Sklabam!!! In an instant, holiday decorations go up and it’s suddenly that time of year again. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Hanukkah. 2011?!
I know and appreciate the celebration, the wonder, even the gift part, but in the lives of those who have an active addict in their realm, the holidays represents another wrinkle, a new worry and a “what next” in the calamities that chemical dependency so often bring. Can you relate? Anyone feeling apprehensive about going home again for Hannukah or Christmas?
Often, seeing family can be wonderful and painful at the same time. Here are the people you love and who know you best – your flesh and blood – they are a part of you. But when you are gathered together in one room, you can sometimes literally see yourself, not just in your mother’s body type or because you and your father have the same eyes, but also you see yourself in their eating, drinking, smoking and drugging habits.
We not only inherit physical traits from our ancestors, but also addictive behaviors and disorders. For example, sure, we all eat a little more than usual and perhaps indulge in rich seasonal foods we don’t have year-round, like a glass of eggnog (one cup of the yellow sludge has a whopping 343 calories) or pecan pie (there’s 480 calories in one slice of a 9” inch pie), but is there an aunt or a sister in your clan who is already obese and uses the holidays to justify eating 3 plates of food and 2 plates of dessert? Is there an uncle or a cousin who takes prescription medicine that makes him or her so loopy and sleepy (especially when combined with a few drinks), that someone always has to drive them home after dinner?
Or are there always a couple of family members who imbibe until they black out, sleeping it off until the next morning in grandma’s spare room? For people who are already depending on drugs, alcohol, credit cards or food, the permissiveness of the season and doing even “a little bit more” can quickly take a dangerous turn. Perhaps you justify not talking with your loved ones at the holidays because you’re afraid of becoming Mr. Grinch. But, since families come together so rarely, the holidays can actually be the perfect time, in the spirit of generosity and love, to shed some light on your family issues.
A good place to start is by creating what I call your Family Map. Family Mapping is like taking inventory of issues that reappear in the family – every member of the family appears on the family map, which is drawn much like a family tree. Once everyone has a spot in the tree starting at least with your grandparents (if you can go back to great-grandparents, even better), use codes to identify issues the reoccur in the family.
It helps you get your stories straight, and when you want to help someone else, it’s key that you know your story before trying to help them with theirs.
For example, some simple codes could be:
A = alcoholism
AB = anorexia/bulimia
ACOA = adult child of an alcoholic
AX = anxiety
CO = compulsive overeating
CODA = codependent behavior
D = drug addiction
DE = depression
G = gambling
RX = prescription drugs addiction
S = smoking
SX = sex addiction
The family map would have codes under each person’s name to identify the issues that person has struggled with. For example, my place in my family map looks like this:
A, AB, CO, D, S
Family mapping is helpful in presenting just the facts. When properly done, it provides your family history in a single image and patterns will leap out at you. It's not meant to be used as an excuse for bad behaviors “you can’t help,” but rather, to help you and your family to understand how addiction replicates itself through generations. It's really just the first step in identifying the problems and sharing with your family this consciousness that your addictions aren’t just personal weaknesses, but that they were passed down like grandma’s good china.
As a family, you can better confront these negative behaviors and help each other break bad habits, heal and make changes. What could possibly be a better or more loving gift for the holidays?
Find out more on Family Mapping, and see a video on making your own at www.InterventionSpecialists.org.
Happy holidays, and here’s to change aplenty!