Deck the Halls with Expectations

A Family Program counselor reflects on the season

In the “Family Roles” lecture I give at the Betty Ford Center, I ask family members and patients if they remember receiving "The Postcard" at holiday time. You know—it’s the one with a family pictured in golden light, gathered around the family hearth decorated for the holidays, each with an enormous grin, maybe even in matching sweaters and including the family pet. On the card is written something like: "Happy Holidays from the Johnsons," and it's a postcard that highlights my own expectations at holiday time.

That family seems so impossibly happy. And, of course, they are. Expectations—historic expectations—haunt the holidays. My recovery has taught me that I contribute to my stress with expectations. I was startled the first time I was encouraged to think of holidays as "just another day." It was a new freedom.

I cannot make up for the disappointments of the past by asking the present to correct them. However, I can enjoy the gifts I have in the present. Some of the most moving holidays I have experienced were as a counselor working on a holiday in a treatment environment; defying my expectations.

My daughter is coming out to join my wife and me for the holidays. I am delighted, grateful, full of ideas for things to do. My natal birthday is around this time as is my AA anniversary. We will be celebrating, one day at a time.


Andrew Rohrer works with the family members and loved ones of people who are struggling with addiction. He is a counselor in the Family Program at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage.
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