In this article, Clinical Director Frank Saverino discusses the holiday season, what it looks like for individuals in recovery and their family members, and what we can do to help facilitate a joyful, healthy, successful holiday season for all.
Holidays tend to be a challenging and stressful time for many. They can illicit both pleasant and unpleasant emotions. When a recovering addict experiences the first holiday season sober and clean, it can be especially challenging. They may be overwhelmed with feelings of sadness for past holidays that may not have gone well, or maybe ones that they simply do not remember. They may have feelings of guilt for past behavior. They may even have difficulty dealing with the feelings of happiness and joy. All feelings seem to be a bit enhanced during the holidays.
There is of course, the obvious. Many alcoholics and addicts associate holidays with getting intoxicated or high. Even people who are not addicts may drink more than they usually do, sometimes to deal with stress, sometimes to celebrate good times. Most alcoholics and addicts do not want to burden their families by asking them not to drink in front of them, so they may be at gatherings where other people are using, which can stir cravings or thoughts of drinking.
Holidays usually bring families together, which can unfortunately create tension with some. Families are complicated, and when families are afflicted with addiction things can get quite stressful. Some may have strained relationships as a result of the addiction. Even in the best of families there can be relationships that are in need of healing.
Now we must add the pandemic to the equation. How does this impact everything? People are choosing to forgo large family gatherings, which in many families, are traditions that go back years. While it is typically a celebratory time for families to connect, this can leave people more alone and isolated, and if you are vulnerable to depression, anxiety or substance abuse, it can be a tricky time. Recovering addicts are having to attend meetings via video, which at times does not provide the support they need. People may feel disconnected, lonely, or depressed, which is not a good place for the recovering addicts.
So, what are some steps addicts and family members can take to create a safe, healthy, joyful holiday season?
- Openly discuss plans for how alcohol will be involved in the festivities. If possible, make the holidays alcohol-free events. Many addicts do not want to prevent others from using, but it is a good idea to keep activities safe.
- Be sure to avoid activities and events where drinking is going to be a major part. Strangely, this might be easier this year as large events are being discouraged.
- Connect with people in whatever way you can. Visit, call, or video chat them. Take the time to reach out to people in your life, be it family or friends.
- Increase your support group attendance. It is advantageous to be proactive rather than reactive. Many attend meetings on the actual holiday.
- Stay in touch with your sponsor if you have one. Not only will they help support you, but you are helping to support them.
- Practice humility. Do things for others.
- Practice gratitude. Let others know what you are grateful for. Share with your friends and family members. Let people know how appreciative you are for the support you likely have received.
- Be gentle with yourself. Do not get lost in guilt and shame. Practice self-forgiveness.
- Be safe. The virus is surging in many areas. It is important to continue protecting yourself and your family members during and after the holidays.
One thing is certain. For an alcoholic or addict, a holiday without drugs or alcohol is a reason for celebration. Of course, a sober celebration. Making it through the holidays safely can bring a lot of joy to addicts and their families.
If you or a loved one is struggling this holiday season, there are many resources available to you. If you feel treatment is the next step, call us at 480-595-2222 for a complimentary consultation. If you are seeking virtual meetings, visit https://aaphoenix.org/meetings-online/.