What To Do With Your Drunk Uncle At Thanksgiving
Whether or not you are in recovery yourself, getting trapped at the Thanksgiving table with a drunken family member can lead to a whole lot of feelings … none of them thankful! Given the prevalence of alcoholism in the overall population, most large families have at least one member who suffers from addiction. Holidays can be tough, but here are some things to think about to help you get through it, minimizing discomfort to both you and your host.
First, don’t second guess yourself or beat yourself up for having a problem with your relative’s drunken behavior. Being around someone who has lost control can be uncomfortable at best. The inappropriate comments, unwanted sexual advances, and belligerent attitude can turn the holiday celebration into a stressful trial. If you’re having strong feelings about attending, including feeling like you’d just rather not go, that’s ok. Don’t heap guilt or feelings of obligation on top of that. It’s ok to feel angry or unhappy about your relative’s behavior, but you can choose to behave with dignity and compassion.
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How can you make this year different and enjoy your holiday with family despite the challenges? Here are some ideas to consider before the actual day:
- Plan ahead. It’s an unpleasant and distressing thing to think about, but don’t avoid or put off thinking about how you’ll cope. Plan in advance to stack the deck in your favor.
- Consider hosting the meal yourself. It’s a trade-off: lots of cooking, cleaning and effort, but you can also choose to make the event alcohol free.
- Communicate with your host, if you are not able to host the celebration yourself. Let your host know that you are working on ways to manage the feelings you anticipate experiencing in response to your drunk family member’s behavior. Make sure your host is in the loop regarding your own coping mechanisms so that he or she doesn’t inadvertently sabotage you. This is especially important if you are in recovery. Make sure you are honest in advance about your recovery status so your host can be as supportive as possible.
- Build in ways to take space and get away for brief moments. Bring a book of inspirational quotes, meditations or prayers and escape to the bathroom if need be, to read a page and catch your breath. Wear walking shoes and take a walk around the block after dinner. Bring a fun game to share with the kids. If you have a dog that can handle the crowds, bring him or her—a perfect excuse for needing to step outside for a breath of fresh air!
- Have your sponsor’s phone number and the phone numbers of a few sober and supportive friends ready to roll. Even better, plan to go to a meeting immediately after dinner, and have your sponsor or a friend pick you up.
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On the day of the celebration:
- Assess your safety and the safety of any children if your drunk family member has a history of violent behavior or sexually abusive behavior. If the situation becomes dangerous, leave promptly. It’s better to stay safe and apologize later than to risk assault or sexual abuse.
- Don’t engage with your drunk relative. Arguing with or confronting someone who is already under the influence won’t work. They will not be in a state of mind to listen, understand or accept responsibility. The situation will likely result in you feeling even more upset.
- Try to remember that the drunk person who is saying or doing upsetting things was not always like this. Most likely there are people present from an older generation who remember your drunk uncle or cousin from better days, when his or her addiction was not so progressed. If it helps you to cope, ask about your mom or dad, or someone who remembers a different version of your drunk family member, to share stories about what he or she was like. This may be sad or difficult to hear, but it can also help you build compassion and tolerance.
- Remember to separate the person from the behavior, and as difficult as it seems, don’t take anything personally. The awful things your drunk relative says are not personal attacks, no matter how much they may seem to be. Addiction to alcohol or any other substance is a painful disease to endure, both for the alcoholic and for all around him or her. The hurtful comments or disruptive behavior is part of that disease.
Lastly, remember that if you feel you must opt out of the celebration in order to take care of yourself, do so. It is a difficult decision to make with pros and cons on both sides, but if you feel that this year, for whatever combination of reasons, you need to take a step away from family gatherings, let your host know in advance and be honest. Next year will be different if you take steps now to make sure it is.
If you or a loved one are struggling with alcoholism, please call us at (866) 339-3544 or submit the form below to learn more about our alcohol addiction treatment programs in Los Angeles.
Since 2004, Lori has worked with the behavioral health treatment community to bring awareness about mental health disorders and evidence-based treatments. Lori strives to help people better understand mental illness and provide support to those needing help and their families. As a mental health advocate, Lori works to be a voice for those suffering from substance abuse, dual diagnosis, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, trauma, or any other disorder.