, emotions, etc., that have been affected by having to put up with the alcoholic or addict over and over again.

    At Al-Anon, you will learn how to properly deal or NOT deal with the alcoholic or addict’s behavior in ways that will allow you to regain your own sanity. You will learn how to manage your own behavior in relation to the alcoholic or addict so that you can once again have peace and serenity in your life.

    Al-Anon will not teach you how to get your alcoholic sober or your addict clean. It will teach you how your behavior is probably making the situation worse–and adding to the misery of others in the situation.

    Yes, Al-Anon is a 12-step program just like AA–and it works. In my opinion, Catholics have a head start when it comes to 12-step programs because they already believe in a higher power, and they already should know something about following God’s will. Many folks who walk into a 12-step meeting for the first time have no relationship with God to begin with.

    To find a meeting, Google Al-Anon and your city or the largest city near you. There are meetings everywhere just like AA. If you can, find one with a beginner’s meeting and go to that. Each group has its own character and flavor. If you don’t feel comfortable with one group, try another, and another until you find one that feels like home. It’s absolutely free. Groups sell incredibly helpful books to members at cost, and usually a basket is passed at the end of the meeting for donations. Most folks drop a dollar or two when they can. Meetings are also anonymous. First names only. Whoever attends is secret. Whatever anyone says is secret.

    Go get yourself some sanity.

  4. I tell people there’s real forgiveness and there’s pretend forgiveness. We tend to think forgiveness means going back to before things went bad and pretending nothing every happened, especially in abusive or addictive relationships, and trying again, but that is incomplete, even destructive. Forgiveness means forgiving, it means loving, but it doesn’t mean you have to allow yourself to be taken advantage of yet again. To go down the same path yet again. It’s important to remember. And yes, the most important thing a parent can do is parent.

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I so agree with LP – you absolutely nailed it like you wouldn’t believe, and on so many levels. And this comes from a grateful member of AA of over 17 years. Thank you and, and may God continue to bless you and keep you.

  6. We always host a TG dinner for social/sexual aberrants who have learned not to go home. It’s usually pretty sweet, with little behavioral disturbance, despite consumption of intoxicants. To be fair though, sometimes a misguided normal or two will attend. They are usually driven out in a painful and embarrassing manner. Everybody enjoys that.

  7. May you and yours have a very Happy Thanksgiving, Rebecca. And to those who I have had the pleasure to “reply to” and comment with, on this blog, Happy Thanksgiving to you all. You folks and Rebecca are part of the many things I have to be Thankful for this year.

  8. I’m really sorry that this is your experience with your family member, but I don’t think all addicts are like this. I’m spending Thanksgiving tomorrow with the family alcoholic, and there is no drama there. She drinks quietly from a large red halo cup the whole time without seeming drunk, as she has every time I’ve seen her for years. She is functional (holds down a job,lives in a nice home with her also-alcoholic long-term boyfriend), and never mentions her drinking except in the context of “having fun,” or, jokingly “needing it around our crazy family.” She was abused as a child and has taken small steps to improve her health–she was able to quit smoking, for example–but I don’t know if she will ever give up drinking. I wish she would. In sharp contrast to your experience, no one in our family has ever tried to get her help–we tiptoe around it like her drinking isn’t a problem since she does have an otherwise “normal” life. Maybe I need to say something. I don’t know. We could both use prayer.

  9. If she’s an alcoholic, as opposed to a heavy drinker, the operative word is “yet.” She hasn’t behaved like this “yet.” Alcoholism and drug addiction are progressive. And they lead inevitably to the grave. Yes, if she’s an alcoholic, you — and all the rest of the family — need to stop tiptoeing around it and talk about it openly. That’s a critical first step: Stop living the lie.

  10. Actually, I can bear her out . I have been in a situation where, trying to do my best for a friend – staying up till two o’clock in the morning talking to him – I was forced to wake up to the fact that I was being exploited, and that I was reinforcing a selfish and destructive pattern. And in the end, saying “no” in this case was easy, because the exploitative pattern had become so clear.

