Holidays are supposed to be a positive time, filled with love and family, but for people in recovery and their loved ones it often presents challenges. Alcohol, resentment and just plain not knowing what to do or say can cause stress and even be a trigger for the recovering addict. Christopher Yadron, the New York executive director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation offered tips that support recovery during the holidays.
For Family and Friends
Have a Heart-to-Heart
Friends and family should plan to sit down with the person in recovery ahead of time. “The unknown can create a sense of awkwardness. Make a statement, ‘I want to support you. Help me understand what that means.’” Ask the family member if s/he is comfortable being around alcohol. “People in recovery are used to dealing with triggers,” Yadron said, but stressed taking an individualized approach with the addict. Regardless of comfort level, Yadron emphasized the importance of family members setting an example of positive, healthy behavior by not over-indulging in alcohol themselves. “Don’t make the point of a family party drinking.”
Set Healthy Expectations
As important as it is to lead by example, Yadron said it’s equally vital for family members to not put too much pressure on themselves. “You’re not going to cause a relapse. It’s really up to the recovering person to be responsible for their recovery, health and what the holidays bring up to them.”
Sure, you’re celebrating the holidays, but be sure to toast to the recovering addict’s accomplishments, too. “You can share the positive stories around the holidays. Think, ‘We have this person back and we can talk openly about what’s happened and where we’ve been.’”
For the Recovering Addict
Make a Plan
Yadron advised recovering addicts to have a game plan heading into a gathering. “Ask yourself what you need in terms of support before or after you face a holiday. Holidays sometimes bring a sense of happiness and euphoria and all those positive feelings can be as big of a trigger as negative feelings.” If a trigger arises, plan to call a sponsor or leave early.
Recovering addicts don’t have to go it alone. “Bring another person who is sober or in recovery to provide support.” A sponsor or another person from a 12-step group are typically safe choices.
Though holidays are usually spent with family, if a recovering addict’s loved ones are grappling with their own addictions or spending time with them is going to be too much of a trigger, it’s OK to say no. “That can be hard but put recovery first. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your family or you can’t celebrate the holidays but you need to be vigilant and stay healthy.”