Lighthouse Network’s Dr. Karl Benzio Says Christmas Can Be a Lonely Time for Families with Loved Ones Absent from Festivities
Philadelphia—The holidays can be an especially difficult time for those struggling with depression, addiction or any number of mental health issues. Many choose the holidays as a time to finally get help or treatment, especially with a new year right around the corner—the perfect time for a fresh start.
And while the choice to get treatment is an amazing gift both to the addict and to loved ones, there is a void that is left in families while an addict is far away for residential treatment.
“There is no greater gift than when an addict chooses to get treatment, especially at Christmastime, when forgiveness, grace and new beginnings are so evident all around us,” said psychiatrist Karl Benzio, M.D., founder and executive director of Lighthouse Network (www.lighthousenetwork.org), a Christian addiction and mental health counseling helpline. “But it can still be a difficult time for the families of addicts who are in treatment. They are left at home, wondering if they did the right thing, said the right words or if their loved one is doing well. It’s fine to ask these questions, but families have their own work to do while someone else is in treatment.”
Benzio says that codependent family members have additional struggles, as they place feelings of guilt and responsibility on themselves for someone else’s actions—even sometimes enabling harmful behavior.
“Codependency is a dysfunctional situation in which one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility or under-achievement,” he said. “Codependent enablers often find themselves in relationships where their primary role is rescuer, supporter or a shoulder to cry on. These helpers are dependent on the other person’s poor functioning to satisfy their own emotional needs. Codependents usually ignore their own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. Codependency may also be characterized by denial, low self-esteem and control issues. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor, but loving doesn’t mean giving them everything they want. Your happiness shouldn’t depend on whether others need you, but on who God is and His plan for your life.”
Benzio offers 10 tips for family members who are dealing with addicted relatives being away for treatment at the holidays:
- Don’t take this difficult time personally or as an attempt to ruin the holidays. It’s not about you, and the best gift someone struggling with addiction can give is their own healthy functioning.
- Take some time to heal from the combat zone you have been in for this last season of life with your loved one and his or her addiction. Healing should be pursued in all three spheres: spirit, mind and body.
- Pray for God’s peace and wisdom. Pray for your loved one to be humble in accepting a different way to manage his or her life. And pray for God’s peace and wisdom as you evaluate the past, live in the present and prepare for your loved one’s discharge and future relationship with them.
- Develop realistic expectations. Your loved one didn’t develop an addiction overnight, and it won’t go away quickly. Recovery and transformation are a process, and adversity and setbacks are inevitable. Consider how you can be a helper, but not an enabler.
- Recalibrate your emotions. Bring your intense emotions back into a realistic realm, so you can think clearly and not let your emotions become your decision-making system.
- Work on forgiving your loved one for his or her transgressions. Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it is better than the alternative of harboring rage, revenge and spite for the pain others have caused.
- Determine the healthy boundaries necessary once your loved one leaves rehab so you can stop enabling and be a healthy support in their progress. For some, this might mean doing more; for others, less. Think about getting professional help in how to do this.
- Write a letter to your loved one letting him or her know what you might have done to fan the flame of their addiction and what you are going to do differently to love them in a more healthy way. You didn’t cause their addiction, and you can’t control it, but you probably have some influence on them, and that influence should be healthy.
- Begin viewing your loved one as someone who is sick and needs God’s help, love and peace. Addicts have something deeper inside with which they are struggling, and they are looking to the wrong answer to rid themselves of that struggle.
- Commit to being honest and open with your loved one when he or she returns from treatment. There is love in truth. Satan thrives in darkness, secrets and vagueness. Don’t fall into that trap.
Those with questions about treatment options for family or loved ones during the holidays can call the free, 24-hour Lighthouse Network Helpline at 1-844-LIFE-CHANGE (1-844-543-3242). The most effective help will incorporate God into the healing process to bring lasting healing and transformation. Lighthouse Network also provides online resources for those concerned about a family member, friend or a loved one. Visit www.lighthousenetwork.org/im-family-a-friend.
Benzio shares insights on mental health issues in the one-minute daily radio feature “Life Change with Dr. Karl,” airing on approximately 425 radio stations across the country, including 200 stations in the American Family Radio Network. “Life Change” brings scientific expertise and biblical principles together to examine some common daily struggles and help people successfully navigate life’s obstacles. For more information, visit www.lighthousenetwork.org/life-change-with-dr-karl/.
Lighthouse Network works to guide struggling people through storms to achieve peace and find answers for those who have a hard time defining their problems. Lighthouse Network also offers the free, 24-hour Lighthouse Life Change Helpline toll-free at 1-844-LIFE-CHANGE (1-844-543-3242). Several resources are available through www.lighthousenetwork.org as well as through Lighthouse Network’s free daily Stepping Stones devotionals found at www.lighthousenetwork.org/stepping-stones.