Was Your Thanksgiving an Alcohol or Drug-Filled Sh*t Show? How to Shift Your Experience of the Remaining Holidays

Was Your Thanksgiving an Alcohol or Drug-Filled Sh*t Show? How to Shift Your Experience of the Remaining Holidays

So, if you celebrate Thanksgiving, how was it? I ask because Growing up, and even when going home for the holidays as an adult, I never knew how the holiday would go. It was always a crap shoot.

To be honest, at times, it could be a ton of fun and full of laughter. I think that’s what kept me continuing to go back when I could as an adult – hoping that this one would be one of the good ones.

But then there were the ones that weren’t good. And when they weren’t good, they were really, really bad. They were seriously a total sh*t show. A night mare of drinking, arguing, insults, threats of violence. And someone was always the scapegoat or the black sheep for that year. And then, of course the gossip around everything that was wrong with that person would continue well after the holidays were over.

And those horrible holidays happened frequently enough that they clearly weren’t just flukes.

And it wasn’t until I had started recovering from family addiction that I realized that there WERE alternatives to this drug, alcohol, and mental illness-fueled sh*t show. But one of the first steps to that healing was recognizing all the ways the dysfunctional family dynamics kept me sucked into it.

Call this a list of what kept me doing the same thing over and over again during the holidays and expecting a different result:

  • Believing family myths. My family has this myth going that they’re all creative geniuses and that the mental health and substance issues go hand-in-hand with that creative genius. And to be fair, many people in my family are genuinely highly creative. But they would narcissistically argue that the creativity somehow justified the damage of the substance use and other abusive behaviors driven by mental illness or personality disorders.So step one was to stop believing the myths that propped up the family dysfunction. They may be creative people, but they’re mentally and emotionally sick and need mental health and substance use support.
  • Sacrificing safety and well-being for convenience or cost savings. This is really about the things that kept me from being able to leave the gathering when things started heading south. Things like agreeing to stay with family members who are “only trying to help me out” financially, when in reality, that offer came with added expectations of putting up with the chaos. Or driving down with other family members which left me without an easy means of leaving and potentially jeopardizing my ride back if I didn’t scratch the chaos and dysfunction up to “par for the course.
  • Leaving myself with no other options. Part of this goes part and parcel with numbers one and two, but there are other emotional and psychological ways I was left with no other options. There was another part of the family mythology that had me believing that I was nothing without my family, and so the thought of not being part of these significant family gatherings left me feeling like a total loser, small and alone. Like I was totally unworthy of love when in fact the total opposite was true.Unpacking this required me to get Effective Support and to stop isolating myself in the face of the family addiction. I still had to grieve the love that was not currently available to me in my family, but effective support allowed me to create family of my own choosing.This gave me viable options during the holidays, not just people who were willing to take in a “stray” or “holiday orphan” during the holidays, but again, that chosen family that truly wanted my company during the holidays.

So that was how I started to change my experience of the holidays. So I would love to know about you:

If you’re in the U.S., was your Thanksgiving also a shit show? And is a part of you dreading the remaining holidays? Thanksgiving is already under our belts. And so I invite you – if you feel comfortable – to consider how you could support yourself in doing something differently around the holidays.

If my experience above resonated with you, you might consider doing some reflection or journaling on the following three questions:

    • What family myths keep you sucked into the family dysfunction, and thus keep you doing the same thing and hoping for something different? What keeps you believing them?
    • Are you sacrificing you safety and well-being for convenience or cost savings? If so, how? Can you brainstorm other options?
  • Have you created your own mythology around you self-worth or my worthiness that is somehow tied to tolerating the chaos in the family? This can become its own perverted form of FOMO in my experience.

Before you answer these questions, I highly recommend you have a trusted, supportive, and non-judgmental person – who is NOT a family member – with whom you can share what comes up when you answer these questions. Not that you have to share any of it, but I say this because what comes up might feel really heavy, and you may need someone to help you process. This can be a friend, a clergy person, a support group or a therapist. But I don’t recommend sharing what comes up with family members unless you are absolutely sure that what you share won’t be used against you.