  11. It is her blog and if she wishes to share her experiences about the addicted family member, why shouldn’t she? This might help someone else deal with a situation in their family.

  12. My brother is a drug addict; he’s addicted to marijuana and it has almost completely destroyed his mind his will and his personality; he is a seething angry lump of wasted potential who is convinced that the only true answer to all of life’s deepest questions and to societal ills is…wait for it…more drug legalization and consumption on a mass scale. He was introduced to marijuana at around 18 and it opened the way to experimenting with other harder drugs which he gave up for marijuana. I have had to shield myself and my family from his evil influence; he feeds on ppl metaphorically speaking; he hates successful ppl and any sign of health and wealth; he’s only met my kid twice and won’t be seeing us this holiday season; i include him in my prayers bc i know that only the power of the holy spirit can exercise the “demon” that is sucking his soul dry. He is smart, speaks several languages and was healthy and good looking; today he is a stoner living in his parents basement on assistance ranting against corporations, “republicans” and the evil catholic church… and i not even exaggerating. Our priest told us that many saints started out as sinners and turned things around; i hope that it isn’t too late for him.

  13. YES!! i’ve been through it with my own brother; he wasn’t interest in getting better or in my help but in sucking me into his squalor.

  14. Rob, I have enrolled her in the Mass of Christmas Morning and the FFSP seminary in Denton, NE
    Prayers for you all…

  15. What a frenzy of self righteousness. Christ ate with prostitutes and sinners and was called a glutton and a winebibber, but you are above that because it might put a damper on your holiday fun. People in the holidays need love and companionship because they often feel unloved during that time(that’s why they drink or do drugs) NOT because they want to put a damper on someone else’s fun. You are advocating abandoning people when they need company the most.

  16. Without Alanon I probably would have blamed myself more for my wife’s OD. Addictions absolutely lead to the grave but the pain just goes on and on. Last night I met my newest baby grandchild and realized again that Grandma Chris will always be missing.

  17. It is most definitely not a bitter rant. It is a clear-eyed, realistic assessment of this siutation. And I can tell you from both personal and professional experience that it is 100% accurate.

  18. If people followed Jesus’ command, “Go and sin no more,” the world would be a better place. Everyone wants to force the forgiveness & help, but no one wants to take responsibility for their own actions by stopping the problems they cause.

  19. Rebecca, thanks for the confirmation on this. I’m praying for the addict in your family and mine. God bless and keep up the courage and perseverance.

  20. I can tell you from a personal and professional experience that this may be accurate in some cases, but certainly not all.

  21. Been there, done that.
    Did the private therapy, Al-Anon and a Church support group. While I appreciate your compassion for those who are suffering, I side with the author – addicts try to destroy everything and everyone they touch – save yourself, save your children, run from the burning building of addiction.
    Then, keep praying for the addict, never give up praying for them. But don’t let them in the door to destroy your life.

  22. I was 30 before I found out that two older family members were alcoholics. Could have knocked me over with a feather. Never any drama, at least, around me. Never heard a bad word said about either one. They were both good to all the children in the family, carried on a Sunday afternoon visit from company on a regular basis and were both always pleasant, to me/us. Always neat and clean, house was in order. Always a nice visit. It is possible

  23. After many, many emergencies, conveniently timed to interfere with something important to others (Thanksgiving holiday, birthdays, visiting for the holidays, new job, etc) you get tired of being used and abused. We just get worn out and need to detach. We keep praying for our family member, we keep hoping they will get better, but we are not willing to give up important days and events in our lives to deal with the addicts’ drama.

  24. Recovery from addiction (and the company of sane civilized society) isn’t for people who need it, it’s for people who want it. Practicing alcoholics wouldn’t treat a stray dog the way they treat themselves, and anyone who cushions the blows for them is indeed prolonging their sickness. This post is 1000% accurate.

