The holidays can be a bittersweet time for just about anyone, let alone someone who is in active addiction, in the early stages of their recovery, or for their support systems!
This tends to be an emotionally charged time of year, where everything – good AND bad – tends to become magnified.
Please remember, that even when things at home might feel unmanageable, you’re never alone! There are countless families around the world – and perhaps in your very own neighbourhood – who will not be thriving over the holiday season; perhaps they’re just doing their best to survive. What we see on social media and on television are just (filtered) highlight reels of what they want to present to the world around them.
Furthermore, it might sound clichéd, but the holiday season will be over before we know it – this too will pass!
Why Do The Holidays Feel So Intense, Anyways?
Although it can be a blessing to have family members and friends all together over the holidays, it’s possible that past wounds, tensions, and expectations can bubble to the surface; resulting in frustrations and even conflict. Family, work, and social gatherings coupled with the financial pressures that can come with the holiday season can place extra stress on everyone, and the person in active addiction or in the early stages of recovery might feel like they’re in the spotlight; or under the watchful eyes of their well-intended support systems. This is a natural feeling, but it still adds pressure! Plus, it’s likely the newly recovered individual may have used their substance of choice in the past to deal with stress – and they may still be in the process of adopting new strategies to deal with things.
Although we can’t always control our environments (much less our families!), we can choose how we prepare for the holiday season and its potential stressors.
How to Avoid Relapse Over The Holidays
You’ve likely heard that the chance of relapse tends to increase over the holiday season, and it’s important that the recovering individual and their loved ones be aware of this.
It’s understandable that the individual in early recovery (or even long-term recovery) may feel like they’re “missing out” or “different” over the holiday season, or may find themselves comparing this year to past years when they were in active addiction. Family gatherings, social activities, and work functions can place extra pressure on the individual and the exposure to food, alcohol, or even other substances can be highly triggering.
Our most important suggestion for the recovering individual and their families, is to have a plan.
If the person in recovery will be travelling, it’s always a good plan to ensure their sponsor’s phone number is on speed dial, some literature is packed, and they have looked up the locations and times of meetings in the area ahead of time.
If parties will be attended, it’s always good to have an escape plan. As the night goes on, that’s when alcohol or substance use will typically increase, so it’s usually advisable to show up early and make an early departure. Don’t worry about coming across as rude – sobriety comes first.
Families and loved ones of the individual in recovery can show their support by 1) making a decision ahead of time about how they will handle substances at the gatherings – some will opt to “ban” them from the environment, while others will not 2) demonstrating understanding if the individual needs to go home early 3) remaining mindful that this is in a particularly intense time for the individual in recovery.
Communication is key – we typically suggest having a family pow-wow prior to the holiday season if possible, so decisions and scenarios can be played out prior to the event. Having a plan can just help everyone “breathe” a little easier once the get-together comes around – and we can almost guarantee, that shortbread will taste even sweeter with a little less stress!
Prioritize Self-Care – Family Matters!
You’ve likely heard the old adage, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” and this especially rings true for family members or for the support system of an individual who is active in their addiction or in the stages of early recovery.
It’s so easy this time of year to over-extend ourselves, which often only results in exhaustion, frustration, and the onslaught of negative emotions. When we’re feeling overwhelmed and run-down, things tend to feel out of reach and unmanageable.
By placing an emphasis on taking care of ourselves over the holiday season, we’re not only impacting our own physical, emotional, and spiritual selves; but we’re improving our capability to be there for those who need us as well.
By ensuring we are well-fed, have had adequate sleep, and that we are nourishing our OWN spirits, we will benefit a clear mind and more physical energy. Taking part in family support groups can provide a sense of community for the family members, too.
Some of our favourite self-care rituals include 1) taking a hot Epsom salt bath 2) preparing a favourite healthy meal 3) taking the family pet for a walk around the neighbourhood 4) taking a short nap or 5) going for a drive to check out the holiday lights in your neighbourhood.
A note on letting go
It’s also a great time to embrace the art of ‘letting go’ to an extent; there is only so much that family members and a support system can do to help a loved one get into a rehabilitation program and to stay clean and sober. Ultimately, the decision to get better will be up to the individual.
We have an entire community here to support you and your family in times of need.
Need help? You can call us anytime: 1-866-716-2006
Do you have a family member in active addiction or in early recovery? Or have you experienced this in the past?
We’d love to hear your strategies for surviving – and thriving – over the holiday season.
Please feel free to leave your comments below, or you can always send us an email as well: firstname.lastname@example.org.