So that’s a start. But there are a few other things you can do as well.

    • Acknowledge your feelings. If your holiday was indeed a sh*t show, then it will be important to acknowledge whatever feelings you feel about that, whether that’s anger, disappointment, sadness, frustration or something else. For better or worse, all healing is on the other side of feeling feelings. Which sucks, I know.

      But there’s the catch here. There may actually be a step that you need to take before this one, if your family is anything like mine. And that is to believe that you actually have a right to these feelings. As in, they’re valid and there’s nothing wrong with you for having them.

      I didn’t have a right to my feelings growing up, and when I got upset or objected to anything I was told I was too sensitive and I just needed to get over it. It was no big deal, and I was now creating problems for making a big deal of it. And if I didn’t get over it, I was told I just needed to leave that in the past.Coming to believe you have a right to these feelings requires effective support. And if that’s the case for you, I’ll put a link in the blog to an IG reel I have on what constitutes effective support. And there are links on my resources page to where you might find it.

      But if you feel like you don’t have a right to these feelings, that could be one of the things that keeps you brushing them under the rug year after year, and, like I did for so long, continuing to do the same thing over and over every time the holidays came around and hoping for a different result.

      And you know, the holidays would go “relatively” well just often enough to keep me hoping. But it never, ever, stuck.

    • There’s another thing you can do, but before I mention that, I think a little context would be helpful.

      So, I often do a little ChatGPT work before I write blog posts. It’s a great tool for identifying what the dominant narrative is on the interwebs about any given issue. And when it comes to addiction and family addiction, what comes up often makes me want to hurl.

      To be fair, the previous point did come up, but what ChatGPT had to say about acknowledging your feelings was completely devoid of how difficult that can be and what actually gets in the way it for families. And the next point was to initiate honest and open communication. Theoretically, a good idea.

      In practice, it’s much more complicated.
      In fact, I’m quite confident that you’ve already tried to communicate your concerns, but they have not been heard. And sure, there may be ways in which it would be helpful to shift your approach, but if what you say is not backed up with boundaries, the communication often gets you nowhere, and your words can end up twisted, taken out of context, and then used against you.

      So before we talk about communication, I think it’s important to talk about boundaries. Because when most of the literature talks about communication, they are focusing on communicating your concerns. With words. Depending on the severity of the substance use or other dysfunction in your family, words about your concerns often get nowhere.

      When it comes to unacceptable behavior driven by substance use or other dysfunction, boundaries are actually the most effective source of communication there is. But they’re incredibly difficult to set and even harder to stick to. Because you pretty much have to count on backlash.

      This is why I’m developing an entire workshop on setting boundaries with a loved one’s substance use. It is one of the best forms of communication out there when it comes to family addiction, but it’s damn near impossible to do if you don’t have effective support. 

  • Speaking of boundaries, one of THE most important boundaries to set around the holidays is to Have a Plan B.

    When you leave yourself with no other options, you end up stuck on the ride with the family dysfunction. And for years, I had left myself with no other options, both psychologically with my thinking about being nothing without my family, and also materially with the choices I made during the holidays that left me with no readily available option for stepping away from the chaos.

    I personally had to approach this in a couple of ways. When it came to changing my thinking, I needed Effective Support in order to do that. In my case, I found that both through support groups and professional therapy.

    Once they family mythology no longer had such a tight grip on me, then I was able to make different choices about if and under what conditions I could participate in family holidays. I would only participate if I had my own transportation and a place to stay that was not with a family member. Sometimes that was a hotel, other times I stayed with friends.

    When I could, I would also connect with understanding friends – usually other members of my support group – and ask if they could be my backup holiday gathering in case I had to leave my own family gathering.