  25. Yes, but Christ didn’t drag the hookers back home for lunch and expect his mother to wait on them. Sentimental clap-trap like this is terribly harmful because it supports the view that addiction is caused by other people, and so other people are responsible for healing the addict. Addiction is caused by stupidity, selfishness, and weakness. ONLY the addict can save themselves. If the addict is not prepared to overcome their addiction, no amount of kindness is going to dig them out of their hole. We can only help the addict who is already helping themselves. Save your good will for those who have already begun that struggle. Sentimental indulgence is a slap in the face to those addicts who are desperately trying to get back to normality.

  26. I’m talking about alcoholics/drug addicts who are using/denying/abusing everyone around them. I know a lot of recovering alcoholics who haven’t had a drink in years. I worked with a number of them in the legislature and have one family member who falls into that category.

    The problem here is enabling the active addict on the one hand and, more to the point, allowing them to destroy innocent children with their behavior on the other. People become so besotted with the addict that they allow them to destroy the lives of the people around them, most especially children.

    If there are kids in the house, the addict who is using has to go. Even if they are trying to get straight, the children, not the addict, come first. Even if they are recovering, the children, not the addict, come first.

    AA works. I’ve been through 5 different “treatment” programs with the family addict. They cost an arm and a leg and they enable more than anything else. I’m sure there are treatment programs that do better. But, with one exception, every single person I know who has gotten off their drug has done it with AA.

    The exception is a former prostitute/drug addict/alcoholic/drug dealer who was given healing from God as a result of prayer. I think that was an exceptional case, for an exceptional circumstance.

  27. 12 Step actually doesn’t work well for everyone. This is a disease. 12 Step manages to help some cope on a daily basis, but it is grueling, & many don’t make it. Many will die very young due to their addictions. While i fully agree enabling or being sucked in to the manipulations should be avoided.& I am thoroughly disgusted by this lighthearted, judgmental, minimizing of the struggle of any addict. The reason so many aren’t helped is because we really don’t understand very much at all about this debilitating disease. 12 Step works for some to cope, but it is far from full understanding or a workable cure.

  28. This post is typical of the moral certitude and self serving rationalizations of modern “believing” Christianity. If your sick of a “loved” ones crap, admit it and leave it at that. What use is your love for them if you cut them off. It might be the right thing to doin your case, but it is a rational human decision that has nothing to do with your faith, and in fact contradicts it. just like no two people are alike no two addicts are alike, although there may be patterns of behavior. Your advice is a generalization of all addicts and families based on your one experience. You should leave it at that as a story, and not offer advice. As an agnostic who cannot believe that fantastic and absurd dogma and stories of religion I have always had respect for the ethos engendered by many religions. Why would you give up the spirit of Christianity but keep all the lies?

  29. Beginning a new life in recovery means not doing life in the same way as you did in the past. Since holidays are all about tradition, that is what made them difficult for me, especially in early recovery. The recovering person is likely the only one in the holiday gathering who is trying to improve. The pressure was enormous. One thing: Please don’t take a specific case and make a generalization to all of us. From my reading of your story, you are the one labeling the other person as an alcoholic/addict. The individual is the only person who can decide this for him/her self. An adage I have heard is “Recovery is for people who want it, not for people who need it.” Have you considered attending Al-Anon for yourself? This could help right-size your ego and curb the anger.

  30. I hope you find healing for all the pain. Gunnar has been recovery 26 years and has seen all kinds. One of the most difficult things to separate is the selfishness that comes from using, and personality-disordered folks. I find POs usually can’t stand to see others happy, but it’s also true of depressed people.

    When you throw active addiction, my experience is that you just don’t know about any underlying craziness as long as the addiction persists. I can’t ID the underlying issues until someone has at least one year, if not two, of continuous sobriety.

