I get many questions this time of year about navigating the holiday season with an addicted loved one. This is understandable, being that this season can bring all the family dynamics (positive and negative) front and center.
Depending on the family’s past holidays together, parents often worry about repeated bad experiences. For some, this can keep them angry about the past. Some parents may also feel guilty or embarrassed about their current situation knowing they will be spending time with family and friends. All of this can create stress.
Have hope! The season can still be a wonderful time for the family whether the addict is sober or not, and whether they participate or not. If you have dealt with the addict in your family creating holiday strife in the past and have allowed this to ruin the holiday for you, I suggest deciding right now to respond in a different way than you have before. Decide ahead of time to enjoy yourself regardless of your addicted loved one’s choices or behavior. “How do I do that?” you might ask. The following suggestions are some tried and true methods successfully used by parents:
Mitigate expectations – Take time to write down or discuss expectations with another parent in recovery. What are your expectations of other people’s behavior? Are you setting yourself up for disappointment? Focus on letting go of expecting anybody else to behave in a certain way. Turn your expectations to your own behavior, decide how you want to conduct yourself during this season. There is only one person in the world you can really control. Hint: it’s you! Turn inward and decide to be happy with yourself and your own responses no matter what others do.
Have a plan – An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Take time to get on the same page with your spouse or whoever is in this with you, decide ahead of time how you want to handle upcoming stressful situations, i.e. Do we want to let our child come to any holiday events? If so, is he/she required to be sober? How will we answer questions about our child to extended family? How can we help each other if we see the other one backsliding on boundaries, or struggling with family or friends? It may be a good idea to get another recovery parent to weigh in on the plan.
Create a plan with the recovering addict (if your loved one is newly sober) – Ask how you can be supportive. Be prepared to change plans if engagements involve alcohol or high stress. Be prepared to skip the alcohol yourself, a little solidarity can go a long way.
Be ready to create new traditions when needed – Trying the same thing over and over expecting different results is insanity.
Practice gratitude – Going back to last month’s blog, create a daily gratitude practice. There is nothing better than gratitude to remind us that God is providing us with all our needs. Gratitude is also infectious, share it with others!
Find humor – It’s everywhere if we look for it!
Be wary of self-pity – Avoid any “poor me” thinking. If you find yourself headed down that road, call a recovery parent for support or better yet get out of the self-pity by finding someone to help who is worse off than you.
The above tips will help you practice your recovery in the holiday season. Holidays provide many opportunities to practice these tools, and to keep them sharp. I always suggest extra recovery meetings, not less, during this time.
Let’s go into the season prepared to be of service to others. In my personal experience and through observing families in recovery for over 27 years, I have not seen a better medicine for all problems than to get out of ourselves, be grateful to God, and to help our fellow man.
Josh Azevedo is a guest blogger for PAL and is the Executive Director at The Pathway Program, https://thepathwayprogram.com