Addicts and Alcoholics and the Holidays – Part 1

**please note that our series on Treatment and the 12 promises will continue in December.**

We take a break from our normal subject matter to discuss a very important time of the year for people in early recovery. THE HOLIDAYS!!! There is documented proof that the relapse rate of people with under two years of sobriety(the industry standard definition of early recovery)increases significantly during this time period. Since that is the case, we decided that this month’s article will contain some of the reasons why this occurs and some helpful tips for both the addict/alcoholic and the family members of that person. You will find several River Source pieces in both the blog and newsletter as well as the website, which shows how important we feel this time of year is for newly recovering persons and their families.

If you are a family member of someone who is in recovery from a drug or alcohol problem or if you are a “normie”(a term affectionately used in the recovery community to describe someone who can drink normally)and you close your eyes and picture the holidays, what do you see? The answer for many is, family, Turkey, Christmas trees, lights, hot cocoa, football, fireplaces, etc, etc. For the addict/alcoholic in your family the answer may just be…..guilt, shame, another year of what have I done with my life, that time I drank all of uncle Roger’s whiskey when he wasn’t looking, and so forth. The perspectives may in fact be completely different. The reasons a person in early recovery may struggle with the holidays can be found in the above example. For many people the holidays means a time when everybody can be together. Most families have shared this time together for many years. So when the whole family gets together there are a few ways this can play out in an addicts mind as negative. Here is a look at some of the reasons the holidays can be so tough on a person in early recovery(in no particular order).

Guilt–The memories of past holidays when the addict/alcoholic may have ruined(actually or in their mind)the festivities in the past. Plus, maybe seeing grandma and grandpa for the first time since entering treatment can have a negative effect on the self-esteem of the recovering person.

Shame/Regret–The realization that for the past 15 years he or she has been intoxicated at these events and most other times does not dawn on a person in early recovery without emotional consequences. It can be hard to feel comfortable or even look family members in the eye. Plus, when cousin Billy is talking about how he graduated from Yale this year and the person in recovery gets to tell the tale of how they were in detox for a week and then treatment for 60 days, it can be a bit embarrassing. In addition, the holidays come at the end of the year. It is very easy for an person in early recovery to use this time to reflect on what they have not done or who in the family they have not stayed in touch with.

Resentment– This is a time of year that the addict/alcoholic and family members may all be in resentment at each other for various issues over the year

Show and Tell–This is what happens when a well meaning family member(usually mom or dad)boasts about how well 6 month sober Johnny is doing since he went into treatment. This can be very nerve racking and put much undo pressure on the recovering person

Holiday Parties–I don’t know how many dozens of times I have heard from people in early recovery who have slipped while at a holiday party at a family members house. Remember, most drinking at events like this have no immediate consequences making it very falsely attractive to people in early recovery.

The Weather–Laugh all you want and here in sunny AZ this is not as big of a deal but for people in cold and gray climates in the winter this can be a big issue due to boredom caused by sitting around all day because it is to cold to do anything and because gloomy outside can help lead to gloomy inside.

Justified Escapism– This occurs when an early recovering addict or alcoholic attends family gathering and sees and hears other members of the family justify their own drinking or drugging. The end of the year “reward” for another year of hard work(really just an excuse to get intoxicated).

Opiates– I highlight this particular group of drugs because of there increase in popularity and there ill advised promise to “take the edge off” this false slogan can give people the notion that it is okay to deal with holiday stress buy taking the easy way out.

I am sure there are some other candidates for this list but these are some of the most common. Now, before you accuse me of being all Scrooge and the Grinch on you, let me point out that by taking just a few steps to be helpful and mindful, a person in early recovery and their family members can enjoy a wonderful holiday season. Some of sober people’s greatest first sober moments happen during the holiday season. Here is a way you can help make this happen no matter what side of the ledger you are on.

For the Addict/Alcoholic:

  • Keep your sponsors number handy at all times. Communicate with your sponsor prior to the holidays to make sure they will be at least somewhat available to talk for a minute. If not, have someone in recovery that you can call.
  • Have a “go to” person in your family. Everybody has at least one person in their family that they can confide in when they need to talk at a holiday function. Ideally, this person would have the clout in the family to “allow” you to leave a family event if you need to get to a meeting
  • Have a list of nearby meetings handy. All groups have some type of holiday meeting schedule, normally this includes meetings 24hrs a day during the holidays. Check with your home group or get the number of a group in the town you will be in.
  • Talk with your support group prior to the holidays about any past issues that may block you from having a good holiday season.
  • Be honest with your family. Remember, good ole’ mom and dad may not understand the disease concept. They may think that it is no problem for them to throw their annual eggnog with whiskey holiday drink off with you and your 3 months sober at their house. It is OK for you to tell them this makes you uncomfortable
  • Pray/talk to your higher power, share what is going on with you with another, and help someone. The holidays provide plenty of service opportunities.
  • Put your recovery first! Remember, your addiction does not keep a calender. It does not care about holidays, weekends, Bar Mitzvahs, softball games, or fishing derby days. Do not change your recovery routine just because the calender says so
  • Enjoy the season. On the flip side, people who work programs report that the holidays are their favorite time of the year because of all the joys they get to actually experience.

Family Members:

  • Be okay with your loved one skipping out on events if they need to hit a meeting. Who cares what your Aunt Maude thinks about newly sober Billy or Suzy missing the wreath hanging? It is much more important for your loved one to feel safe and to know that you have their back. You can deal with your own relatives later.
  • Do not perform show and tell with your loved one. See above. Do however, give your loved one support and let them know you are proud of them. This can be done in private where it will have more meaning anyway.
  • Provide your loved one in recovery with access to a car or be willing to provide a ride to a meeting if necessary, and yes, even if it is during the football games.
  • Why not make your event a sober one this year? Not telling anyone what to do, but again, what is the priority?
  • Get to some Al-anon or PAL group meetings in your area if available or hold a one time meeting with an addiction professional to discuss your holiday plans.
  • Allow and ask for honesty from your recovering loved one while making holiday plans.
  • Focus on gratitude and the importance of the gifts of recovery and life
  • Enjoy the season. How cool that you get to spend this holiday season with your loved one clean and sober!

The holidays are a great and memorable time of year and by following some of the tips above, you and your sober family member are sure to have a great season. Happy Thanksgiving!

See you next month!

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