Holidays are meant to bring about happy celebrations, but what happens when a family member’s addiction turns them into fearful anxiety?
KL Wells is back with Tucker Stine as they discuss the challenges that come with reinventing family traditions for the summer holidays when the disease of addiction takes over.
With the 4th of July being one of the most popular binge drinking days of the year, Tucker opens up about his struggle with grieving “what once was,” and having to create new family traditions without having to sacrifice the happiness of family and loved ones.
Learn the tools to cope and adapt to unexpected change, maintain a healthy family dynamic, and still enjoy celebrations even in the midst of overcoming chaos.
If the anticipation of summer has you anxious, then this conversation is exactly what you need to hear. Tune into this episode today!
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Reinventing Summer Holidays When Addiction Takes Over
Welcome, everyone. Welcome to another episode of the Voice InCourage. I’m joined again by our ongoing lead host, KL Wells. I’m here to support her in one of the ongoing conversations that we like to have from time to time, and share some insights from our own personal experiences as we navigate our own midst of chaos from surviving to thriving, and sharing our insights and personal anecdotes in hopes that it can help all of you. Welcome, KL. It’s good to see you again.
Thanks, Tucker. I’m looking forward to this one. We’re heading into summer.
With July 4th officially kicking off, probably more so the summer celebration season, less so in June, What are we going to talk about today? Why don’t you let everyone know?
I thought it was super timely to be able to go back and forth around how we approach the holidays as loved ones, whether we’re dealing with somebody who’s clean and sober for the first year or even after, and how we deal with the holidays when somebody isn’t sober and clean. I am a big believer in intention. Pre-thinking these holidays in a way that serves the holiday that I most want to create is important to me personally. I wanted to pose that and give people permission to begin to think about their holidays that way.
Great way to position it. Let’s dive right in. Why don’t you ask me a couple of questions, and then I’ll ask you? We’ll dialogue from there.
We all have stories and our truth about each holiday, what the tradition has been around the 4th of July, what our family truth is around the holidays, what my truth is about what’s important to me as somebody who loves somebody in addiction, and what somebody’s truth is when they’re in recovery. To say these things out loud and to own what our truth is around this is a great place to start.
The truth about me specifically for holidays is the holiday was an excuse to retreat. It was an opportunity for me to escape my anxiety. That’s the truth. As the kids were younger, it was all about the kids and making traditions. As I was deeper into my fear and my anxiety, it became an excuse. It was an opportunity for me to be able to headline the excuse of, “I deserve this, so I’m going to retreat. I’m going to allow myself to be a little bit more relaxed than usual.” That is the first R word, so the old me would be retreat. In recovery, I would say the R-word is reminder.The holiday was an excuse to retreat. It was an opportunity to escape anxiety, and that's the truth. Click To Tweet
Holidays have become very challenging. I’m not going to lie, they become very challenging. Just like I wanted to retreat, a lot of people use that as an opportunity to retreat, relax, and get away from the day-to-day. Let’s face it, I am the only one in the family that does not drink. When you have a bunch of family members over, the first thing they do is, “What would you like to drink?” It doesn’t matter if it’s 8:00 in the morning or 8:00 at night because it starts early. Part of what happens at the holidays for me specifically is there’s a grieving process. There’s a grieving of once was.
I used to remember doing this. You need to start to have all of these stories around what you did. Now you get to that point where everyone is going to be doing this today. What are you going to be doing differently? When it comes to truth, today is about a reminder and about the grieving process. It’s less about what the holiday stands for, and more about how it relates to keeping myself healthy. That goes with any and every holiday, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, 4th of July. If you look at all of the holidays, there are some associations. On Valentine’s Day, romance, wine, etc. Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican Independence Day. What the hell? There’s always something to create an excuse. Nowadays it’s about grief.
That’s an interesting insight because I would not have thought that. Having grown up with our own dysfunction around holidays, my brother and my mom were addicts. I was looking for peace and calm growing up. When I got old enough, I would go over to my best friend’s house because I wanted to enjoy the holidays. I was more intentional about taking my own power back and enjoying the holidays with either my best friend and her family, or my grandparents. As I’ve gotten older, certainly with my son’s addiction, we have had holidays sometimes separately because I did not want a holiday of trauma and drama. That’s not what I was going to sign up for.
There were 1 or 2 holidays when we realized what was going on, and there was some trauma and drama. Once I realized what was going on, I was clear about what is. That clarity about what is, and then taking the time to choose what is it I want it to be. In my world, it wasn’t going to revolve around Sam’s disease. There were moments that did. I was intentional and determined that the holiday was not going to revolve around his disease, and that this was also my holiday. This was also our family holiday.
