I neared the last day of November. The dark sky loomed at 7:00am and the rain pounded on my window, yet, in my Spirit, I heard the voice of God so clearly saying, “Share your own story of the Christmas Holiday, they want real life information.”
My experience was like playing a little ukulele with a few broken strings.
As far back as I can remember, Christmas was always a very chaotic and painful time for me. When I became sober, close to twenty-five years ago, I felt a thick fog lifting and memories taking on greater clarity. Christmas was not a fond memory and involved my mother living out her belief that she needed to be everything for everyone. She was a genuine co-dependent.
But, whether Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza or other holiday celebrations, none of them is ever really perfect. I choose to believe that it is us, imperfect human beings, doing what we believe is the best the thing to do. I believe this is true even for my mother.
Most of my early years were full of endless traumatic experiences. We were an addicted family system: one that typically adapts to the addict in the family. In our family that included different stepfathers and my mother’s need to drink and abuse prescription drugs. Looking back, we took on roles that helped us reduce stress, deal with uncertainty, and allow the “family” to function within the craziness and fear created by adults. Our roles were to open our gifts, and for the most part, retreat to our room and dodge the arguing, morning drunkenness and substance-fueled behavior. I learned to survive Christmas like most other days, always wishing to become invisible so I did not experience all that ensued.
As a seventeen-year-old mother, married with one on the way, all I knew is what I learned in my family of origin. Ah, those learned behaviors. I did what was familiar: drank, complained, nagged, raged, and participated with the same behavior that I hated seeing in my mother, the many men in her life and other adults while I was growing up. Christmas was not a favored time for me. I recall the year I left my ex-husband; packed my little Fiat and moved to a big city. I eventually became quite wealthy and achieved a real business success. For the Christmas holiday I spent a lot of money on décor; even my new car had a big red bow on the front end. This lifestyle did not erase my loneliness during the Christmas holiday. My sons were in Youth Authority, and as long as they suffered, I suffered. That was the way my mother navigated, and I engaged the same way -- owning my adult sons’ pain and feeling overridden with guilt because somehow I had failed them. This was one of the worst faulty core beliefs I held on to until my early years of recovery.
I myself became a full-blown addict in 1986, walking away from worldly success with endless financial gains and two successful businesses. Both of my sons and I used to live and lived to use. Christmas got in the way of our using for many years so I cannot recall how or whether we even celebrated Christmas.
I experienced a blackout that lasted six years. My sons both did stints in Youth Authority, one four years and one fifteen years through his early adult life. The best thing I could do was to get sober, complete an intensive one-year residential drug treatment program with brand new twin girls and a year in transitional living to learn how to make different choices and live differently.
So here is where I am going with all of this.
One of the most difficult experiences I‘ve had as a recovering individual, sister, mother and highly respected individual in the treatment field has been to learn how to take care of myself. This means that, first, I must choose not to own the choices my adult children make. Second, I must understand and believe that while their pain is not mine to carry, I have the capacity as their mother to witness their pain without condemnation in my heart. I also have the capacity to offer compassion and wisdom so they can learn what they need in order to grow spiritually and emotionally from their choices. I needed to understand when and how to set boundaries, to re-evaluate and set new boundaries all over again. For years, the best I could do is pray and love them from a distance. Other days, I would weep and call out to God to cause a miracle in my son’s lives.
The reason I am sharing all of this is to tell you that whether you are a homemaker and/or a professional in the field, life gets real and life happens. There is far too much stigma, judgment and bias in the addiction and mental health field, by the very individuals who say they are in the field to help. Sometimes professionals in the field spend more time making sure others believe they are well and wonderful than they do being real, vulnerable and being okay; that they are not as perfect as they hoped others would believe they are. I began taking small steps and making different choices. No matter how difficult it felt or how unfamiliar the experience was for me, I would do it anyway. For instance, for Christmas, I would purchase a tree, decorate, and purchase a moderate and reasonable gift for a handful of special people. I would attend services where worship or Christmas caroling was happening. I stopped traveling to the San Francisco Bay Area and setting myself up to blame my family - a family that got drunk, got high, raged, fought, cussed each other out - and then come home to have something to feel bad about. I actually began to disconnect from those who had no interest in getting sober or to change their behavior; it brought about a sick feeling inside me after I spoke to them or was around them.
Naturally, the Christmas holiday had become a major stressor in my life, and I became especially vulnerable to increased anxiety and depression for a variety of reasons. In the end of 2008, I began to view the Christmas Holiday as a continued season of gratitude for all of the favor God has bestowed upon me in my life. Over the past eight years, I have embraced Christmas and other holiday seasons as an opportunity to enhance my psychosocial and spiritual well-being. I have taken conscious steps to prevent holiday stress and to ensure a worry free, celebratory, loving and memorable holiday season.
This year, I will set up my Charlie Brown tree; a small nativity scene celebrating the eternal gift of my Savior who is my reason to live, love, and enjoy life.
God is so merciful. In 1991, I was shot in the heart and had a near death experience. God saw fit to leave the bullet in my heart. It was surely a reminder of his everlasting love, goodness and grace. This was what it took for me to become substance free and to live my extraordinary life with my precious twenty-four year old daughters. I want to share my Christmas Holiday prayer for anyone reading this is:
1) Give yourself a gift of forgiveness and anyone you hold hostage to your un-forgiveness.
2) Next, if you are a member of an addicted family system, consider loving yourself enough to relieve yourself from any codependency, enabling, enmeshment, anger, regrets and more.
3) Obtain a professional to support you in your process of getting your loved one addiction treatment. While the loved one is getting help, seek professional help for yourself. Secure a professional that has an attunement with you. That is, a person who can educate you about faulty core beliefs and help you gain an understanding about your part, role and contribution to the addiction. And, if you just thought, “She does not get it. I do not have the finances to get my youth treatment or support my adult child to get help,” why not get down to basics? Why not get pen and paper and make an honest inventory of all of the finances you have spent or lost due to addiction? Trust that this will muster up the faith you need to get the finances to participate in the process of recovery for yourself and your loved one.
My gift to you this Christmas Holiday season is to encourage you to be all you ever dreamed of becoming. To encourage you to love all of you, to make choices that contribute to your quality world and amazing relationships, to be forgiving and finally, to become resilient.
By the way, please don’t forget that the cutest Christmas tree, ornaments, the scent of pine, the Christmas atmosphere, holiday foods, gifts, gathering of those you love (and those you just tolerate), will never be as important as the gift of how much our Savior loves us. Surely, His heart’s desire is that you be worthy of all that is good, for you to you embrace the gift of family and your quality relationships, and that you choose to love and be loved. In all of my imperfection as well as those parts of me that are amazing, powerful, strong and resilient, I wish you to be your best Super Hero and have a season of hope, faith and new choices affording you a very Merry Christmas and Joyous 2017.
Dr. Jessica Rodriguez is the author of When the Rainbow Ends, There is a shadow from Heaven. She has written and published extensively on addiction, family systems, trauma and other topics in published materials. She is also the founder and CEO of Gateway Corp (www.gatewaycorp.org), OnSite Strategies.