Handbook for a Happy Holiday: Part 1
I have searched high and low for the best advice for people with substance use disorder to approach the holiday. My main goal for this article is to give people original advice about staying sober and enjoying the holiday season. I was able to find ample recovery resources which discussed the holiday season and sobriety, but many of those resources seemed to repeat the same advice again and again. Most of what I found was good advice. Most experts advise planning ahead for addicts and alcoholics facing the holiday season while sober. All resources seemed to cover the issues of seeing old friends and family while in sobriety. Experts point to the importance of increasing the amount of support you have over the holidays, which can include talking to sponsors or professional service providers more often during this time. All resources speak to the importance of putting sobriety first and avoiding possible triggers for relapse. I certainly feel it is important to touch on many of these topics, but I would also like to approach topics in an original way so that people who have come across other resources feel that Florida Springs Wellness and Recovery Center is offering our readers meaningful and helpful content that you cannot get anywhere else. As always, if you or a loved one is experiencing a crisis related to drug or alcohol use during the holidays or anytime, the best drug and alcohol rehab in Florida has open beds, and we can help you find a treatment program that will work. Florida Springs Wellness and Recovery Center has the best drug and alcohol rehab in the Panama City area, and they have outpatient, intensive outpatient, and several inpatient drug and alcohol treatment options.
As I mentioned, planning ahead is a common theme of many articles advising addicts and alcoholics on how to approach the holiday season. In my mind, a very important factor in planning ahead is understanding the surroundings that you will face during the holidays. Some people are happy and excited to see all of their family members, some people have strained relationships with all of their family members, and most people have a mix of both of these situations. Addicts and Alcoholics will often face more strained relations with family members in early recovery. When a person is 5 to 10 years sober, they are more likely to have experienced multiple years of holidays with family already. The more experience we have in sobriety with close friends and family members, the easier it is to know what to expect in those situations. People with substance use disorder often alienated the people closest to them with lies and other destructive behavior before entering recovery. Many people who have substance use disorder experienced trauma in their early lives before they ever used drugs or alcohol. Histories of trauma, alienation, distrust, and periods in and out of sobriety can make close familial relationships incredibly complicated for some people in recovery. Some people in sobriety report a “flip-flopping” of roles and feelings that can happen during recovery. Some family members get used to a person with substance use disorder being the “black sheep” of the family, and when that person gets their life in order, it can take time for relationships to mend and for people to forgive and forget the previous disbalance in family relationships. If you are happy and healthy in sobriety, and you are past the point of owing people apologies, it is okay not to play a role when around family. Be your happy and healthy sober self, and never feel any need to apologize for the positive change that has happened in your life. The friends and family who love you will accept that this new reality is best for everyone, including them and you.
Alcohol and Family Functions
Many articles about addiction and the Christmas and New Year holidays often group alcoholism and drug addictions together. While in many contexts they are the same thing, the issues faced by alcoholics and drug addicts during the holidays can be very different. Alcoholics face the difficulties associated with the normalization of alcohol and drinking. Family get-togethers, for many families, will always involve drinking. For some alcoholics, this could be one of the few times during the year that being around drinking is considered worth-while, because of the importance of spending time with family. If spending time with family is important to you but you are going to an event with a lot of drinking early in recovery, have an escape plan. Have a sponsor or a trusted friend on speed dial. Have backup plans for grabbing dinner at a restaurant instead of staying too long at the party. Make sure your arrangements for leaving are made in advance whether you are driving yourself of not. If you are not driving your own car, make sure uber is set up on your phone in advance so you don’t have to stay somewhere uncomfortable for any long period of time. If someone else is driving and they will be your ride home, make sure that person can be trusted to get you out of there if you feel it is necessary, even if they are having a good time!
It is important for people with alcohol use disorder to know the type of drinking situations they will be walking into. Some people will have family members who respect their sober journey and would never offer alcohol or encourage drinking by someone with a problem. Other people will have less clarity around those issues amongst family members. All people with substance use disorder should think about the best ways of relating to different types of family members. You should know in advance whether simply not drinking and not mentioning anything related to recovery is the best course of action, or you may believe that there are members of your family who will undoubtedly draw attention to your decision not to drink. For some people, family members who “don’t get it” are a source of real concern. Have a simple and stern, but loving statement prepared for any instance where it might become necessary. Try something like this…
“I always enjoy spending time with (you) but drinking simply isn’t going to be a part of these get-togethers for me in the future. I don’t want to make a big deal about it, but alcohol just isn’t my thing anymore.”
“You guys have your fun, but I don’t drink anymore and today is not going to be an exception.”
Another good idea can be thinking about group dynamics and how they can work to your advantage in family situations. Families are all different, and every individual in a family will have their own thoughts and feelings related to you and your recovery (If they are close enough to have that information). If you are worried about one or two family members and the way they might react to you not drinking or using, remember that there are other family members who will be in attendance that you may be able to lean on. If someone “goes there” and mentions your sobriety or your past drinking in an uncomfortable way, you might be able to simply roll your eyes and give a knowing glance to a family member that “gets it”. Allow the people who support you to show that support. If the rest of the room is not engaging with that family member who is making it awkward, the subject will likely get dropped. If you are extra concerned about this type of thing, you can go to family members in advance for support. Most family members would appreciate a concerned phone call before a family event to talk about nearly anything that is troubling you. Many family members would be happy to help out if they knew more about your particular concerns, so share those concerns in advance. People who care about you will appreciate being in the loop. If you call someone on the phone and tell them what your concerns are in advance, you will probably find yourself with many more allies at your next family outing.
