There is no denying that the holiday season can be a source of stress for someone in early recovery. When it comes to reconnecting with family at Thanksgiving or Christmas, it can become even more stressful. Unresolved emotions such as resentment, shame or guilt can make that first holiday celebration a bit difficult to navigate.
Approach the holidays with realistic expectations, as well as a game plan. Having a good idea in advance of what to expect at the family event, and a handy exit plan in your back pocket are essential for this time of year. Because each family dynamic is unique, individuals in recovery must consider these aspects when deciding whether to attend these gatherings at all.
5 things to expect at your first family holiday gathering
While there is no way to anticipate every situation that may occur during the holidays, the following are very common experiences in early recovery:
- You will feel stressed. The holidays can be quite stressful for everyone. Being new in your recovery journey, attending a family holiday function can feel particularly overwhelming. Since you may worry and feel overwhelmed about joining the family celebration, take time for self-care. Practice yoga, meditation and deep breathing to manage stress this holiday season.
- You may feel tempted. It is not easy to rejoin the family traditions where memories of substance use may surface. To reduce the temptation to consume, see if your family would be willing to forgo any alcohol-based drinks and instead experiment with some tasty holiday mocktails, hot apple cider or spiced pumpkin lattes instead.
- You will feel uncomfortable. Let’s face it — there may be some unfinished business between you and your family since completing treatment. There are likely to be some awkward moments during the different holiday gatherings, but try not to dwell on them. Instead, focus on the blessings of the season, such as your health and sobriety, as well as the opportunity to restore relationships with your family.
- You might feel sad. The holidays are a time when emotions run high. There is an undercurrent of nostalgia at this time of year, and with that may come some regrets and even shame. Prepare for the emotional triggers during the holidays by scheduling therapy sessions each week. By working through these emotions in therapy, your therapist can help you keep perspective while managing their impact.
- Your boundaries may be tested. Do not be shy about establishing boundaries prior to family gatherings and parties. Let family members know that you are no longer consuming substances, and to please respect your recovery efforts. Also, if a toxic family member should cross the line and bring up your past in an attempt to antagonize you, feel free to excuse yourself and go home.
How to manage family challenges during the holidays
Individuals in recovery and their family members have their own unique relationships, just as each family has its own particular nuances and degree of dysfunction. To smooth the way this holiday season, have an open discourse with your closest family members about your recovery needs, and how they can support your efforts. By keeping the lines of communication open and honest, your family will realize how dedicated you are to sobriety, and then they, too, will know what to expect this holiday season.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307.