    And when it comes to the holidays, the boundaries for me were the conditions under which I was willing to participate, and the Plan B. And when it comes to the Plan B, it’s important to be very clear with yourself about what type of behavior or situation is going to trigger the Plan B.

    I suggest also making a commitment to an understanding friend that you will trigger the plan B if those conditions are met. If you’re at all like me and are conflict averse, it’s easy to say things aren’t that bad when in fact they are. But the Plan B is how you say that the behavior is unacceptable.

    And when you have a Plan B in place, you don’t even need to get angry because you know you’re not trapped. This allows your communication to be far more compassionate. Because it allows people to be who they are while still taking care of yourself. Then healthier communication can happen after the drama of the holidays has subsided.

  • But, the thing is, all of this requires support. If you’re looking at the myths that keep you stuck, you’re going to feel some things. And it’s a lot easier to allow yourself to feel those things if you’ve got a reasonably healthy support system outside of the family.

    If you’ve never before set a boundary, if you’ve never created a Plan B for the holidays, if you’ve never deliberately planned for an easy exit around holiday gatherings, the first time you do that can feel really, really scary. And the reality that all if this is even necessary will also bring up grief. Which again brings you back to feeling your feelings. Again, knowing there are people who have your back will make it much easier to walk through that fear.

    Finally, as with everything around family addiction. Everything I’ve suggested here is easier said than done. And that’s the thing that makes me crazy with a lot of the advice out there to families. They make it sound like it’s so simple. The concepts are simple, but the practice of them is anything but.

    I know very well that I’m suggesting things that can be really scary to execute in practice. So I want to close this post by saying, if you’re not ready to execute on all of this, that’s OK. Maybe you just reflect on how you get wrapped up in some kind of family mythology. Or maybe you just take your own car, even though you have no intention of leaving, no matter what happens. Maybe you just start to feel feelings that you’ve never been allowed to feel.

    Start with what you can and just keep it in the back of your head that in the future you can take it a little farther.

    Family addiction and dysfunction is like a huge cruise ship or a semi. Neither can turn around on a dime. It takes time and often some back and forth.

    But if your Thanksgiving was a sh*t show and you’re even considering what you could do differently, that’s beautiful first step.

There Are Many Addiction Myths. But Even the Antidotes Sometimes Get It Wrong

There Are Many Addiction Myths. But Even the Antidotes Sometimes Get It Wrong

Welcome to episode #7 in my “Why I do what I do” series!

Have you ever watched the TED talk by Johann Hari called “Everything we think we know about addiction is wrong”? If you haven’t, I highly recommend it.

The fact that so much of what we think we know about addiction is wrong informs reason #7 why I do what I do.

I do what I do because our culture is so steeped in myths about addiction that often tragically misguide families. Families need to be equipped with accurate knowledge and tools to better be able to navigate their loved one’s use.

One of the reasons many of these myths persist, despite the fact that the medical community has demonstrated that they’re false, is because one of the hallmarks of substance abuse is harmful and hurtful behavior. And that creates a dilemma that doesn’t have an easy answer.

Yes, addiction is a disease. But that doesn’t make the behavior OK. This is, in fact, a brief summary of the two competing realities of addiction, what I call addiction’s double bind. Addiction is a disease, but people active in addiction hurt people, and they hurt them badly.

And while there is no one right way to navigate these two realities, if we’re going to successfully address the addiction crisis and generational cycles of addiction and other dysfunction, we HAVE to occupy that middle ground. That messy, uncomfortable, middle ground.

Many of the myths surrounding addiction, and even codependency, are borne from a refusal to acknowledge this messy middle. I do what I do because I don’t believe we will ever be able to effectively resolve the addiction crisis if we don’t work to address both these realities.

So the work I do supports families in finding the right approach for them in that messy middle.

But what does occupying that messy middle look like? Well, in preparation for creating this video blog, I asked ChatGPT to write a blog post for families on myths around addiction. And the output was interesting. It did come up with 7 legitimate myths about addiction, but with one exception, each explanation of the particular myth failed to acknowledge both realities about addiction.

