The Dysfunctional Family Holiday Survival Guide

Navigating  family relationships can be tough during the holiday season…

Johnny gets along with Sally but doesn’t get along with Sally’s husband. Your mother always makes your skin crawl when she asks you when that grand-baby is coming and you haven’t even had a date in 3 months, let alone a relationship with a man worth procreating with. You had a fight with your brother 6 months ago and haven’t spoken since, but you’ll all be sitting around Mom’s table for Christmas dinner. It can be crazy-making! For as much as you might love your family, when there are stressed relationships, the holidays have a knack for bringing out our best and worst behavior.

As with the rest of the year, you won’t be able to control what anyone else says or does, so I want to help you take care of YOU during this stressful, uh, joyous time.

How to take care of YOU this holiday season:

1. FOOD

You might want to indulge in comfort eating, but truly, next Christmas will be even more stressful if you are still carrying around the 10lbs you gained this holiday season (lol….I’m kidding!). In all seriousness, it’s important to be mindful around food when you are dealing with emotional triggers. Stress can cause us to go into auto-feed mode and it can be easy to eat our weight in Christmas cookies or Hanukkah latkes as a way of reducing our stress levels. Listen to your body. Eat when you’re hungry. Stop eating when you feel satisfied, not full. Give yourself some extra allowance for tasting the good food – but when you find yourself not noticing what you’re eating, slow down to get back into a mindful, conscious eating experience.

2. ALCOHOL

Drink until you’re singing Christmas carols with abandon! Uh, no, I didn’t really mean that.

LIMIT YOUR INTAKE Please be careful of your alcohol intake in potentially stressful family situations. It can be easy to over do it, thinking it will make the time more tolerable. In the end, alcohol is a predominant precursor to family feuds, so it’s best to keep intake at a minimum.
GET HOME SAFE The holiday season (between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day) is the deadliest on the roads for DUIs (you can see what I had to say about that in this HuffingtonPost article here ). Make sure that if you are going to socially drink that you take precautions to get yourself home. In addition to taxi’s there are now services like Lyft and Uber to get you home when you have imbibed.
RELAPSE PREVENTION PLANNING For those living a sober life after a battle with addiction, holiday family experiences, especially when stressful, can be particularly triggering. If you have struggled with alcohol or drugs and know that the holidays or family relationships can be stressful on you, there are things you can do to help you stay sober. Bring a “sober buddy” with you. This is someone else who is also in recovery and will agree to hang out with you and be by your side if emotions get strained and you feel tempted. If you participate in a 12-step program, you can arrange to call sober friends or your sponsor throughout the festivities. If you’re traveling, you can arrange to attend an AA meeting in the community where you are staying so that you feel close to your recovery.

3. MONEY

I personally love buying gifts for others and this is the one area where I have really had to set some limits for myself because I can easily over-spend when I see something I’m just sure someone I know will love. I bet some of you can relate. The best thing you can do for keeping you sanity when it comes to money stress during the holidays is to set a budget. You can find some great holiday budget-setting websites this time of year. Make your budget and then STICK TO IT! For as much as we might want to buy our sister that perfect pair of earrings, save it for birthday time when your budget may allow you to be more flexible. You might even get creative and make something for your family – a pretty tin with some home made cookies or chocolate can go a long way when you have many people to buy for. Whatever you do spend, remember that it is about the giving, not the getting, so buy and give gifts only when you truly want to. The holiday time is about love, connection, relationships and religious traditions. There is nothing written that says you must buy everyone at the party a gift. Be kind to yourself and respect your budget.

