The saying that “the holidays are stressful for everyone” has become the cliché we hear year after year. But, like most clichés, it’s rooted in truth. Take your average person, even without substance or alcohol abuse issues, and put them in a room full of distant family members and dry turkey and there will be some friction. But, for us addicts, it can be even harder.
So, maybe this is your first round of holidays after getting sober, maybe you’re coming off a rough relapse, or maybe you could just use some advice before walking into the proverbial lion’s den. Here is my list of what to expect—and what to do—these upcoming holidays.
THEY’RE NOT GOING TO TRUST YOU (and that’s okay)
After getting sober and making such a huge life change, it often feels like we are completely different people. The days of blacking out, stealing, and using seem like a lifetime ago and almost like a life lived by a different person. But for our family, time hasn’t gone by so quickly. Many of our family members have not only witnessed our addiction, they’ve been directly victimized by it, too. It’s not up to us to decide when they should forgive us or trust us again, and it may take our loved ones a little longer to heal.
THEY MIGHT TRUST YOU TOO SOON
Sometimes our family members don’t understand addiction and complete abstinence. They might not understand why are you staying away from the wine, if your problem was with opiates, or they may leave their medications out in the open because they think you’re “cured.” Which, brings us to the next point…
HAVE SOME TALKING POINTS READY
Be prepared to have family members tiptoe around the subject of your recovery, or offer you a beer because you seem “so much better now.” Have some talking points prepared on why you choose not to indulge in any mind-altering substances. Their fear of bringing up the topic of your recovery may feel passive aggressive and inadvertently make you uncomfortable, so be open and have a few statements ready to explain your recovery process and to let them know it’s not a secret, it’s something to be proud of.
TRUST YOUR GUT
That being said, it is YOUR recovery, and you are not obligated to share more than you feel comfortable with. Your recovery is yours and yours alone. Trust your gut and know the difference between an uncomfortable conversation and a toxic environment. If you don’t feel like going to Thanksgiving because you don’t want to explain to your Great Aunt Dorothy why you aren’t married yet, then take some contrary action and attend anyway. The only thing constant is time, and uncomfortable holiday conversations will happen every year. But, if you don’t want to attend a family function this year because you think the environment might be toxic or bad for your recovery, then stay home. Protect your sobriety with all that you have, it’s okay to be selfish with your recovery.
SET HEALTHY BOUNDARIES
All of these topics come back to one thing: setting healthy boundaries. Maintain a healthy boundary with all family members, and not just regarding your recovery. You don’t have to be the one that “ruins” the holidays this year. That isn’t you anymore. Remember, “respond, don’t react.” Maybe Great Aunt Dorothy is not only wondering why you STILL aren’t married yet, but also has some pretty radical political beliefs, too. In the days of active addiction, this could have triggered a huge fight. But now that you’re sober, let cooler heads prevail. Stay calm. Make it clear what is appropriate and what isn’t. Acknowledge your part in everything, and give your family members a bit of a break, too. Just as you are learning how to be sober, they are learning with you. Set boundaries with love. And remember, “the holidays are stressful for everyone”.
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