The things that were important for me and my family is separate and apart from the disease. Also, I wanted to give that life and breadth. I wanted joy, fun, playfulness, and great food. Personally, I haven’t had a drink in forever, so I don’t even equate holidays with drinking anymore at all. I don’t have to do that disconnect of this is what we do during the holidays. It’s all about drinking and eating.
In the initial days too, especially in the first couple of years, people are being very uncomfortable drinking when I was there. I often say, “It’s not about changing you. I’m changing myself. Please don’t change your behaviors, traditions, habits, or lifestyle because I’m the one that’s going through this.” There was a little bit of an adjustment there where people around me were feeling comfortable that it was okay, and them feeling guilty about it and so forth.It's not about changing you. I'm changing me, so don't change your behaviors, your traditions, your habits, your lifestyle, because I'm the one that's going through this. Click To Tweet
I try to equate it with other addictions. If you have a gambling addiction and you’ve got a bachelor party and you go off to Las Vegas, I’m in recovery from gambling, but I’m still going to be able to enjoy the bachelor party. I’m not going to make them not gamble because it’s my issue. It’s a similar situation. It’s not about changing everybody else around you other than you changing yourself. You have to reinvent the holidays in a way that serves everyone.
The first couple of years were challenging. I shouldn’t say they’re not challenging now. It comes with a different set of challenges, but you work to create new traditions specifically for yourself so that you can wake up that morning and be like, “I can do this. Here’s the reward that I’m going to give myself.” You have to find out what that reward is. It’s changed, and we can get a little bit into that. You have to create new policies and procedures for yourself to manage a holiday.
One of the fundamental things here is to have a conversation about it so that people aren’t left to make stuff up or wonder. For the most part, generally, people are going to wonder and they’re not going to ask. I would rather have conversations around it and lay everything out. I’m a big believer in, “Let’s talk about it.”
You have to because everyone manages it differently. In some households, when someone is in recovery, there is a complete zero tolerance or zero alcohol in the house policy. That can be awkward for some people. It’s like, “I don’t want to go to their house because we can’t have a glass of wine, or we can’t drink.” We don’t have that policy. That goes back to my statement, “I don’t want you to change you.” Everyone is going to have boundaries, and you have to set those boundaries. Be clear about those upfront so that it doesn’t create that awkwardness or strain of a friendship or a family relationship because of it.
The reality is that we shouldn’t have to base a lot on alcohol, but in our society, we do. It does affect the way in which we interact with one another. You’re right about the conversation. It’s not just about getting out in the open but it’s establishing those boundaries. What am I comfortable with? What are you comfortable with? Once you get into the habit of that over several holidays, it becomes secondhand. You don’t even think about it.
I’m very relationship-oriented. The holidays for me are times to enjoy and deepen the relationships that I have and that I care the most about. I want to talk about how we can do that together. What do you most want to do during the holiday that isn’t going to involve alcohol or drugs? My hope is that we’re going to come to some discussion around normal things. It’s not about the disease. It’s about what we want to bring to this holiday to strengthen our relationship, deepen our relationship, and spend time together because we love each other.
I know for some families, that is a bridge way too far. In those situations, when I was growing up, I would limit the time that I was with my family. Now, I limit the time that I’m with people that I know that drink because, at a certain point, they go beyond what I would consider fun and connected time. Once we go beyond the fun and connected time, I’m out of there because the time I spend with people is for connection and the deepening of the relationship. That’s what’s most important to me because for me, at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, it’s going to be those relationships that matter to me most.
It’s a good segue in thinking about what has changed now. What are the things that you do differently in order to cope? I talked a lot about the idea that if today is a lot about grieving, grieving doesn’t just happen, and you just let it go. There are things that you need to do in order to address the grieving. For me, it was giving myself permission to be able to walk away. As conversations get louder and people get sloppier, it gets to a point where the deepening of the relationship is no longer there. It’s about having a good time and whatever it is.
There are times when I’ve literally walked out of the house. I had to take a walk or I’ll go upstairs and take a break for a little while. I don’t have to ask for permission. I don’t have to apologize for it. It’s like, “You’re feeling this.” Let it go and it’s okay to be able to do that. It’s hard enough to not partake in some of those activities. You put on top of that the pressure of feeling the need to be social. It doesn’t matter what people are thinking about me. It can be very much in your head. I do spend several hours on every holiday by myself because it can be overwhelming.