4. FAMILY VISITS

Do what feels right to you, not what you think you “should” do.
STAY ONLY AS LONG AS YOU ARE COMFORTABLE Especially when traveling to visit family during the holidays, many people plan to stay, or invite guests for longer than they really want to. They think, “Well, it’s the holidays, I should stay the whole week”, or “I’m traveling all the way there, I should make a longer visit out of it”. No – if you know you can only tolerate 48 hours with your extended family before you feel overwhelmed, don’t plan to stay longer than that. (See item #6. “Self Care” below for tips on taking care of yourself no matter how long the visit is.)
ACCEPT YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS FOR WHO THEY ARE, AS THEY ARE If you go in thinking, “This will be the year things will be different” you will inevitably be let down. A lot of family stress happens because we don’t accept our family members for who they are. When we come from a “dysfunctional” family (and quite frankly, who doesn’t these days?) we often wish for our relatives to be “more loving”, “less crazy”, “more like me”, or any other thing they haven’t been in previous years. This leaves you longing for a different emotional experience. If you took those glasses with the “if only” lenses off and put on the glasses with the clear, accurate lenses, you would see your family members for who they are as other human beings, rather than as relative to your existence. I promise you, this will enhance your visit because when you clearly see people for who they are in the life they are living, you can understand them better. When there is understanding, there is acceptance.
KNOW WHEN TO NOT VISIT There are definitely families in which getting everyone together does no one any good. There may be high conflict or you may truly have family members who are unhealthy to be around (emotionally abusive, neglectful, narcissistic), or there may be dysfunction in the form of active alcohol or drug addiction among family members. Respect how you feel. If you visit knowing that you would really rather not, save your money and time – you will end up resentful and that will add to the stress of the visit. For the family members you would like to see, make polite apologies about not joining them this year, then make plans to see them sometime soon after when you can genuinely appreciate the time with them.

5. FOR THOSE WHO ENJOY THE HOLIDAY TOGETHERNESS BUT CAN’T BE WITH THEIR FAMILIES

I live in San Diego and I learned in my first 6 months here that there are a lot of us transplants here (the majority of my family is in New York and other eastern states). There have been many years where it was not feasible to travel to visit on both Thanksgiving and/or Christmas. I personally LOVE the holiday season- I love the lights, the parties, the gifts and I know many people reading this do too. There are a couple of things that can bridge this gap to allow you the experience even if you can’t be exactly where you want to be.
VISIT VIRTUALLY Between FaceTime and SKYPE, it’s easy to feel
like you’re right there with your loved ones. No, you may not be able to taste Mom’s pumpkin pie, but you can see everything and say “Hi” to everyone when they are all together. If you’ve got kids, you can plan the virtual visit with the grandparents when the kiddos are opening their presents so that they can feel like part of the excitement.
START YOUR OWN TRADITIONS Many of the transplanted people I know, including myself, have standing holiday traditions that don’t include our families because of the time or expense of traveling for more than one holiday. By now you may have heard of “Friendsgiving” – that’s when a group of friends get together and have their own Thanksgiving dinner even if they are not family. My husband and I have a small group of friends we’ve been doing this with for the past 4 years. If you’re facing being alone and don’t like that idea, don’t be shy – let your friends and co-workers know that you really miss the Thanksgiving experience since your family is not around. You’ll be sure to be invited to someone’s house. Better yet, if you like entertaining, start your own tradition and hold the dinner at your place. There are so many people who are missing the family experience this time of year, they will be happy to get your invite. Many people invite active military service members to their home for a holiday meal. You can check out this page to see about opportunities for helping military families this holiday season.
MAKE A PLAN FOR BEING ALONE Many people end up alone over the holidays – sometimes it’s geographical hindrances, other times its due to social isolation or other emotional factors. It can often feel like you’re the only one alone as the whole world seems to shut down. This can be a great time to have a day that is strictly for comforting you – make yourself (or pre-order from your favorite restaurant) a great meal, take a bath, pick out a book you’ve been putting off reading or plan to watch a great movie. Then, of course, you can always volunteer somewhere to serve others during the holidays to brighten your spirit. In the end the holiday is just another day – 24 hours just like all the rest.

6. SELF CARE

It’s such a buzzword these days, self care, but it is essential, especially when your family stresses you out. Taking time out to tend to you will help you have a more positive experience.
PLAN IN “ME TIME” Maybe you enjoy your family, but you’re a person who is used to “Me Time” or just needs to be alone. Respect that and plan it into your visit. Just because you’re visiting for a week doesn’t mean you can’t get out one night to a movie by yourself or steal away for a coffee break alone. When you respect your needs, your visit will be more fulfilling.
EXERCISE Exercise can be one of the best stress relievers and it’s universally affordable. If you’re in a regular exercise routine before the visit, make sure to schedule it in during your stay. If you are not in a regular routine before the visit, just taking yourself for a 20 minute walk can help you feel less stressed. You’ll get some fresh air, quiet time and feel like you’re doing something healthy for yourself amidst all the food and festivities.
STAY CONNECTED WITH YOUR LIFE Break up the visit with a call to a good friend back home. Check in with your life (occasional email/social media/watch your local news online). It can help put things back in perspective especially if family stress is starting to pile up. Remember, you’re only visiting, you’re not moving in.

