Maintaining sobriety during the holidays is not an easy feat, especially when you have an increasing number of family gatherings, office parties, and other obligations.
For some, staying sober this season is no more difficult than any other time of year. Yet for others, it’s awkward, lonely, or simply just unbearable.
Because people in recovery are more likely to relapse during this time of year, it’s vital to offer the right type of support. The main goal is to help your loved one remember their initial intentions and goals, since this will help keep them on the road to sobriety.
Understanding the Struggles
Supporting a loved one’s recovery from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day is more than just showing empathy. It also means putting yourself out there and asking what you can do to show support. Not everyone in recovery will ask for help, no matter how small the request. Because of this, many people in recovery tend to spend the holidays alone.
You can change this. Ask your loved one what they want to do to celebrate. Suggest a quiet movie, dinner, or a simple small gathering. Make that extra effort to help your loved one connect with others and not isolate for fear of relapsing.
Recovery is more than just abstaining from drinking or using drugs. It requires your loved one to make serious changes in their life and routines, and reevaluate the people with whom they associate. While this varies from person to person, everyone in your family and immediate circle must also be willing to make some changes, too. This includes avoiding triggers associated with your loved one’s addiction, which can include certain people, smells, places, and events.
More Ways to Help
While there are many traditions that come along with the holidays, recovery is a time to establish new ways to celebrate them. This is not the time to come up with unrealistic expectations, no matter how far down the road your loved one is in recovery. These practical tips can help you support a friend or family member during one of the toughest times of year:
Withhold all expectations: Extend an invitation to your loved one but don’t be surprised if they do not attend or stay only for a little while. Being with others this time of year is an overwhelming experience that can compromise the recovery process. Ask your loved one what they think about attending your gathering, and respect and support whatever decision they make.
Address the elephant in the room: There is often a stigma that comes along with addiction and recovery. Propose a time during or right before a holiday celebration where you can have a heart-to-heart conversation with your loved one about the addiction. This can open the lines of communication.
Prepare for the celebration together: Be ready to offer alternatives at your celebration, including mocktails, or avoid serving alcohol altogether. Plan a coffee or hot chocolate bar, plenty of finger foods, and other items to keep your loved one’s hands busy. This would also be a good time to ask for help cooking in the kitchen.
Reevaluate giving gifts: A person in recovery may not have the means to buy presents for everyone. Scale down this process by having a secret Santa or forego gifts altogether by doing something else as a family, such as volunteering together, writing letters of gratitude, or helping veterans.
Offer alone time: Give your loved one time and space to remove themselves from the celebration, if needed. This can include taking a walk, resting in a spare bedroom, or even taking a break to attend a nearby meeting.
Stay clean yourself: Join your loved one by staying sober. This way, they won’t feel alone, and you can hold each another accountable. This can make saying “no” to a drink a little less uncomfortable.
Coping with the Holiday Blues
All of these changes, stresses, and expectations can often bring about bouts of loneliness and sadness for those in recovery. As a supporter, you can help by making sure your family member or friend doesn’t isolate themselves. Even small outings can help keep their spirits up. Finally, make sure to keep the lines of communication open in case any problems or situations arise.