Letting go is hard. When my mom was a young teenager, her family left Cuba in disgrace. In 1966, the Revolution was over, Fidel Castro was in power, and many of the changes that would prove him a ruthless dictator were already taking place. My grandparents were both teachers–intellectuals were reviled in communist Cuba because they were considered among the most outspoken against the new regime. Before she left, my mom saw signs posted around the campus where her father taught, declaring him a traitor. The government seized their house, and they were only able to bring two suitcases among the five of them. I’ve never seen a picture of my mom as baby for this reason. On the airplane, she had to surrender her Cuban passport for refugee admissions to the United States. To this day, she has never again set foot in Cuba.
October is coming to a close, which means the holidays are getting started. Soon, we will all be in the thick of it. For those of us in recovery from addiction and/or mental illness, the holidays can be notoriously difficult. It’s not just the fact that alcohol appears at many holiday gatherings. Holidays are also typically associated with family gathering and bonding, which can be a touchy subject for those of us with addiction or mental illness histories.
Mental illness is so heavily stigmatized in our society that if you have anything but the most well-educated, open-minded, and compassionate family members, you have probably experienced some share of stigmatizing from the people who are supposed to protect you. Even if your family is lovely, your own erratic behavior during an active addiction or symptomatic flare-up may cause you to feel shame and embarrassment, whether or not your family did anything to contribute to those feelings.
Relapse doesn’t just mean taking drugs or drinking alcohol. It can also mean relapsing into a dangerous depressive episode, mania, or other symptoms of your condition that were in remission. It would be impossible to specifically address every single potential holiday trigger for every single mental illness. Instead, I’ve put together a list of ways to avoid having a major breakdown during the holiday season. It doesn’t matter what holiday it is–this can even be applied during your birthday–any time when you have extra social, familial, financial, and emotional stressors burdening you is dangerous. Hopefully applying some of these tips can help.
Suicide recently came into the public consciousness because of the death by hanging of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington. Whenever I hear about someone dying from hanging, I think about this kindhearted, sweet as hell, alcoholic teenage gutter punk I knew who hanged himself. The last time I saw him, I was in a van going to the Oregon Country Fair. I saw him walking outside on the side of the road. We lived in Seattle so this wasn’t expected. I considered asking the driver to stop so I could say hi to my friend, but then I figured–and I remember this thought so clearly–“Oh well, it’s okay, I’ll see him again.” I didn’t.
We never know when we will lose the people we love. Whether by suicide or something else, our lives are these tenuous, crazy things that can be shattered without a moment’s notice. We need to better appreciate the people in our lives, but we also need to forgive those who leave us on purpose. I’ve written this post to help you understand why you should let go of the anger you feel at your loved one who committed suicide, even though that anger is totally justified.