The first time I went with my husband to his side of the family for the holidays, I struggled. Although my family was far from perfect, the holidays were something that I felt we did really well.
Even in my adult years, my mom always waited until everyone was asleep on Christmas Eve to put gifts under the tree. We would awake to magic. We would open stockings, and have a little breakfast, and then start a leisurely unwrapping of the presents. Gifts would be opened one at a time, and everyone would have an opportunity to see what everyone else was receiving. If a little one opened something that they wanted to play with for a while, we allowed for that. After all of the gifts were open, we would start cooking the big family meal. It smelled divine! We would eat, basking in the abundance, and then clean up, have dessert, and sit around the table for hours having conversation and playing games.
This image – this idyllic holiday postcard – especially stood out for me in the midst of growing up in a family impacted by alcoholism. There were other times that were extremely difficult, but the holidays were not one of those times. I know that not everyone had that experience. I know that we were lucky.
Before I go any further, I’ll tell you that I truly adore my husband’s family!
But, they do Christmas wrong.
Or, at least I thought they did on the first Christmas I spent with them. Of course, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind when I had this first experience. I was missing my family and especially my niece and nephew. And, I wasn’t prepared for how they did things. I’m sure I had a panicked look in my eye when everyone was offered a stack of presents, and everyone unwrapped them all at once! My mind was spinning! What was I supposed to do? Who was I supposed to watch? How fast was this going to go?
I watched in judgment as we continued on with our day. I got sadder and sadder. I felt like I was missing out on the holiday. I certainly wasn’t open to what was happening around me.
I decided to take a time out and call my sister. I expressed my distress with how the day was going, and how terribly much I missed our Christmas. I remember lamenting that my husband’s family didn’t even play any games! What was wrong with them?
My sister, in all of her sisterly wisdom, asked me a simple question. “Sherry” she said, “have you asked anyone to play a game?”
Of course I hadn’t! I had been so wrapped up in what had been going “wrong” that I didn’t take an opportunity to see how I could make things “right”. So, I got brave, and asked someone if they wanted to play a game – which they did – and game-playing ensued for the remainder of the weekend!
One of the impacts that alcoholism has had on me is that I don’t always ask for what I need. I get caught up in how I think things should be automatically, and forget that there are changes that I can make to get my needs met. I laughed when my sister asked her question. It’s really basic family recovery practice! Even after a long while living in recovery principles, sometimes I still forget them.
My hope for each of you this holiday is that you think of what is important to you, and find a way for yourself to experience it. If you have a loved one in active addiction, they may not be able to give you what you need – but, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get your needs met elsewhere. I have found that along the spiritual journey, my needs will be met, but sometimes in the most surprising ways. The first part of the process is that I identify those needs, and realize that I am worthy of having them. This allows me the willingness to have them fulfilled, and affirms that it’s okay to have them. In this process I receive the most amazing gift of them all, the gift of self-care.