The holiday season typically brings about opportunities and—for some—obligations to spend time with family. The latter, who only feel obligated, is a typical sign of dysfunction in the family. Similarly, for many recovering individuals, gatherings during the holiday season do not equate a delightful experience regardless of the presence of dysfunction.
The addiction's effect on family dynamics and the holiday season do not always mix well. Often, it can be a trigger for relapse. And, unfortunately, not all families of recovering individuals acknowledge, understand or respect that fact.
An Entangled Disease
The truth is, addiction is a systemic disease. However, recovery is neither systemic nor is it a cure. As such, the entire family is negatively impacted by active addiction—changed via maladaptation and codependency or grief and loss—but not always willing to seek help for their part.
Therefore, any enabling aspects, contributing factors, or unhealthy roles within the family that perpetuated the active state of addiction for the individual that have not been addressed can pose a problem when everyone is gathered together, which can potentially trigger the person in recovery to relapse. This fact is even more so true for families who were already suffering from an active state of dysfunction and whose untreated and currently active mental illnesses have contributed to the root causes of the recovering person’s addiction in the first place.
Both of these experiences pose a potential threat for individuals in recovery—especially in early recovery—if precautions aren’t taken to prepare for them to come out with their sobriety intact.
1. Keep your expectations low.
The key for anyone with regard to surviving the holiday season, recovering or not, is to keep reasonable expectations. Holidays do not have to meet anyone else’s standards or fit into a particular category of perfection. After all, the latter is a subjective term. So, having low or reasonable expectations allows you to go with the flow of things and simply enjoy whatever the Universe sees necessary to bring your way. For this reason, most helping professionals would suggest having no expectations at all.
If you go in with low to no expectations of others, you can’t be let down; only surprised. And, when it comes to recovering individuals, keeping reasonable to no expectations prevents the scenario in which you set others up for failure and yourself up for disappointment.
2. Put your needs first.
It is not a selfish act to practice self-care. It is a well-known and commonly stated fact you are no good to anyone else if you are not first good to yourself.
So, during the holiday season (and throughout the year) put your emotional, physical, spiritual and psychological needs first. To do this, your need to stay sober and prevent relapse should come first before anyone else. And if anyone or anything jeopardizes your recovery, know that you have the right to walk away from that person or thing to protect your needs, regardless of the person's title or any self-perceived social obligation.
3. Be practical.
In recovery, it’s always good to be optimistic but realistic. It is the best way to not be caught off guard, as we know we are not in control of the world around us, but merely able to control ourselves and our reactions to it. Having a plan allows for the worst case scenario to take place without throwing us into a tailspin.
We can hope for the best for our time with family during the holidays, but prepare for the worst by having a tactful plan B in place just in case.
4. Don’t feel obligated.
Remember, actions—not titles—command respect. Therefore, if someone is toxic for you, it is your right to stay away, regardless of who they are and even if they're family. Whether their title be Mom, Dad, Sister, Brother, Aunt, Uncle or so on, if the experience with that person or group of people is unhealthy for you or if it is an abusive relationship, don’t feel obligated to be in it or subject yourself to them.
The holiday season does not give a pass to abuse other toxic behaviors, nor does it excuse abusers or toxic people from accountability. Gently remind yourself that you can continue to love others unconditionally while loving yourself enough to keep a safe distance.
Surviving the holiday season is often tough for most people, whether they are in recovery or not. The general population may have a hard time thinking of celebrating sober, but for those of us in recovery, it’s the only other option besides perpetuating the disease. This is why it is vital to our survival and sobriety to maintain these tips in mind and put them into action if necessary to prevent relapse this holiday season.