Take the myth that addiction is a moral failing. Here’s ChatGPT scraped from the web on this myth:

“It’s time to dispel the damaging belief that addiction is a result of moral weakness. Addiction is a medical condition, not a character flaw. When we label it as such, we stigmatize our loved ones, making their recovery journey even more challenging.

Instead, let’s focus on providing love, understanding, and encouragement. By supporting your loved one, you can help break down the stigma surrounding addiction and create an environment where healing can take place.” 

And that is all true. Absolutely. But why do people think addiction is a moral failing in the first place?

They think it’s a moral failing because of the damaging behavior. That stuff is real. The damage is real. And the damage is not at all effaced by the fact that addiction is a disease.

Addiction is not a moral failing, but the behavior driven by addiction does have significant moral implications that cannot be ignored. Moral implications that affect the family members more than anyone else in most cases.

If we’re going to effectively address the problem, we have to occupy a the messy middle. So what can that look like in this case?

Here again, we’ll see people say you have to set boundaries. And they’re right. Yes, you do. But if you set those boundaries from a place of judgment and shaming of the behavior – as if it’s a moral failing, you’re exacerbating the disease and further stigmatizing your loved one.

You have to set what I call “Compassionate Boundaries.”

What are Compassionate Boundaries?

Compassionate boundaries are boundaries motivated by self-care, motivated by your need to take care of yourself around the behavior, rather than as any kind of punishment for or judgment of the behavior.

We do our best to acknowledge the fact that the behavior is driven by the disease so we don’t stigmatize our loved one, while also taking care of ourselves around the behavior, because the behavior is not acceptable, no matter what’s driving it.

I do what I do, not only because there are so many myths about addiction and codependency going around that misguide families, but because even the antidotes to those myths can also be misguided.

I do what I do because there just aren’t any simple solutions. And I don’t believe we’ll ever resolve the addiction crisis until we acknowledge how truly complex the problem really is. Until we acknowledge what I call addiction’s double bind – the fact that addiction is a disease, but also that people active in addiction hurt people, and they hurt them badly.

I don’t believe we’ll ever resolve the addiction crisis unless we can find a way to occupy the messy middle between these two realities. And the work I do supports families in figuring out what that messy middle looks like for their particular situation.

So, I’d love to hear from you. What are your thoughts? Drop a comment below or email me at questions@madeleinecraig.com.

The Treatment Industry Largely Ignores Families

The Treatment Industry Largely Ignores Families

Welcome to episode #5 in my “Why I do what I do” series!

So, I’m wondering, how much do you know about the treatment industry. If you’re like most families that I’ve worked with, you probably know little, if anything.

That leads me to reason #5 why I do what I do.

I do what I do because I get contacted by treatment providers all the time requesting that I link to something on their site.

I don’t provide backlinks to treatment programs because I’m not able to vet them adequately and I don’t want to look like I’m endorsing any of them. That said, when I get a request like that, I always check out the treatment center’s website. And the thing I look for on every site some kind of meaningful programming that supports the whole family. Like, ideally, they would have some sort of family programming, too.

But out of the scores of requests I get for a backlink on my site, only one of the treatment centers actually had legitimate family programming. With a couple of exceptions, the rest of them had absolutely nothing, not even info on their website, to support families. The two exceptions simply had a very superficial article on enabling. And like I said, I’ve been contacted by scores of treatment centers.

And that begs the question, if they don’t do anything to support families why are they reaching out to me?

I can tell you why. They are reaching out to me because they are looking for two things:
One is fairly innocuous: They want backlinks to their sites to improve SEO rankings.

The other is a little cringey: They want to make families aware of the existence of their facility, because outside of insurance, by and large it’s families who pay the treatment bills.

But treatment facilities are rarely transparent about what they do and their success rates. In fact, I’ll be doing a post, probably in November on a report that Hazelden Betty Ford published in June about their success rates. That report is very opaque – you really have to read between the lines and look at what they’re not saying – and this is from Hazelden Betty Ford. And the figures displayed in that report are curious at best.