A Holiday with a Drug Habit
Many people with a history of drug addiction will remember a few over-arching worries during the holidays when they were using. The fear of running out of drugs was a big concern. This can be related to drug dealers being less available around the holidays, or the added pressure, stress, and financial cost of buying presents and supporting family members during the holiday season. The vast majority of people with serious substance use disorder eventually become everyday users. Everyday drug habits can pose different problems over the holiday season. A single person in the drug connection who has other commitments for the holiday can lead to an inability to get your drugs. Not getting drugs can lead to being sick from withdrawal, and the holidays can be the worst possible time to be sick from withdrawal if you are trying to hide your problems from friends and family. The financial burden of a serious drug habit can become an even more significant crisis around the holidays. People with addiction are often way behind on bills, or simply do not spend money on normal things like other people, but Christmas is often the one thing they feel a need to spend money on, which can add stress to the already insane demands of a serious addiction.
The first Christmas or holiday get-together with family in sobriety can bring feelings of shame or discomfort. People in recovery should be aware that nearly all caring family members would rather have you on hand and sober than worry about you during the holidays. That means regardless of how bad you might feel about past mistakes, your family will have a better holiday if you are present and sober. That is something to feel great about. Give yourself a break. All people who have faced addiction and alcoholism have things to feel shame about, but your newfound sobriety is something to be proud of, and your family will see that over time. Don’t worry too much about having one or two awkward holiday situations where your family is still adjusting to the new normal. In time it will be obvious that things have changed for the better. Many times, we know that things are getting better before it becomes obvious to the people around us. They will be proud of you as well; they may simply take some time to see that sobriety and recovery are part of your life for good.
When one considers how bad the actions and inactions of people with substance use disorder can look to close family members during the holidays, the family can be in for a shock when everything changes, and you are suddenly clean and sober over Christmas. Recovery is an amazing thing, but recovery brings its own sets of concerns and challenges over the holiday, as we have been discussing. The financial side of drug addiction, and the financial damage of years spent using drugs, can sometimes be more pronounced in the life of a drug addict compared to an alcoholic. As we have talked about many times, alcohol is just another drug, and alcoholism is drug addiction, but different substances can still bring different sorts of problems. Most people with both alcoholism and drug addiction run into financial issues, but overtly stealing from loved ones can sometimes be more closely tied to a drug habit like opioid or methamphetamine addiction. When a family has experienced lying and stealing because of your disease, there can be awkwardness associated with financial matters down the line.
I want to go into some depth when it comes to addressing financial matters with family members when we are in recovery. I would advise people not to try to make up for years of misdeeds by going overboard and spending too much on Christmas. Spending money in inappropriate ways was something we did during our days in addiction. Being good with money is a great habit to pick up during recovery. Christmas and New Years are wonderful opportunities to make up for lost time with family members. Making up for lost money with family members is more complicated and cannot happen in a single holiday season.
One thing that can help to avoid friction with family, when it comes to finances, is being open and honest about our intentions related to money and family. If you owe money to a family member because of past mistakes, it is not likely clear what should be done about it in their mind. The holiday season can be a reasonable opportunity to take a family member aside and address financial matters in private. The only way to fix lying, stealing, and cheating, is by honest dealing in the present and future. Addressing financial issues with family members directly can help avoid awkward situations down the line. If you want to pay a family member back for past mistakes, take them aside and express that concern with them. Listen to what they say. If they are absolutely not interested in taking your money, listen to them and share your reasons for wanting to pay them back. If you want to pay them back, and expect to be able to pay them back in the future but cannot pay them back quickly, tell them that in a private conversation and they will likely understand and appreciate your new way of dealing with them in recovery. If you are able to pay a family member back and they would like you to pay them back, be conservative and intelligent in the promises that you make. Sobriety is not a good time to begin making new pronouncements that you cannot live up to. Small payments made with regularity will be more appreciated by most people than more uncertainty. Uncertainty was a way of life when you were using drugs and alcohol, and we want to be more reliable with family members when we are in recovery.
For many people with a history of drug addiction, your own presence was a big thing missing in the past during the holidays. Just like with money, your families’ experiences with you disappearing and not being around cannot be fixed or forgotten about in a single Christmas. Be present for your family the first year you are sober. Follow that up the next year, and now you have a foundation and a new expectation will be formed within the family. Your family members expecting you to be there for them is a great feeling when you compare it to your family members always expecting the worst from you. That is one of the many gifts of recovery, the gift of your priorities returning to normal.
We will return to this topic at the beginning of next week for part two. If you or a loved one is in need of the best drug and alcohol rehab in Panama City, please visit our website for more information on Florida Springs Wellness and Recovery Center.
By T.A. Cannon