I, like many I know, moved far away from home for my recovery. My addiction was so deeply imbedded in my home town that I knew in order to give myself a fighting chance I needed to ship out in order to shape up. So, I went to treatment across the country from where I grew up. I left my home, my friends, my family back in New Jersey and I headed out west. First to Arizona and San Francisco, finally settling in Southern California.
My first Christmas in recovery was an “easy” one, I was in treatment. I spent my day surrounded by the wonderful people I had met there, we exchanged small gifts and went to a lovely dinner at the fellowship hall. Though I regarded my new support system as a kind of little family, I ached for Christmas morning with my own family back home.
My new way of life was very different from what my friends and family were used to seeing. Of course, everyone knew that I was recovering but did they really understand what that meant? Simply put, no. Every person who encountered me on my first trip home for the holidays had a different reaction to the “new me”. Some were funny, some were baffling, some were irritating, and some were upsetting. All were warranted. Our loved ones don’t get a rule book on how to treat us, it’s our job to patiently show them how. We have to lead them to their new role by example. Holding ourselves to the same standards we would in our “recovery bubble” while we’re back home.
Airports and flying for the first time since getting clean can be a trigger especially when you’re on your own. If taking a sober friend with you isn’t an option, keep yourself busy. You don’t have to turn your phone on airplane-mode until just before take off. Use that time to face-time your family and tell them how excited you are to be on your way. Call a sober friend. Listen to your favorite podcast (and download a few to listen to on the plane). I like to keep a token of my sobriety on me while I’m traveling to remind me of all the hard work I’ve put in and why this trip is possible. Once you’re in the air, try to take a nap or talk to the person you’re seated with, tell them about you. I tend to tell anyone who will listen that I’m in recovery. Not only because I’m proud of what I do every day but because I then feel that much more accountable to not order a drink.
Don’t forget your routine—
Something I’ve picked up in my recovery is a strict morning ritual. Some may wake up, make their bed, pray, read, reflect and meditate. Some may attend a morning fellowship meeting or religious service. Don’t drop that just because you’re in a different place. Your recovery should follow you everywhere. Do your research before you leave for your trip. Find a fellowship hall or place of worship near where you’ll be staying. You may be surprised at how much recovery you’ll find in your own home town that you never knew of. If your routine consists of making your bed and praying every morning, do that. Even if you’re sleeping on a couch in your grandma’s attic. Fold up the blankets and take a second to think about what you’re grateful for.
Before getting clean the holidays for me had always been a time where everyone got together to eat, drink and be merry. Eat. Drink. Be merry. Before I made my trip, the thought of a holiday party without a drink in my hand seemed absurd. Apparently, my folks thought the same thing. About a month before I was set to head back east, my dad called to get an idea of what to expect. He asked what I drank now that I didn’t drink alcohol. The first thing that popped into my head was sparkling apple cider. He got 18 bottles of the stuff. Yes. 18. Suffice to say, I always had a drink in my hand during holiday parties that year. I reworked that habit to fit my new life and it made me more comfortable. Another thing I did was ask the host how I could be helpful. Tidying up, checking on food in the oven, restocking utensil all kept my hands and mind occupied and kept the host from getting stressed. Win-win in my book.
Seeing Old Friends—
Before I made my trip, the thought of seeing my old friends gave me a lot of mixed feelings. On one hand, I missed them so much and I wanted to show them how far had come and how much I had grown. On the other hand, I knew they had not grown with me. They were doing the same things we’d done together just without me and that brought on mixed feelings all its own. Even with some recovery time, new coping skills and knowledge of my addiction under my belt I had no idea how I would react to seeing my old friends and no idea how they would react to me. Before I left, I told tons of people that I wanted to see them (because at that moment, I did). At the end of my trip, I had seen 2 people that weren’t my immediate family. Why? Because I put too much work into my recovery to put it on the line for anyone else. Once I realized that I wasn’t sure if I could trust myself around my old friends if they were to offer me a drink, realized that I’d have to love them from afar. The two friends I did see, I trusted myself with them, I trusted them, and I gave myself a way out just in case I felt uncomfortable. We met at a neutral location (read: not a bar or nowhere any of us had drank or used together), I brought my sister with me and we had a way to leave without having to rely on my friends. Always cover your bases and when in doubt, stay in. This trip may not be the one where seeing your old friends is in the best interest of your recovery. Keep building and strengthening your recovery daily, maybe the next trip you will have a different mindset about the situation. Always remember that your recovery should come first. Your real friends will understand that and the ones that don’t, they don’t deserve a place in your new life anyway.
So, in short, stick to what you know and what will hold you accountable to your recovery. Rework old habits. Be there for the ones that have been there and supported you on your journey. Stay safe. I hope this was helpful! Have you gotten the chance to go home before this holiday season? What are your tips for others going home for the first time? Anyone have any “home for the holidays” success stories they’d like to share?