By Kristin B. Sizemore
Christmas is my favorite time of year. I’ve been listening to Christmas music since September 1. My tree went up during the first week of November and, in my opinion, I was about two weeks late. When Jonathan and I were dating, he said that Christmas had been very difficult for him as an addict. He had felt very lonely and would always struggle during that time of year. I was confident that I could fix that. We were married when the next Christmas season began. I just knew that the love I had for him and my abundance of Christmas spirit would make everything right. Imagine my disappointment when he struggled and battled depression worse than ever during the Christmas season. I was heartbroken and I know he was too.
Neither of us are really sure why the holidays seemed to be a trigger for struggle and depression. I’m not good at many things, but I’m good at Christmas. This house is jolly! We focus on the Lord and each other more than ever during this time of year. Still, he struggled. I feel that part of the reason is pressure; pressure to be happy, pressure to be okay, pressure to react to certain things in a certain way, pressure to be financially successful enough to provide a certain level of gifts. I’m sure I perpetuated this quite a bit in retrospect. In addition to pressure, I think that the enemy hates this humbling time of year where virtually everyone is celebrating the most precious gift the earth has ever received. I think he amps up his game. Regardless of the reason for the escalated struggle, we have some suggestions for former addicts and their spouses as they face the holiday season.
FOR THE ADDICT
Recognize that this time of year may be challenging. Don’t worry so much about the reason. Just be aware that this time of year can trigger many different emotions. By realizing this, you won’t be caught off guard or instantly discouraged.
Increase your time with the Lord. Pray more. Talk to God more. Ask for strength. Read your Bible more. Along with your daily reading, add in the Christmas story, some Messianic prophecies from the Old Testament, or a Psalm. Encouraging yourself in the Lord is much easier when you are spending more time with Him and hiding more of His Word in your heart.
Don’t get too busy. This is easier said than done, but watch your schedule. Don’t miss your time with the Lord at home or at church. Don’t set yourself up to become overwhelmed or overly tired. Say “no” when you need to. Balance the festivities of the season with some calm down time at home with your family.
Be thankful for what you have. Instead of dwelling on what you haven’t accomplished or what you don’t have, think on the good things. Remind yourself of the blessings in your life; your blessings, your salvation, Jesus, your family, the fact that you woke up this morning. Many former addicts have to start over in life. It can be disheartening when you can’t purchase expensive gifts for the ones you love, especially your children. Remind yourself that gifts really aren’t the true meaning of Christmas. Your loved ones are more thankful for you and your efforts on the road to freedom than any gift you could offer them. Although we all love to spoil our children, it’s important to teach them that the focus of the season should be on the Lord and family. Be honest with them and explain that while you don’t have the money to get all the material things you’d love to buy them, that you will do your best. Their reaction will be more understanding and loving than you probably expect and they’ll learn a valuable life lesson in the process. It’s okay to feel frustrated, but it’s not okay to wallow in your situation. Look forward with a good report. Work on a plan to improve your situation and then except that it may take some time to get where you’re going.
Don’t expect too much from yourself or others. You’re human. Your spouse, children, parents, siblings, pastor, and church family are humans as well. Christmas is a humbling time, but it can also be stressful. Give yourself and others a little understanding. When someone is edgy, chalk it up to the business of the season and roll on. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, find a quiet spot and take a break.
Enjoy the season. When you’re trimming the tree, participating in your church Christmas production, or opening gifts, take a moment to take it all in. Notice the way your kids’ eyes light up when they open that certain gift. Listen to your spouse sing along to their favorite Christmas carol. Look at the faces of the congregation of your church as they realize, all over again, that God loved us enough to send His only begotten son. Treasure those little moments that make it all worth while.
FOR THE SPOUSE
Realize that the holidays can be hard for former addicts. The holiday season can be humbling and can also make us feel more emotional than usual. This can be hard on a former addict who is still on the road to complete freedom. When they get quiet or melancholy, try to give them a little room, but sneak in a kiss on the cheek or a gentle pat to let them know that you love them. Little gestures that require nothing in return will go farther than you expect. Even though a former addict has to learn to cope with the pressures of life, it can be a slow process. Do what you can to alleviate unnecessary pressure.
Don’t set your expectations too high. Believe in your spouse with all your heart, but don’t elevate them to a place they just haven’t reached yet because it’s Christmas and you really want a picture perfect experience. If they’re still struggling every few months or more often than that, they will probably struggle, at least somewhat, during the Christmas season. Find or make a break in your busy schedule to give them a few days here and there to decompress and relax. If your spouse lets you down, find a place to cry and let it out. When their mood shifts, sit down and try to explain why you were hurt. Don’t accuse. Ask them why the particular situation was difficult for them. If you can remain calm and avoid putting your spouse on the defensive, you may understand their perspective more than you anticipate and they will be more likely to truly listen as you explain your feelings.
Increase your time with the Lord. Pray more. Praise more. Read more. Intercede for them more. Encourage yourself and your spouse in the Lord. Ask the Lord to help you to be understanding if your loved one struggles. Ask for Him to direct and guide you as you try to help them and then, listen and obey.
Look at how far they’ve come. When you’re downhearted and discouraged, take a good, long look at your spouse. What are they doing now that they were unable to do a year ago? How have they grown in the Lord? Think about the little and big victories they may have won over the last year. Look where the Lord has brought them from. Most importantly, look ahead. Don’t forget where you’re headed and don’t forget you’re headed there in faith. Remind yourself of the vision[LINK] and keep speaking and believing the Lord’s good report.
Be prepared to carry on. This is the hardest part. If your spouse is still struggling with depression or their addiction, they may take a break from life at the worst possible moment. Pray for them. Love them. Carry on when need be; for your kids, for the Lord, for family. Carry on for your spouse when they can’t. You may have to explain politely that your spouse isn’t feeling well, which may be the understatement of the century. Don’t lie. If they are overwhelmed with no physical symptoms, you may have to explain that they just need a break. Also, don’t through them completely under the bus if you don’t have to. Remember that vision. (For help determining or recognizing your vision, read A Vision of Freedom.) You’re protecting that vision even now. Don’t walk into a holiday function going off about your spouse laying in the bed for three days. Just apologize that they couldn’t make it and carry on. Protect their future. People seem to be able to remember times of instability forever. Keep in mind that God has a plan for your spouse’s future and it most likely will require the confidence of others. You will be thankful that you did so later on.
Why does all this rest on your shoulders? Why should you do all this when your spouse can’t even enjoy your efforts? Love. Love means giving without receiving in return. Love means carrying someone when they can’t carry themselves. Can you keep this up forever? Of course not. Pray for the Lord to increase your love for your spouse. In the process, you will learn the true meaning of unconditional, unselfish love. As long as their effort continues, the Lord will continue to refresh the love you have for them. Someday, when your spouse is finally free, you’ll see that the love you extended didn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated and you’ll receive the sweetest love in return.
Find time to spend together alone. Even when you have children, your time alone as a couple is crucial. Try your best to see the good in one another, even when that seems difficult. Remind yourselves of the love you have for each other. Pray together and worship together. Even though the season may present challenges, you can overcome together, as you lean on the Lord, and have a wonderful Christmas!