Now go and enjoy your lovely and dysfunctional family holiday! They’ll be happy to see you and if you stay mindful of the tips I’ve given you, you might even enjoy it more than you planned. Happy Holidays!

 

Happy Holidays from Coaching Through Chaos

He Feeds his Good Wolf

 

Eric Zimmer
The One You Feed

 Do you know the Cherokee parable about “The Two Wolves”?

A grandfather is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.
One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The grandfather simply replied “The one you feed.”

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My guest today  is Eric Zimmer.  Eric and his best buddy, Chris Frobes started The One You Feed podcast in early 2014 and it has quickly risen in popularity.  The One You Feed  features guests each week who educate the audience through their conversation with Eric.  The conversations always start with a question about how the guest's internal good and bad wolf influences them.  He's had experts in the fields of neurosciences, mindfulness, spirituality, wellness and personal fitness on.  They are 96 episodes in an counting with close to 2 million downloads.  That being said, maybe you don't need to be told any of this because you're already a fan.

"The One You Feed" podcast was rated #1 by iTunes in 2014.  That's great and all , but why is Eric on The Coaching Through Chaos Podcast? Don't I feature people who will "inspire, motivate and empower you"? Well, in fact, this episode marks the first in what will be a recurring series of episodes in which I bring a story of resiliency and triumph over life's hardships, losses or mishaps.  Eric has a story to tell that I think is worth hearing.  Eric's life took him from the depths of despair and homeless in his addiction to entrepreneurship and now to a place of bringing help, and hope, to others.

In this episode you will hear Eric and I discuss:

  • What helped him save himself from addiction
  • What keeps him clean and sober today
  • How he took a risk at a critical time in his life and how it paid off for him
  • Where he first heard the parable of The 2 Wolves and how the podcast came to fruition
  • What 2 lessons he learned from his guests that he applies to his own life
  • How he fights self-doubt when it comes creeping up on him
  • What he hopes his audience takes away from listening to The One You Feed
  • What's in the future for The One You Feed
  • How he takes care of himself in the midst of doing so much for others

Eric has come a long way in his life and he demonstrates a resiliency and self-awareness that seems to keep him in check.  He won't forget where he came from and he can appreciate how far he's come. 
It was my pleasure to converse with  him on The Coaching Through Chaos Podcast.

 

Wolf Awareness Week 2015

wolf awareness weekFew species are as historically vilified, as ecologically valued, and as continually controversial as wolves. Despite the vital role they play in many of our native ecosystems, wolves were nearly eliminated in the U.S. by relentless hunting and predator control programs determined to wipe them out. This interview was released to coincide with National Wolf Awareness Week (the third week in October), a time set aside to celebrate these important animals, highlight the threats to their survival, and spread the word about what can be done to help wolves stay protected and help humans learn to live alongside them. Find out more at Defenders of Wildlife.

The Hurricane and the Honeymoon: Love and Addiction

This is the story of hundreds of thousands of peoples’ relationships right now.
When you love someone with an addiction, life often feels like you cycle between a hurricane and a honeymoon.

I grew up on Long Island, about an hour outside New York City. It was usually a very pleasant and seasonably predictable place to live. That being said, some of my most memorable moments growing up are relative to the hurricanes that came through and wrecked our lives for a short time. Even though they were brief, they felt catastrophic when they happened. In particular, I can still remember the details of preparing and experiencing Hurricane Gloria in 1985.

Life was good. It was the time of year when summer transitions to fall on Long Island, leaves turn colors, we look forward to Halloween. But then, seemingly all of a sudden, we were taping our windows closed, filling up the cars with gas, buying up all the cereal and Spaghetti-Os we could to prepare for the turmoil ahead…
The storm hit! We braced ourselves and hoped for the best. Gloria was a terrible one – we were left without power for about 2 weeks and there was a tremendous amount of damage to areas of Long Island. In the end, we were fortunate. Our house was still standing and once the power came on our lives really just went back to normal. We went right back into our honeymoon experience where life was pleasant and relatively predictable. The damage from hurricanes varies from minimal to catastrophic. Certainly the range in between is vast, and relative to one’s previous storm experience.

