Hope has always been a challenging concept for me. Having loved someone who has struggled with addiction for over eight years, hope can feel like a perpetual carrot dangled in front of the nose—nothing but a series of unfulfilled promises. Hope, when attached to a specific outcome, is a fragile lifeline, indeed.
For many, the holidays are a time of renewed faith in humanity and hope for the coming year. For addicts and those who love them, the holidays can be especially trying, as they are not only filled with temptation but also with triggers, including challenging family dynamics and heightened emotions. The addict in my life relapsed this holiday season, five days before Christmas. While I had hoped for a Christmas with my entire family together, this Christmas, while wonderful in many ways, also held a profound sense of loss. The empty seat at the Christmas table, the untouched presents, all served as reminders of what might have been, but wasn’t.
And yet something shifted for me this holiday season. In the past, I might have reacted with anger; I might have blamed this relapse on selfishness and immaturity, and I probably would’ve accused him of ruining Christmas. But as I explained his absence to my children, I was reminded of what a long and suffering journey addiction is. The addict in my life WANTS to get better. He’s trying. And maybe that’s what recovery looks like: falling down and picking yourself back up again. Instead of anger, I let myself feel gratitude for the small things—the preciousness of our entire family together at Thanksgiving, the knowledge that instead of spiraling into his addiction, my loved one asked for help very early on in his relapse, the awareness of his safety in the treatment center he checked himself into just before Christmas. As my wise 11-year-old said, “If he could help it, I would be mad at him. But I know he can’t help it, so I just wish he was here.”
Yesterday, we visited him in a treatment center. We took him his presents, and watched him joyfully exclaim over homemade rainbow loom bracelets and key chains from the girls. I gave him slippers—a small comfort of home. And I wondered if this is what hope looks like. Rather than attachment to a desired outcome, maybe hope is closer to Anne Lamott’s definition: “…choosing to believe that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us.”
You see, I can wish for some picture-perfect future Christmas where my entire family is together until I’m physically sick with wanting. Or I can become so consumed by my fear—fear that he might never get better, that he might choose to leave rehab in this unprecedented cold without a penny to his name—that I shut down and miss small, blessed opportunities for connection like the ones we had yesterday. Hope offers a third way. It’s what happens when we choose love over fear. When we show up, without expectation or wanting. When we are present to the heartache and suffering and offer it small reminders of our unwavering love: slippers and rainbow loom bracelets.
Hope isn't easy, but it's a choice, and like sobriety, it’s a choice we can make anew at any moment.
Wishing you all the strength and courage to choose hope in 2018.