The other thing is establishing new traditions. What was cool for me, and this is going to sound silly, are the little things. We were in Disney World. There’s another thing when you’re on vacation. It might as well be an extended holiday. What was cool was we went to this bar. It was happy hour and I’m like, “I’ll get my Diet Coke.” They specialized in 100% natural spirits and mixers. They had these amazing non-alcoholic drinks. The best refreshing drinks ever. The other day, I was like, “Screw it.” That’s my new tradition. I recreated it and I love it. Now, you can create it again.
Sometimes you’ll notice a lot of people don’t feel comfortable unless there is something in their hand. It becomes a crutch. It’s like, “What do I do with my hands if I don’t have a drink in my hand?” Little things like that are celebratory things. What are you going to reward yourself with? It’s a big deal. Several years ago, I would’ve been, “I’ve resorted to this.” Now, it’s like, “Cool.”
It’s being able to bring creativity into what am I going to have in my hand. Why not? At some point, it’s like, “Let’s get clear about if I have this in my hand, this is the path I’m walking on and it’s not going to end well. I have this in my hand and it’s a creative new drink that I get to go to. This is awesome and non-alcoholic, and it tastes great.” It settles some people’s need for you to be drinking. I’ve been in those situations too. Most of the time I’ll just have a glass of water with ice.
I could be drinking straight vodka as far as they knew. I’m in that place now as a non-drinker, which is counter-cultural for sure. People want to know, “Why are you not drinking?” I say, “I’m just not drinking.” That’s it. Nobody says anything hardly ever to me anymore unless there is somebody that I do not know, and they wonder. They can ask. I don’t care.
One time, I was at a work function. Family knows. They don’t care whatever it is. You do what you want to do, but it’s the work functions. Back in the advertising days, it was liquid lunch, and happy hour started when entertaining clients. I don’t know why this came out of my mouth. Someone was like, “You’re not drinking tonight.” I said, “No, I’m pregnant.” There are excuses that no one is going to respond to. I’m finding more and more what’s great about holiday situations is when people ask, “No, I gave that up a while ago. I don’t drink anymore.”
It used to be, “They’re going to label me. Here goes the scarlet letter again.” Now, a lot of people go, “I’m jealous of you. I need to do that too. I haven’t had the courage to do it.” I would say 8 times out of 10, that’s the response I get. It’s that post 40, I’m turning 50, my health is changing, hormones are changing, life is changing, etc. The majority of people that I talk to are like, “As soon as I hit my 40s, I don’t feel it anymore. It doesn’t do what it used to do.” It’s exciting to share that versus saying, “I don’t drink.” They’ll say, “Why not?” Nobody pries. They congratulate and they’re like, “That’s cool.” It feels good and then you move on. You don’t talk about it again.
Going back to what you said about having the conversation. Rather than saying, “Not today,” it’s like, “No, I don’t drink anymore,” which is a very bold statement versus saying, “I’m driving today.” That’s an easy excuse too. When you say, “No, I don’t drink anymore,” it’s an icebreaker, but it’s also a great storytelling device. It opens up a lot of conversations.
We have hit a point culturally too where more and more people in their 40s and 50s are rethinking their drinking habits. They are curious. How many people do Dry January?
I always laugh because they’re like, “I’m so brave. I did it for 30 days.”
I appreciate that they’re challenging themselves, and potentially paying attention to how they feel. One of the things is I love what I do. I love the relationships I have. I love my life and I know how drinking had an impact on me not being able to wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. In the fullness of how I want to live my life, alcohol is not helpful.
It’s funny how many people go through that idea of Dry January. I have never heard a person say that it didn’t work, or I don’t feel better about it, or I’m not glad I did it. Everyone is very supportive of it, and they love how they feel. February 1st hits and they go right back into it. There’s that awareness.
Think about it, it’s 30 or 31 days. It’s similar to 30 days in rehab. Generally speaking, life does not turn around in 30 days.
They say it takes about 45 days to change a habit. For those that have been drinking for a long time, it takes 6 to 9 months for your brain to rewire. It’s not like you stop drinking and everything is going to be great.
Now there’s more information relative to serotonin levels being able to level out with drug addiction, and that takes 14 to 16 months. The effect of addiction on our brains is so detrimental that it isn’t worth it. Getting back to the notion of how we do the holidays, one of the things I think about too is how I keep myself and my loved ones safe as best as possible during the holiday season. For instance, we’ve gotten into the habit that we don’t go out on New Year’s Eve. It’s not worth taking the chance. That’s one thing that we’ve opted out of. That’s one example. Think through how you want to keep yourself safe and how you want to keep your loved one safe, like taking car keys away.