That is exactly how it can feel to love someone with an addiction. I’ve been working as a therapist who specializes in addictions for most of my career. Loving someone with an addiction also hits close to home for me as I have a dear family member who continues to cycle through hurricanes herself. The countless stories I’ve heard from clients, either as the partners of the addicts or the person causing the storm, mirror the honeymoon-hurricane cycle.

People that love an addict will say there are times in the relationship that are “really nice” and their partner is “exactly as they were when we first got together”, but Hurricane and honeymoon - Coaching through chaos - when you liove an addictinevitably, the storm comes in. It may be in the form of them “just” being unreliable or flaking out on plans because they are already imbibing or otherwise using. Other times, and more frequently the longer the relationship lasts, the hurricane comes in like Gloria. It causes what we think of as more damaging consequences in the relationship. The storm can come in the form of not returning home, hooking up with someone else or losing a job (causing both financial and emotional consequences in the relationship). No matter how strong the person who loves them is and how much they say they want a fulfilling relationship, I often witness peoples’ struggle with the honeymoon-hurricane cycle. The partner’s tolerance level is usually directly relative to their past experience in life. If they grew up in a chaotic household, and even more so if they grew up with an addicted parent, their tolerance for the storm damage is high – just like people who have weathered many hurricanes.

The honeymoon period comes about after the storm. What usually happens is that the addict is so remorseful that, just like the 2–week post-Gloria blackout, the addict finds a way to seemingly restore the honeymoon period. Maybe they don’t drink “as much” or they hide their drug use, or just keep it at home . I should note that using at home is usually safer emotionally for the couple in that the non-using partner thinks “At least I know where they are and that they’re alive”. In extreme cases, the addict may make it to rehab or enter a 12-step program, saying all the things their partner needs to hear to decide to stay with them. Very often, the partner truly means the words when they say them, but their addicted brain may pull them back to using, often looking like they just said what they thought they needed to in order to keep their partner happy.

this is a couple on a honeymoon

To people who have not experienced many storms, these things still seem intolerable. If we don’t understand the addicted brain, we think – “This is unacceptable behavior!” and “I deserve better than this!” An outsider might say, “You should just leave since your partner keeps choosing the alcohol over you!” The partner of the addict may even think this themselves, but they learn along the way, that the addict does not have a choice and they are not “choosing” the substance over the relationship once they are addicted.

The thing is, choosing to end a relationship with an addict is not so simple.
Drugabuse.gov defines addiction as “ a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain”. Addiction is not an actual diagnosis.

In the addiction treatment field our latest diagnostic manual permits us to specify that a person has a “Substance Use Disorder”. We don’t leave our partners because they get diabetes, cancer, or rheumatoid arthritis, but we live in a society where others judge those that choose to stay in relationships with people who have the brain disease of addiction.

a house after a hurricane
pic orig on thrifyfun.com

We didn’t do a mass exodus from Long Island after Gloria. We removed the tape from the windows, picked up the branches from the yards and re-stocked our refrigerators to get ready for the honeymoon of normality to return. Couples with catastrophic relationships damaged caused by addictions may hole up for a few days at home, talk to each other about what happened, and make a prevention plan to try to stave off the next storm much in the same way. We all have weathered some storms in our day. For a couple with addiction, their life is just more prone to them.

Hazelden Betty Ford Center

Dr. Harry Haroutunian

In this podcast, Dr.Mullen speaks with Dr.Harry Haroutunian, the Physician Director of The Betty Ford Center. They discuss some of the many services available to assist addicts in their process of recovery.  The Betty Ford Center recently merged with the Hazelden Foundation and together they provide a wealth of  services and programs to people suffering from addiction and their families.  The article details the Children's Program and the Clinical Diagnostic Evaluation Program.  Dr. Mullen reviews statistics on drug and alcohol use from SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)  and NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Addiction). 

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If you or someone you love is suffering from an addiction, resources are available. Help can be found online, in support groups, help lines or by reaching out to addiction treatment providers in your community. A short list of resources completes the article, to provide information and link to services.

 

Please contact DrMullen@CoachingThroughChaos.com if you need help figuring out how to connect to resources in your community.

Read the companion article 'Addiction - the Universal Terrorist' at the PriceOfBusiness.com

For more information, please listen to the episode.


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This is a moderated live video chat, Dr Mullen will be on video and you can ask questions anonymously via chat.

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