Jingle Bells piping through every speaker system in the city. Families laughing in Santa hats as the ham gets carved. Children tearing open gifts as they squeal with joy. The holidays are here again! And if the media has any say, it will be the most wonderful time of the year. For addicts and their families however, it’s often the most stressful time of the year.
The holidays usher in scenarios that can feel quite threatening to those in recovery. The onslaught of festive gatherings, increased expenditures, and family time can make an addict feel quite overwhelmed. There are things you can do to help your loved one navigate the challenges of the season:
Acknowledge the Stress
Apply No Pressure
Know the Red Flags
While it’s easy to get swept up in the holiday hullaballo, consider a quiet sit-down with the addict in your life prior to the festivities. Begin the conversation by validating that it’s a stressful time of year and then simply ask what you can do to show your support. If you leave the conversation with concrete ideas, that’s wonderful. If your loved one offers no suggestions, rest assured, there is a simple comfort in knowing that you care and are aware of the struggles.
As you prepare for your annual holiday traditions, note that these celebratory rituals might be triggers for your addicted loved one. If family gatherings have historically involved heavy drinking and/or conflict of any kind, you may consider taking things down a notch. In lieu of pressuring your loved one to partake in the traditional events, gently suggest an alternative: We’re thinking of skipping Aunt Alice’s Christmas Eve bash this year. Any chance you’d join us for a more low key evening at our house?
As an active member of your loved ones support system, you are likely familiar with his or her patterns and behaviors. It’s possible to put out a few extra “feelers” around the holidays without coming across as intrusive or suspicious. Be on alert for signs of isolation from your loved one. You can do this by discussing his or her plans for the holidays. If you sense hopelessness or detachment, your loved one is likely in need of some reinforcements. Approach your loved one with compassion and formulate an appropriate holiday “safety plan” together.
If the holidays consistently prove a challenge for you and your loved one, consider doing something completely different next year. Imagine forgoing your gifts to one another and, instead, planning a family cruise to the Caribbean. Alleviating the pressures of party-going, excessive drinking, and gift-giving might lead to the most memorable holiday season you’re family has ever had.
While the holiday season can be particularly challenging for addicts, there are things you can do to ease the pressure. The simple gift of your presence and compassion can turn a stressful time of year into one full of new traditions and memories.
Jen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), sobriety coach, former alcohol enthusiast, and writer living in Florida.