It’s a good point. It goes back to having an honest conversation upfront. Sometimes, the more I think about it, that’s another change we’ve made. We don’t go out on holidays. It used to be those things, especially New Year’s or even Valentine’s Day. You celebrate on different days or whatever it is. For one, it’s so costly the way you’re getting completely taken advantage of. Second, you’re adding to the chaos that already ensues when it comes to some of those holidays. You’re right. In the safety of your own home, you can still do whatever you wanted to do at a restaurant or a bar, even at another friend’s house. Keeping it local and keeping it safe has worked for us.
Also, just change the date. We do Valentine’s Day on a different day. Being creative is high on the list. When your entertainment has been drinking or drugs, what is your entertainment now in terms of what you now do with friends and family? Is it playing cards, more games, or more movies?
Games and movie marathons. It’s still doing things that don’t remind us of what we’re not doing, but doing things that still deepen relationships and have good conversations. The other thing, before I forget too, is we have those friends. Everyone has those friends that know they need to stop drinking or do something different, but they will never do it. They are always going to be those people. We had those people that do the Super Bowl party every single year. It’s great to see all the people we wanted to see. We didn’t have to host. They did everything, but it got to a point where it wasn’t fun anymore. I didn’t enjoy being around that. To be able to say to people, “We’re not coming this year.” “Why aren’t you coming?” You have to come up with another excuse.
We’ve found it’s not worth losing out on a day to yourself to be doing something else just to say that you were at the party or to please everybody else. That’s another thing. It is the ability to say no. That can be a hard thing. You’re going to get a lot of pressure, guilt, and judgment. At the same time, at the end of the day, you wake up the next morning and be like, “Thank God we didn’t go.”
I’m somebody who likes football. If I go to watch a game at somebody’s house, I want to be able to watch the game. As I’m older, for the most part, Super Bowl, I’m at home. I want to watch the game. I don’t want to hear somebody talking throughout the game. I want to be able to enjoy the game.
Most people are there to drink and watch the commercials. I’m like, “Hold on. We want to watch the game.”
Think these things through and pick the things that make it a joyous event for you. Give yourself permission for your own joy and truly exercise learning by saying no.
Create new traditions. This happens for a lot of people, but most of the traditions that happen during the holidays that are passed on from family have nothing to do with alcohol. For my grandmother, it was this incredible lime Jello-O. It was fantastic. For my parents on Christmas morning, they did this quiche that was phenomenal. We always knew that it was going to be there. We always had a football game. We had our own little trophy. All of those traditions had nothing to do with alcohol. Reinvent new ones. My daughter started doing Legos. We’ve gone back to my old childhood and she loves to build. Lego has done a phenomenal job of rebranding itself. Find things that are different that you can look forward to and realize that you don’t have to be smashed to enjoy them.
A couple more things I do want to bring up is knowing when it’s time to leave. If you are in a situation that is sucking the joy out of the room for you, exit.
For the moment, you feel like you’re pleasing others and not enjoying yourself. You’re not there to please others.
For both sides of the equation, whether you’re recovering or a loved one is, be aware of what your potential triggers are going to be going into the holidays because emotions are heightened. If you know that certain things are going to bug you or trigger you to not be the best version of yourself, rethink who you’re going to be in those moments. Rethink how you’re going to let some things potentially slide and not get hooked in. Rethink who’s your support buddy when something happens. In a lot of situations, we tend to be habitual in how we do the holidays and we’re not rethinking, “How do I want to do the holidays in a way that I experience more joy, happiness, or whatever it is that I most want to enjoy,” and reinvent them for myself.Be aware of your potential triggers during the holidays because emotions are heightened. Click To Tweet
You brought up something else that I was thinking about too. When you’re in the program, the first thing you do is you call a sponsor. There’s a Rolodex of five people you’re supposed to have right then and there. If they call, no matter what, you pick up. There’s no reason why that can’t apply to family and loved ones in the same situation. We talked about before the treatment plan and the relapse prevention plan. All of those tactics, belief systems, and therapies work as well because it’s about human nature. It has nothing to do with whether or not you fall into the category of being an addict or a loved one.
That’s the other thing too. It is finding the tools. That’s why we’re developing this community. It’s being able to have those tools that aren’t taught and that aren’t available that quite frankly like, “Duh.” It’s like those moments when you were doing the research with Sam, “We have the internet at our fingertips, and we can Google anything in the world, yet there’s nothing here to help me support me through this chaos?” It’s finding those immediate triggers because they can come out of nowhere. What are those disaster or crisis response tools that you have right in place that you can deploy immediately?
