It’s the most wonderful time of the year! At least that’s how the song goes. The reality is often something short of wonderful. For many, the holidays mean stress. First there’s the financial pressure to buy gifts and spend, spend, spend. Add in the general busyness of the season and all that emphasis on time with loved ones, and it can leave the most emotionally healthy among us feeling like Scrooge.
Unmet expectations, old rivalries and unhealthy patterns can creep in and make the season anything but merry and bright. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it.
For those in recovery, that stress can be particularly dangerous. Family time can be fraught with triggers that can lead to relapse if not dealt with. Unmet expectations, old rivalries and unhealthy patterns can creep in and make the season anything but merry and bright. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it. There are several steps you can take to prepare yourself to not just survive the season, but actually enjoy this festive time of year.
A little pre-planning goes a long way, and it’s crucial for someone in recovery. You can’t just sit back and wait to see what happens. As you head into the holidays, prepare yourself. Work your program, stay connected to others in your situation, touch base with those who’ve already been through what you’re facing, and, most importantly, don’t forget to serve yourself up a heaping helping of grace.
If you’re headed into situations that you know can be unpredictable, do your best to set boundaries before you arrive, have an escape plan and decide ahead of time to stay above the fray. You can’t control the actions of others, but you can control how you respond to them.
Set Honest Expectations
Every family has some dysfunction – even if we’re talking about the makeshift family you created of friends and other loved ones that don’t share a blood connection. Divorce, substance abuse, anger, disillusionment and other issues can color people’s perception. Expecting your dysfunctional family to suddenly morph into Leave It to Beaver is unrealistic and will only lead to disappointment.
Think about what you really want most this holiday season, and then determine if there are steps you can take to bring it about. Is it time with an old friend or distant relative? Is it a special meal or visit to a place with happy memories? Don’t expect others to read your mind. Make your (reasonable) wishes known and then also be willing to compromise.
Celebrate Progress – Yours and Everyone Else’s
The addict is usually the star of the show in a dysfunctional family, grabbing the spotlight in the form of the majority of the attention and mental energy. The supporting cast all play roles as well, in the form of caretakers, heroes, scapegoats and more. But what happens once the addicted individual seeks help?
Post-treatment, family gatherings can be difficult as everyone adjusts to new roles and struggles to let go of old patterns and co-dependent habits. It’s a process and doesn’t happen overnight, so take time to celebrate the progress that’s been made. If someone sets a healthy boundary, notice that. If you don’t rise to the bait of a still unhealthy family member, give yourself a pat on the back. Sometimes, you’ll feel like your family is taking baby steps, but as long as they’re moving forward, that’s a step in the right direction.
Let Go of Old Ideas
You think you’ve made peace with where you’re at and where you’ve come from, but when you see those sweet family scenes in movies and on TV at this time of year, it can be hard not to feel wistful. It’s easy to believe that everyone but you lives with a perfect family that is supportive and loving and always kind. In fact, nearly 17 million (or almost one in four) children live in a household where a parent or other adult is a binge or heavy drinker.
At the same time, approximately 13 percent of children (9.2 million) live in a home where a parent or other adult uses illicit drugs. While these are sad statistics, they also remind us that there is no such thing as a perfect family.
For those not colored by addiction, there are likely other issues at work. So it’s time to let go of those fantasies and focus on the positive aspects of your situation. Are there traditions within your family that you actually enjoy? A relative or family member you want to reconnect with? Surrogate family that filled the gaps when you needed them? Focus on those and look beyond the far-from-perfect pieces.
That First Holiday Post-Treatment
Lasting change takes time, so hang in there. And never be afraid to ask for help. After spending time behind the safe walls of a treatment center, heading back to reality can induce quit a bit of anxiety. It’s one thing to stay sober during a residential program, but triggers abound back home. Throw in the stress of the holidays, and everything is magnified.
Fortunately, you’ve had time to address issues of enabling and co-dependency, and hopefully your loved ones have had some help coming to terms with their role in the problem and been given tools to use in the ongoing recovery process. Just remember that lasting change takes time, and it can be hard for everyone to break long-ingrained habits, so hang in there. And never be afraid to ask for help.
Don’t forget where you came from either. By maintaining a link with the people you came to know during treatment, you have a built-in network that can provide continued support. This can come in particularly handy at the holidays when it seems like no one understands where you’re coming from or what you’re going through. Just take that first step to reach out, and you’ll find you’re not alone.
If you are concerned about relapse or need additional support for your sobriety, we’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 901-350-4575 and can provide information on treatment programs, help with insurance and answer questions about the treatment process.
Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at The Oaks. For more specific information on programs at The Oaks, contact us today.