The holidays can be a time of increased stress, and even conflict. And, unfortunately, they can be a time of relapse for recovering drug and alcohol addicts. There are many reasons relapse might occur during holidays, including:
These feelings and experiences can sometimes be heightened around family, and the pressure to be around family is heightened during the holidays.
Even in the most loving, understanding families, stress exists, especially during the holidays. Maybe it’s the pressure to act a certain way during these times, to purchase gifts, or to be a part of the group by drinking or using drugs. Or maybe it’s occasional arguments. Whatever causes this type of holiday family stress, it’s particularly important to people in the early stages of recovery from drugs and alcohol, as addictive substances are often used to relieve stress. If you feel stressed or overwhelmed, turning to drugs or alcohol may be tempting. This is especially true early in recovery when other coping skills haven’t been solidified.
With the holidays usually come holiday parties. It’s very common for alcohol to be offered at these events, and some family members may not understand recovery and sobriety. If someone doesn’t know much about addiction or the work it takes to stay sober, they may not understand why you are choosing not to drink. And having to explain it to them during the holidays might not be ideal. Keeping your distance during this season allows you to make the choice of when and how you talk to your family about your recovery.
Your sobriety depends on you taking care of yourself, which means knowing when certain situations are better avoided. If going to family gatherings this holiday season may put your recovery at risk, here are some strategies to tactfully avoid stressful situations with loved ones.
It’s important to be transparent with your family members about why you won’t be spending the holidays with them this year. Don’t place blame; educate them instead. Discussing how holiday parties and get-together are triggers for drinking alcohol or using drugs is a good place to start. This way, they won’t feel that you are mad at them but that you’re making a choice to maintain your sobriety. It’s also a good idea to help them understand that, because of your addiction, you may not be able to have one drink and stop. This could be new information to someone who doesn’t understand addiction.
If certain loved ones are upset that you won’t join them for the holidays, schedule a specific time to see them afterwards, when emotions and triggers don’t run so high. This can help them understand that you’re not avoiding them because you don’t like them—it’s just the best thing for you to do right now.
It may be hard to avoid family if you feel completely isolated, even if you know that it’s the best option for you. Making sure that you have fun events or get-togethers on your calendar is important. Perhaps plan to have them virtually to respect your time and boundaries. When your holiday season is filled with fun, sober activities, it can be easier to avoid relatives and others who trigger you. Not only does it give you an excuse to miss family obligations that may cause relapse, but you’ll feel fulfilled and have fun at the same time!
If you don’t feel comfortable completely avoiding your family this holiday season, there are ways to spend time with loved ones while protecting your sobriety. The first is setting a specific time frame for spending time together—and sticking to it! This may mean you go for lunch or coffee for a maximum of one hour and then go your separate ways afterwards. With this option, you are not completely avoiding your family but setting strong boundaries that fit your needs.
If you know that being around alcohol and holiday parties is a trigger, perhaps join loved ones for a brief time virtually, via Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime. This way, you are not completely missing out but maintain control of your surroundings. Keep in mind that for some people in recovery, even seeing others’ drinks can be triggering. If that sounds like you, joining the family virtually may not be the best idea for you. In this case, going back to complete transparency is your best option.
Avoiding family during the holidays may be essential to maintaining your sobriety. Although it can feel difficult to say no to family events, there are some surefire ways to assert your needs. Before the holiday season begins, be honest with yourself about what loved ones and extended family members are helpful or hurtful to your sobriety. It’s okay to say no to events. If you find yourself feeling guilty for avoiding family, reach out to your sponsor to talk through things. You are not alone in navigating holiday struggles, and there are people around you to help. Your holiday season can be bright and merry without sacrificing your sobriety.