By Marsha Stone, JD, LCDC
Recovery During the Christmas Season
The Struggle (and the Gift) Is Real
As the weather is starting to cool down and the holiday season is beginning to kick into full gear, people in recovery and their loved ones have unique challenges. The holidays can be a mix of emotions—the joy of connecting with family, but also the stress and baggage that can come with family relationships. The fun times and jovial atmosphere can sometimes be overshadowed by the stress of travel and the disruption of normal routines. Although people in recovery are looking forward to making new memories with family and friends, sordid memories of past holidays during active addiction can resurface.
Why are the holidays such a struggle for people in recovery? Addiction is an illness that affects families as well as those who are afflicted. Often, even though a person has entered recovery, destructive patterns persist within the family. There can be unaddressed resentment, guilt, fear, and shame that add stress to the holiday season for both the family and the person in recovery. The holidays can involve travel—whether driving on a long road trip or navigating through a busy airport—and no one is immune from the stress that often is a result. People in recovery thrive on the discipline provided by a routine, so a few days without school or work or the missing of recovery home groups can make the holidays even more challenging
Although you cannot be responsible for their feelings and emotions, there are some helpful tips to make the holiday season easier for your loved one(s) in recovery.
- Communicate—Addiction can be associated with feelings of shame by both the person in recovery and the immediate family. The best way to combat these feelings of shame is to have healthy communication. Is your loved one open about their struggle with addiction, or would they prefer more privacy around the matter? Get an idea of how they would like to address their past (if at all) and respect their wishes.
- Be flexible—Your loved one may need some time to them to call their sponsor or attend a 12-step meeting. Being flexible and allowing a person in recovery to take care of themselves is important in fostering a supportive environment.
- Live in the present—It may be difficult to not hold resentment or shame as you recall past holidays during active addiction. There is a time and a place to address these feelings, and most people in recovery will seek to make amends for past behavior as soon as possible. However, this may not be the most appropriate time, so it is best if everyone tries to stay in the present moment and avoid excessive focus on the past.
Can I Serve Alcohol?
Holiday traditions often involve alcohol. Families of those in early recovery often wonder if they should forgo alcohol entirely for the holidays. There is no single answer that is right for everyone, but in most cases, alcohol can be served to those not suffering from alcoholism and addiction without putting at risk the sobriety of your loved one. If you are not sure what to do, it may be best to have a conversation with them to get their thoughts on serving alcohol. If everyone is enjoying a glass of champagne or wine, be sure to have a sparkling cider or non-alcoholic option to help your loved one feel less alienated.
Family members of BRC Recovery alumni often ask about warnings signs that a person has returned to active addiction. There is no comprehensive list, but here are a few signs that your loved one may be in trouble:
- Erratic behavior—If your loved one has a history of addiction and their behavior is erratic, there is a good chance that something is wrong.
- Excessive fatigue/sleepiness—Opiate use, in particular, can cause excessive sleepiness or for a person to “nod out.”
- Disappearing for no apparent reason—It could be a sign that a person is using or purchasing drugs/alcohol. If stories are not adding up, it may be time to take a closer look.
- Spending excessive time alone or in the bathroom—Some time in solitude may be a healthy way for a person in recovery to manage stress; however, excessive time alone could indicate active addiction.
- Wearing long sleeve clothing at all times—IV-drug use can often cause “track marks,” or unhealed puncture wounds, that are usually found on the forearms. People trying to hide this telltale sign of IV-drug use will often wear long sleeves at all times.
The Greatest Gift
Although holidays can present challenges in general, and especially to those in recovery, it is also true that celebrating together is a gift not to be missed. It is my experience that authenticity and vulnerability with our struggles and triumphs are a way to communicate the gifts of long-term recovery.
I remember vividly being in treatment and sober living myself for Thanksgiving and Christmas. As a parent, being away from my children during significant times of family celebration was very difficult. Opening “care packages” and sending cards and packages home in my absence were gut-wrenching times. By the time the next holiday season, we were all reunited and my level of gratitude and joy was beyond compare. For the first time ever, I fully understood the true meaning of the Season. My presence was my present!
My family agrees that sweet season of reconciliation and healing was the best one we have ever experienced. We have committed as a family to never take health, recovery, or one another for granted again. It is a working part of our hearts and lives, and this family intention is available to each and every one of us.
If you need help during the holidays, reach out. If you can be of service to someone else, extend a hand.
Marsha Stone, JD, LCDC is CEO of BRC Recovery & Founder/CEO of Spearhead Lodge.