Christmas lights wink on the periphery of my vision and stockings hang above the glowing fireplace. At my feet a blonde and a black pit bull snore gently while soaking up the heat from the fire. They are ying and yang, dark and light, gentle and wild. I never wanted them, never asked for them, but here they are keeping me company as I write my grocery list for Christmas dinner. The Pit bulls were rescued from my son when he relapsed on Meth three years ago. They joined my ancient beagle as part of the family and have become my constant, loyal companions. They add joy.
We sit in front of the fireplace as I plan… it’s gluten free and dairy free for my millennial son and his wife, finger foods for the grandson, cherry pie for my AS and mincemeat for my husband. It’s a lovely morning, peaceful and happy. This Christmas I may actually have ‘peace on earth’, unlike last year.
Then my son was living on the streets, buried deep in addiction. To finance his habit he stole his Aunt’s car a few days before Christmas, throwing the family into disarray. We were already tangled up with the stress of his addiction and his Aunt’s mental illness. The crisis produced when those two things overlapped was mind-blowing…there was little peace to be found.
On Christmas day the family, minus the two feuding members, tried to come together and have a Christmas celebration; oohing and cooing over our newest member, our six-month-old grandson. We cooked a turkey and pies. The house was filled with pungent aromas, an assortment of sweets, presents under twinkling lights and a baby’s babbles. It should have been perfect. But our attempt at a happy family Christmas fell short. The day was interspersed with phone calls from our two angry, irrational family members, trying to pull the rest of the us into the fray.
I, my husband and my youngest son chose to detach from the melee. We turned off our phones to focus on our day together. However, it is difficult for my mother-in-law to detach, she continued answering her phone, and was pulled inexorably into the dispute. When my youngest son took pity and stepped in to answer her phone to try and extricate her from the argument, he was given a vicious tongue lashing by his fifty-year-old Aunt. This left him brooding and mumbling curse words under his breath while his grandmother became sullen and quiet. The day was far from peaceful.
We did eventually convince my MIL to turn off her phone and we had the veneer of a normal Christmas. My son, his wife and new baby deserved all the joy and happiness of baby’s first Christmas. I found moments of delight in the day, thanks to a skill necessary to the mother of an addict. I have worked to learn to lock up my worries, put them in a box in my head and separate them from my life. It is a practice my counselor suggested, the stockpiling of my worry. Once a day I allow myself thirty minutes of uninterrupted worry-time. I can focus completely on my troubles. Then I must put them away until the next day. This may sound silly, but it works very well for me. If I start to worry, I tell myself that I can worry at the ‘designated worry time.’ It got me through last Christmas.
After the fiasco of the holidays my son spent another ten months declaring that he’d die before he’d go back into any program. We responded with our boundary that he could not come home. Every time he begged, we sent him phone numbers for organizations that could help him and asked him to take responsibility for himself.
Finally, after sleeping in garages and under porches, freezing on the streets, experimenting with heroin, having all of his possessions stolen, developing an infection and losing his phone, he agreed to go to sober living. That was thirty days ago.
That makes this holiday the first in several years that he will be sober (I hope, it’s only nine days away). That makes me happy, but not naive. If he makes it till Christmas, this year will still be far from a picture perfect holiday. My two sons haven’t been speaking, the last relapse really hurt my NAS. My AS and his Aunt haven’t spoken since he stole her car last Christmas. My father-in-law has dementia and has been getting increasingly confrontational as the disease progresses. My side of the family has become very rude about politics this year, and of course there’s Covid. So, yeah, it’s all very complicated.
Yet, still I feel peaceful.
The peace comes from giving up the hope for a ‘Norman Rockwell’ Christmas. You know, the large, cheerful family bantering around the steaming, turkey-ladened table with smiles from ear to ear. The epitome of what Christmas SHOULD be.
Don’t fall for it. There is no certain way Christmas SHOULD be. Yes, traditions and memories are wonderful, but not if they cause stress in a family already burdened by addiction and/or mental illness. So, I have made adjustments to my expectations to allow me to feel peaceful in spite of this funky, crazy year.
Fortunately, Covid has made it easy to limit the size of my family Christmas, so that’s a blessing with all the Political drama. For the small group that is coming, I’ve been up-front about who will be here. I’ve given everyone permission to come when they are comfortable. So, they can come and go as they please. If someone would like to come a different day so they don’t have to interact with the whole family, that’s okay. If they can’t afford presents, that’s okay too. If they become uncomfortable and fear they will begin a squabble or create drama I’ve made it clear they can leave, with no judgement. I’ll even pay for Uber if they need a ride. Everyone is permitted to do what they need to keep the day conflict free and avoid their own anxieties.
I’m working with what I have; and that is a family full of individuals who are unique and imperfect – but trying. I will allow Christmas to unfold unscripted and devoid of all “shoulds.” I plan to enjoy every minute of it. Peace came from giving up my need to control other people or even understand their actions. I have my boundaries- No Drama! – and other than that I am just ready to love my family, exactly where they are in spite of, or maybe because of, their flaws and eccentricities (that’s just a kind way to say we are all a little messed up).
Love is blind… not to stepping over my boundaries, I will definitely call you out on that …but love is blind to the shortcomings and weaknesses of the people I love. Here’s to Christmas, whatever it ends up looking like.
Peace on Earth and Merry Christmas to all.