There is no shortage of advice on how to deal with the emotions that come along with the family gathering together for holidays. Some holidays require help to navigate the stress, traveling, and personalities; and others require advice on how to abstain when drinking is a part of the celebration. The family dynamic is unique to all others, while the kind of love we have for our families often has no rival. However, the lengthy and involved history can also stir up drama. Those in recovery from substance use disorders are no strangers to difficult family dynamics, but it can be a new experience to not sit at the center of it. How can we navigate a family gathering when the Easter Bunny shows up with the past in their basket?
Set Yourself up for Success
While there are certain factors of any given holiday that might need special attention, like how to abstain on New Year’s or dealing with loneliness on Valentine’s Day, there are classic tools for a person in recovery that should always be put into practice. Some ways to help you best navigate the holidays are:
- Abandon your expectations.
Whether this is your first holiday with your family after treatment or you’ve been working your way through them for years, start each experience with a clean slate for yourself and those around you. When we have expectations for others, we often find ourselves creating conditions for them to fulfill. When those around us don’t meet those expectations, good or bad, we can become resentful. While past interactions can give you an indication of what you might expect, it’s important to leave people room to grow, especially when we ask for that same space in return. Anticipate the holidays with a sense of hope and open-mindedness, with the understanding that the only thing we can control is our own behavior.
- Keep your support system close.
Our support systems keep us connected to our program of recovery. Utilize your support system when planning to spend holidays with your loved ones, have honest conversations about any fears you may have, seek the advice of their experiences, and ask for help making plans. If you have experienced difficult holidays with your family, make plans with those who can be available to receive phone calls and can provide space to re-center if things get emotional, or show up for you as an escape if a situation makes you uncomfortable or challenges your recovery.
- Set and keep your personal boundaries.
Consider your family dynamics and what you specifically require to maintain clear boundaries. Some families celebrate holidays with alcohol, some ask personal or invasive questions, some might still have expectations about your behavior that make interactions uncomfortable or difficult. Knowing where you draw the line ahead of time and personally keeping those boundaries can help you feel more secure and at ease during family gatherings. Boundaries such as deciding to stay at a hotel, even when your parents insist you stay with them during your visit, are helpful to build new foundations with your family. Bear in mind that boundaries don’t always have to be spoken out loud or explained to your loved ones. They are for your personal well-being and serenity.
- Show gratitude and be of service however you can.
Spending time with family can lead to a lot of time spent alone with your own thoughts and feelings of isolation. One of the best ways to avoid withdrawing into yourself is to be of service in what ways you can, even when opportunities to do so are different from the normal. Ask to help out with a new task, talk with a loved one about what’s going on in their life, or help to build or maintain a tradition. Another valuable tool is to seek ways to express your gratitude for a family that continues to be a presence in your life. Verbally express your love or affection, practice small and random acts of kindness, and seek to show them the acceptance you hope to have extended to you.
Healing the family after a substance use disorder takes not only time and understanding but also a willingness to meet and accept your loved ones where they are at. The holidays can be stressful and emotional; however, they also create an opportunity to come together, strengthen bonds, heal the past, and celebrate together. There are ways to care for and balance the needs of recovery with the role you play in your family dynamic. Be the positive change you wish to see in your family structure, role-modeling for your loved ones the principles you’ve implemented in your own life, such as hope, humility, service, and perseverance. Give them the opportunity to get to know you again, and let them feel accepted and appreciated for who they are. Allow space for joy and laughter and keep an open mind while hiding your Easter eggs.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at (800) 799-4673.