Dealing with a Recovering Addict around the Holidays

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Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and while the rest of your friends may seem to be welcoming the holiday with open arms and a platter full of food, you’re wondering how you’re going to hold it all together. You are, after all, dealing with an addict, and you can’t leave your loved one out of the festivities.

The holidays are indeed a wonderful time of year, but that doesn’t mean that they have positive associations for everyone. Some people experience the “holiday blues” during the season, especially if they lost someone at this time of the year, are going through a divorce, are having financial troubles or will be separated from loved ones. Although it’s less talked about, the holidays can also be stressful for those who have an addict in the family.

There are many factors that can affect this dynamic. Is your loved one still using? Does your family know about the severity of the problem? The holidays are known for bringing a lot of pressure, so it’s important to be an advocate for your loved one and understand what they are capable of handling.

What Makes the Holidays Stressful for Addicts?

Maybe your loved one has been through a treatment program and has been clean for several months. Now the holidays are here, and you’re worried that the increase in parties, alcohol and past friends and family members can challenge your loved one’s sobriety. If you feel this way, your loved one does, too.

It’s also possible that you have yet to encourage your loved one to seek treatment. Maybe they are still using, and you feel that you have little control over how they will act at a family gathering. The truth is, you do have little control, and so does your loved one. Unfortunately, once a person is addicted, the addiction takes over, and there’s little you can do until withdrawal and treatment is started.

Even recovered addicts need added TLC during the holidays. Just because your family member has been clean and sober for years doesn’t mean that you can put that part of your life behind you. It’s important to remember that temptations can creep back at different times due to stress. So, what is it about the holidays that make them so stressful?

Below are some of the most common sources of stress during the holiday season that pertain to all families.

  • Financial limitations
  • Loss of independence
  • Loss of traditions
  • Alone or separated from family
  • Changing family dynamics, i.e. divorce
  • Illness
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Commotion of traveling, having people stay with you, etc.

Tips for Getting Through the Holiday Season

Create a Holiday Schedule Early On

The best approach to handling the holidays with ease is to hold a family meeting and discuss your available options. If you always travel to “Aunt Janet’s” house for Thanksgiving where there are lots of cousins to drink with, it’s probably best to skip the event.

Think about the other holiday events that you’re usually invited to and decide whether or not you should attend those. You don’t have to say “yes” to everything, and you don’t have to give a reason for not attending. The most important thing is creating a positive, sober environment for your loved one, even if that means creating a unique holiday schedule this year. And, when it’s one that everyone agrees on, you won’t have feelings of resentment or guilt.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Honesty is so important during recovery – and in life in general – so continue to keep the lines of communication open. Your loved one may be doing well in their recovery, but there may be new stressors or inner struggles that are occurring as a result of the holidays. If you find that your loved one seems to be more discouraged than usual, encourage added support from a religious affiliation or support group.

Start New Traditions

Aside from all the holiday planning, traveling and spending, the holidays can be stressful because we often find ourselves mingling in a superficial way with people we haven’t seen in a year. What you really need to focus on is working together as a family unit. Think about creating a few new traditions that can be a stepping stone to a healthier, brighter future. A fresh start, so to speak. Sometimes, when you let old traditions go, it can signal a new beginning.

Celebrate the Family Unit

Finally, celebrate each other. Take time out for the people who have been part of your loved one’s journey. Acknowledge how far your loved one has come, and give thanks to those who have made the end result this far possible. Sometimes, we all need to let down our guards and just celebrate who we are as a family. The holidays can be stressful, but that doesn’t mean you need to lose sight of your goals. You can enjoy the season, build new memories and stick to a healthy recovery regimen all at the same time.