Even for those who are not in recovery or addicted to either alcohol or drugs, the holiday season is not always the most pleasant time of year.

The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is often marked by unrealistic expectations, stresses of travel, reunions with family, impossible schedules, and irresistible temptations. This can be a truly intense period in which personal anxieties, guilt, and emotional tensions often flare up.

Imagine the impact of all this on someone fighting the battle of recovery. For them, this time of year is filled with the ongoing struggle against difficult challenges. The way in which friends, family, and loved ones respond to that struggle can seriously affect the outcome of that very personal and individual struggle.

With that in mind, there are some strategies to demonstrate support for your addict or alcoholic during the Holidays so that they can approach the New Year with the promise of healing and recovery. Here are five simple steps to take:

  1. Express how much you care. Everyone wants approval. It’s simply human nature, first exhibited as children seeking the approval of parents, siblings, and playground peers. This is not a need that changes very much as we move into adulthood, although the audience from whom we crave affections, love, and approval may expand to include a spouse or even our own children. If you’re the parent, husband, wife, child, or even the co-worker of someone working their way through the recovery process, tell them that you care about them. Let them know that you’re there whenever they want to talk about things, and that you care about their feelings. Keeping lines of communication open is invaluable to anyone walking the uncertain path to recovery.
  1. Let your loved one know that nobody is perfect…and that progress is the only reasonable goal for any of us. People in recovery are under constant—often silent and subliminal—stress. The fact that a particular day is a holiday doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s a day like any other in the daily work of sobriety. Demanding “the perfect Christmas” or fostering expectations of overwhelming joy or focusing upon instant gratification will erode the true joy and success of just one more day of sober living. That is the cause for celebration.

  1. Remove the obvious temptations. The holiday season promotes festivities and gatherings centered around plentiful food and drink, much of which is driven by alcohol consumption. Why not support your friend or loved one in recovery by discreetly creating an alcohol-free event? Family gatherings, company parties and casual get-togethers don’t require flowing champagne, wine, or liquor; it’s just become something of a cultural habit supported by advertising and media portrayals of holiday “joy.” If it’s impossible to create an alcohol-free environment that causes discomfort for the addict, offer to join them for a stress-reducing walk outside. A subtle—even if brief—recess from stressful temptations and substance triggers can quickly improve a personal sense of self and well-being.
  1. Give the best gifts of all. For the family, friends, and loved ones of addicts and alcoholics, there is no greater gift than seeing progress toward sobriety. No material object compares to the gift of wellness and recovery. Before the gift-giving pressures mount for an addict or alcoholic—often dealing with financial pressures as a result of their illness—suggest to them that all you want to exchange this year are “healing gifts”—expressions of gratitude for their courage to work toward recovery, reciprocated by their appreciation for your support. Simple kind words of mutual appreciation and respect will mean far more than another wool sweater or bottle of cologne.
  1. Allow everyone to have some space. The goal is the health and recovery of your loved one, not maintaining your control of the situation, no matter how well-meaning your intentions. If your loved one is visiting the family, don’t insist that they stay in the guest bedroom if they prefer a nearby hotel accommodation. “Keeping an eye on things” would smother even a non-addict or non-alcoholic. Too much “together time” or too many family activities may be overwhelming. Those in recovery may prefer spending time at an AA meeting or with their recovery group. Give them the space to do so without guilt, without any expectations on your part. Those are your expectations…not their

The Holidays are a special time…a time to care for those working toward recovery.  If you need more ideas about helping your loved one, just give us a call at (805) 962-7800.