    Histrionics, drama-queening … could be underlying mental issues, but it could also be the addiction pressing buttons in the brain. Either way, it’s not your problem unless you make it so.

    I hope she will get clean, but of all the mysteries, that’s the biggest one to me … she has to find something she wants more than drugs. Some people don’t find that thing, possibly because it doesn’t exist for them.

  31. Everyone in a 12-Step program was granted healing by God. The difference is that they stick around to transmit that healing to the next guy, through a fellowship. The toxic monster of practicing addiction is indeed the polar opposite of a recovering soul. You sound well aware of that. I think the request, though, is that a photo referencing AA attached to a post like this muddies that distinction.

  32. To contemplate the addicts thinking and behavior (in relation to your article) is to see satan at work. He uses our weaknesses to destroy us and to do as much damage as possible to anyone in range. I was a party to an analogous situation this Thanksgiving and am a recovering alcoholic myself. (9 years, thank-you Jesus). In an informal family intervention the offending party said that they had tried prayer but it didn’t do any good. I often feel myself like prayer “doesn’t work” and I wonder about that and I believe I’ve gained an insight into that. Prayer doesn’t work because I/we pray for God to fix things and God says, “my grace is sufficient for thee. Listen to me and obey me, I’ve spelled it out for you, but you have to do it. I won’t do it for you.” Then the crushing weight of my own weakness and inability to follow Jesus assails me. Then the image of Jesus reaching out to Peter as he is sinking below the waves and saying to him; “Ye of little faith. Why did you doubt?” comes into my minds eye. Somewhere in all that is a kernel of truth which I am still chewing on.
    Sorry about the ramble. Thinking out loud, I guess. God bless you Rebecca. Great article and a lot of great responses.

  33. I’m so sorry for your loss. As they say, “You didn’t CAUSE it; you can’t CONTROL it, and you can’t CURE it.

  34. You inspire me with your message to those individual; who are suffering from addiction. I really feel sad hearing those stories behind their addiction. Some of them are victims of traumatic experience (bullying, accidents, rape, abuse) peer pressure, and family issues. I prayed that someday those people in darkness see the light for sober living arizona again.

  35. I can not comment too heavily about addicts and holidays. I can, however, speak to the idea of the “happy family gathering” as being dysfunctional. I am Roman Catholic and enjoy the most peaceful holidays in my own company and perhaps a good friend or 2 and that of God. I think many individuals do not experience a harmonious family gathering on holidays, unfortunately. Sometimes it brings out the worst in everyone.

    To the sober guy who says he avoids family holidays, I say kudos to you. If that particular gathering seems like a charade and makes you feel uncomfortable, I wouldn’t go either. Just enjoy your own peace. I stopped going to family functions some time ago when I experienced constant anxiety, ridicule and the general feeling that I was not “fitting in” to whatever “act” was going on. So I just stopped going.

    From time to time I attend certain functions. I make it short and sweet. And then I leave. I try not to let my sanity become disturbed by the general discomfort of the atmosphere. I always have an exit plan.

    So sober person, if that family function will undoubtably create stress, don’t go. You are not the only person on Earth who experiences extreme unhappiness (unfortunately) at these gatherings which ideally should be happy for all. That is not always the case. We do not all live in a Hallmark greeting card world.

    Curiously, I found when I stayed away long enough, some of the people actually started treating me better. Some were worse and some just the same. I just do what I think is best for me to remain at peace.

  36. Is great that there are people out there that are willing to share such a wonderfull day with people that really need it, I know there are places like that offer services and where people are not alone on those days but I think this is very important because this will create a better society.

  37. It was Thanksgiving recently and our prayers went out to our niece who is currently in recovery (strangely enough, with, must be a branch of the one mentioned in the previous comment). Anyway, family times were always difficult for her and we never understood why. I will send her a link to your article – hopefully, it can better help her deal with these situations after her treatment finishes. Thank you.