Blending the Past with the Present
The days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day can be rough for families facing challengers such as the first holiday cycle since the loss of a loved one or getting through them when a member struggles with addiction. Author Lou Alpert suggests some holiday tips for tough times from first hand experience. I hope her insights encourage you if the holiday season around the corner is a challenging one for you.
Guest blog by author Lou Alpert
Fall has come to Texas at last!
The approaching holidays have me feeling nostalgic and reflective as I find myself lingering in seasons past and memories both good and bad.
I grew up with music in my life; the radio a constant sound throughout our house interspersed with my mother’s record collection. I have vivid memories of standing on the living room couch, hands scrubbing my head as if I were working up a good lather, and singing, “I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair.” Country western, show tunes, opera and church music filled and fueled every part of my day, along with my mother singing along.
Singing Away the Day
My favorite holiday was Thanksgiving, where the meal was prelude to an evening of singing and drinking. My Uncle Netum and cousin Ricky would play guitar along, with numerous other musicians who found their way to my mother’s table to later join in the singing. My mother would perch happily next to her brother on the fireplace hearth, cigarette in hand, harmonizing. Those were the moments she was happiest, and as soon as I could hold my own, I was right next to her singing. The complete peace and security of sitting there singing with my mother, what I wouldn’t give to have those moments back!
I wish my children had experienced that part of my life, but by the time they were old enough to join in the tradition, most of the musicians had passed on and the guitars had long gone quiet. My mother has been dead 22 years now; but as the holidays approach, I still like to linger in the past for just a bit and imagine her singing.
Singing it Forward
I did carry on some of the tradition, singing to my children from the moment they were born. I am grateful to my mother for the gift of music in my life, songs passed on for generations, new ones picked up along the way; precious songs I passed on and sang to my children each night as I tucked them into bed. When I traveled for work, I would still call home from a pay phone and sing to my youngest before he would sleep.
I don’t know when I stopped singing. Maybe when my mother died or when my children grew up, or maybe when there was no one left at home to hear me sing. Divorce, deaths and loss, a child in the throes of addiction; somewhere along the way I realized that I had stopped singing. To let such an important part of life slip away was shocking as well as a wake-up call, a call to action. By re-visiting my past, I came to understand that bringing music back into my life was an important step on my road to healing.
Learning and Healing from the Past
For those trying to manage addiction in their lives, lingering in the past can be bittersweet, sometimes dangerous, but also healing. It is comforting to remember a time before the chaos of addiction showed up in the family. Whether your child is in active addiction, in recovery or passed on, those memories are real and offer a respite from the reality of life as it currently exists. However, lingering there too long can be risky if we ignore the lessons of the past or allow memories to prevent us from moving forward with our own self-care and living.
With intention, we can discover a path that blends our past with our present; steps that guide us to choose health and life over the trauma of addiction. Choosing to care for ourselves doesn’t mean we are abandoning the addict. We can be there to support to the addict and still live a full and happy life. This path takes work and determination, but it can be done. My hope is to have more good days than bad ones. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Tips for Coping
First, acknowledge your own reality. Admitting you have an addict in your life is painful, especially when that addict is your child. My first response was to fix, control and isolate, behaviors I don’t recommend today. Overcoming the guilt and shame when your child succumbs to addiction takes time. Only through reaching out to others can you hope to find the balance and resources necessary to walk this long and difficult road. If your addict is actively using, it is essential that you learn to set boundaries. Each person must make their own call on where to draw those lines, but subjecting yourself to bankruptcy, abuse and daily trauma will not save your addict. Addiction is a disease, but like any disease, the patient must decide when they will seek and accept treatment.
The second step involves transparency and speaking the truth, even when it’s difficult. Addiction is a disease we should not stigmatize or marginalize. If we are going to make a dent in the ongoing opioid crisis, parents and loved ones must speak up and demand that our children be seen. Opioid addiction treatment is not a thirty-day fix. I truly believe if my daughter had not been given a free bed and treatment for six months, she would likely be dead.
This country offers rehab options for the wealthy but allows the middle class and poor to die from lack of access to long-term affordable treatment. We must collectively rage against a system that has failed our children. We cannot isolate ourselves. There is strength in community. Educating society on the dangers of opioids is important, but it is equally important to educate people about the “real” costs of rehabilitation.
The third step relates to compassion and forgiveness. A mother recently wrote me about her son who had a football injury at fourteen and started taking painkillers, which ultimately led to a dependency on the drug. After almost 20 years of fighting his addiction, he overdosed. Sadly, this story is not unique. Every day innocents fall victim to an enemy they never saw coming. Other than the pharmaceutical companies, there are no winners in the opioid epidemic, just humans doing their best, flawed and stumbling through an unforgiving and judgmental world. But I believe we can learn and change.
Quoting Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey often says, “When you know better, you do better.” As a society, we know better now, and I believe there is hope in that. Hope for addicts, but also hope for the families who love the addict.
The fourth step is about personal intention and responsibility. Just as only the addict can decide when to seek treatment, it is up to family members of addicts to reclaim their lives as well. This is something I learned the hard way. By lingering in the memories of my past, I am discovering new ways to implement changes that allow me to forgive the many addicts in my life and re-frame the narrative to include the positive and not just the pain.
As part of this healing, I am singing again! I started singing to my tortoise, Ethel. As I sing, she pokes her head up and sways. She’s a great audience, very encouraging.
Then I joined a senior choir and am one of the younger members. My voice is still far from where it was, but the voice is a muscle, and I am exercising it again. This was a big step toward moving out of isolation and reintegrating with people. One day a week, for an hour and a half, I sit with highly energized seniors and we sing. They are sassy and funny and inspiring. I haven’t gotten my nerve up to perform with the group, but there is hope. They know nothing about my daughter’s addiction, or the news stories about her, or my struggle. They just welcome me openly and I’m allowed to do something that has brought me comfort and continuity all my life: I sing!
If you found this blog helpful you might also appreciate an earlier one about Author Lou Alpert
Thank you for taking time to read these tips for facing challenging times. I hope you found them encouraging. If so, please take another minute to forward this to a friend. If you got this from a friend, you can have your very own free subscription by signing up at up at HowWiseThen. I’m currently giving away a calendar of anniversary events about the arrival of the Mayflower and other resources.