When you don’t have it in place, you’re like a dingy in the middle of the ocean. You’re left to navigate by yourself. You don’t have to do that anymore. When I was previously married to Steve and he was dealing with his post-traumatic stress and alcoholism, I was in counseling. Preholiday days, I would strategize with the counselor, “If this happens, what do I do? If this happens, who can I call? Are you available? Is there a backup counselor available?” Prethinking, “Is there an Al-Anon meeting that I could go to on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?” It’s knowing who my go-to was and what my strategies were if things got in a situation where I needed to handle and take care of myself.
You bring up a good point. We have to shift the paradigm, the mindset, and the story from crisis response to crisis prevention. When we’re constantly in response mode, we’re actually not doing ourselves a service whatsoever. Crisis prevention allows that when a crisis happens, there is something in place. Rather than waiting around for something to happen, thriving means that you’ve already got something in place. When something happens, I know what to do. I can move on. I have a plan.
For those who have gone through the initial situation where they were completely in shock as to what took place, to continue to put yourself in that position with no plan is insane. I am a big believer in getting the information and the support that you need and having a plan as to what you’re going to do if the next situation shows up. That was also born out of the second post-traumatic stress episode I had with my husband back then. I ended up running across the street and to the neighbor’s house. I kept saying, “We didn’t talk about what I needed to do if this happened again.”
Believe me, after that second time, I had a plan. I knew what I was going to do. I knew who I was going to call. I knew where I was going to go. I knew what my strategies were. I was clear at that point. I’m encouraging people who are potentially tuning in to this right now to please have a plan of support, exit, and how you’re going to handle certain situations when they show up. When you preplan it, you have more agency over your own destiny in those moments.
At the end of the day, when a holiday rolls around, you don’t dread it. That’s such a horrible place to be in when it’s like, “Next week it’s Christmas break.” A lot of people take that time off between the two holidays, and how awful is it to dread that time versus being able to say, “I’m not going to sit there in the pity party,” which is so easy to do and you’re ready to go. I think it’s okay to do. Traditions are meant to be reinvented. That’s what it’s all about. If there are any takeaways from this episode, it’s I always say when I turned 40 and I realized everything had gone to hell in a handbasket, the only thing I had to change was everything.
There’s nothing wrong with looking at a holiday and saying, “Whatever we’ve been doing, I’m starting a new tradition today.” It’s going to be something healthy for the whole family. It’s going to deepen relationships. It’s going to take us out of fear. It’s going to take us out of trauma, relieve the drama, and it’s going to focus on building something that everyone looks forward to. What does that look like? Design it. Don’t wait for it to happen. Be intentional about it because if you’re not, then you’re always in reactive mode and not proactive mode.
Prethinking what it is you want to create and all these different scenarios. Particularly holidays around Christmas and New Year’s, we haven’t spent it with my son because he was in addiction mode.
Can you come forward to new traditions further down the road?
That has pretty much taken up his energy. That was a no-go. Those were still during times when I was consistently seeing him and spending some time with him so that he knew that he was always loved no matter what. It’s not a cutoff. It’s not an ending. It’s just reconfiguring in a way that works for people. Give yourself permission to take your power back. Create the holidays that you want to create, and create the summer fun that you want to create. Keep yourselves safe and have some healthy fun, and preplanning. What are you going to do if those certain situations show up? Instead of being caught flat-footed, preplan it.
This has been a great conversation. The great thing about this is it applies to any holiday. It applies to any family gathering, a wedding or a graduation. It applies to any event and or gathering where you could potentially be triggered or put into a situation of being uncomfortable and needing a safe space. This can be applied to anything.
With the 4th of July being one of the top three drinking holidays of the year, how apropos that we dropped this episode specifically on the 4th of July, and give you permission to enjoy the 4th of July in a very different way, and not relive generational trauma or cyclical annual drama and trauma that happens every year. KL, thank you for your insights. Coming from one perspective, it’s always good for me to be able to talk out my perspective and remind myself, especially on a holiday like today that it can be fun. It can be different, and new traditions need to be started regardless if they’re old or new.Permit yourself to enjoy the 4th of July in a very different way and not relive generational trauma. Click To Tweet
Thank you, Tucker. For those of you who are tuning in, whenever you’re tuning in to this, have a great 4th of July. Keep yourself safe. Know what your plan is. Create the 4th of July that you want and all the other holidays that you want to create in a way that serves you and brings you joy.
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Take care, everybody.
Until next time.