What can you do when your child is missing at the holidays?

If you’ve experienced the “empty chair” at the holiday table, you know that it’s difficult to think about anything other than the one who is missing, even while in the company of others you could and should be enjoying. As so many people who have lost a child to this insidious disease will tell you, there will be forever to grieve if your loved one loses their battle with addiction. For those who have lost, the pain is never-ending. If you are still able to hold on to even a shred of hope, it is a time to be grateful for that, no matter how dire things appear.

If you are estranged or your personal family boundaries don’t allow that your family member can attend your family festivities, I encourage you to reach out and let them know they are loved, if possible. They may not be able to attend family functions, but we still love the person we know, even if that person seems to have changed into someone that hardly resembles who they once were.

Sacrificing our own happiness will not heal our addicted loved one. Take care of yourself at this difficult time. We must acknowledge what we can and cannot control. Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” It often felt to me as though I was being held prisoner by my daughter’s active addiction. I finally came to realize that the only thing I had any control over was myself, and if I chose to concentrate on the fact that she was missing yet again, and that her fate was so precarious, I would surely lose out on everything good in my life. Focusing on what I couldn’t control also wasn’t helping her at all and negatively affecting everyone around me.

 It wasn’t easy, but I accepted that all I could do was to let her know that she was loved and missed, and that I hoped next year we could all be together—but in the meantime, I would be enjoying the holidays. It was a difficult situation and not a simple answer, but the only one that worked for me.

This is a time of year full of possibilities and hope, if we look for it. I wish you all a blessed holiday season and a happy and recovery-filled new year.

Disclaimer: The above advice is not meant to be construed as medical or legal advice. If you need professional medical, psychological, or legal advice, please contact a doctor, lawyer, or medical center.

Maureen Cavanagh is a peer recovery coach and interventionist who works with families and loved ones supporting a person struggling with a substance use disorder on their own recovery. She is the founder of Magnolia New Beginnings and Magnolia Recovery and Consulting, and the author of If You Love Me: A Mother’s Journey Through Her Daughter’s Addiction and Recovery, published by Henry Holt/Macmillan. You can learn more about her at www.maureencavanagh.net

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