Furthermore, when families get to the point where their loved one is truly willing to accept treatment, the situation is soooooo precarious. And it’s precarious for a number of reasons.
When someone with a substance abuse problem admits they have a problem and they want help, families have a VERY SMALL WINDOW in which to act, before their loved starts walking back that admission that there’s a problem and retreats back into denial. So family members need to take action fast. That’s going to happen the minute the admission leaves their mouth.

It’s often a serious crisis that compels someone abusing substances to admit they need help. And this crisis is likely traumatizing family members just as much as it is the loved one abusing substances. The more stress a person is under, the more the amygdala – the fear center in the brain whose sole job it is to keep us safe – the more amygdala is going to shut down the prefrontal cortex. This is the area of the brain we use for logic, reasoning, and making decisions.

But consider this: the average cost of 30-day residential treatment in the United States is over $42,000.

This means that family members end up in a situation where they’re making an extremely high-stakes decision in a situation in which they have very little time in which to act, they don’t have all the information they need or even know what questions to ask, and their brain isn’t fully online.

I do what I do because I want to help family members prepare themselves ahead of time, so they are prepared, they have all the information they need and they know what questions to ask.

And this is so important, because as cringey as the relationship between treatment centers and families can be, these treatment centers have to operate within a really flawed and deficient health care that is by and large driven by market forces.

Given that family members are one of the primary for treatment centers, I believe if the treatment system is going to change, it’s going to be because family members demand it. I do what I do because I want to empower families to make those changes.

So, I’d love to hear from you. What are your thoughts? Drop a comment below or email me at questions@madeleinecraig.com.

We Know So Much More About Addiction & Family Addiction, But Myths Still Abound

We Know So Much More About Addiction & Family Addiction, But Myths Still Abound

Have you ever been told that your loved one just need to hit bottom before they’ll ever change?

Well, that is categorically untrue and is in fact a dangerous myth that still circulates in society.

So many of the cultural myths about addiction and family addiction (often referred to as codependency, although codependency occurs in many contexts), are hindering our ability to effectively address the addiction epidemic and its effects on families.

The myth I mentioned above is a case in point. But this myth is only one of many. Frankly, I’ve got a list of at least 30.

To learn more, watch the episode below. It’s the third episode in a series I’m doing called “Why I do what I do.”

So, I’d love to hear from you. What are your thoughts? Drop a comment below or email me at questions@madeleinecraig.com.

“You Can’t Control It” Is Only a Partial Truth

“You Can’t Control It” Is Only a Partial Truth

Have you ever had someone tell you that you can’t control your loved one use’s and that you just need to let go and detach and thought there has got to be something that I can do address this problem?

If you answered yes, I’m really glad you’re here, because this episode of Hope for Families TV is for you!

I talk a lot about cultural myths that circulate about addiction and family addiction. While the slogan “You can’t control it” is not a myth, it’s also not a complete truth. Families do have influence on the problem. They’re influencing the problem no matter what they do.

To learn more, watch the episode below. It’s the second episode in a series I’m doing called “Why I do what I do.”

So, I’d love to hear from you. What are your thoughts? Drop a comment below or email me at questions@madeleinecraig.com.

We Will Never Resolve the Addiction Crisis Without Supporting Families

We Will Never Resolve the Addiction Crisis Without Supporting Families

Have you ever wondered why we have not been able to resolve the addiction crisis? And why the problem just seems to keep getting worse?

If you answered yes to this question, this episode of Hope for Families TV is for you!

There are of course, several reason why we haven’t made more progress in addressing the problem. One of them, however, has to do with the lack of adequate support for you the family member.

To learn more, watch the episode below. It’s the first episode in a series I’m doing called “Why I do what I do.”

So, I’d love to hear from you. What are your thoughts? Drop a comment below or email me at questions@madeleinecraig.com.