How to Navigate the Holidays When Your Family is Unsupportive of Your RecoveryAnna Ciulla
Making it through the holidays without a precipitous slide into relapse is never far from the minds of those in recovery. The earlier the stage of recovery, the more vulnerable the newly-sober can feel. For those with loving family to stand by their sides offering unwavering support, it’s still not a stress-free journey. Yet, what can you do to navigate the holidays when you have no family support at all? Are you destined to go it alone? Far from it. You do have support options that can help you maintain your sobriety and feel better about yourself.
YOU’VE GOT FAMILY – YOUR “RECOVERY FAMILY”
Granted, the best of all possible choices is a strong family unit where everyone knows about your recovery efforts and encourages your sobriety goals. Not everyone is so fortunate. Some may even have a moderately to severely dysfunctional family. Even though the family is one of the two primary foundations of support in recovery, however, it isn’t the only one. 12-Step and self-help groups constitute the other major pillar of support. Think of these groups as your “recovery family,” for they are every bit as vital to your ongoing sobriety journey.
When facing the holidays alone, there’s lively and wholehearted support at your nearby 12-Step group. While Alcoholics Anonymous is the original and oldest self-help group for individuals seeking to attain and maintain sobriety, there are many other evidence-based 12-Step groups that are available for those in recovery. Some of these groups offer special holiday sober celebrations and this can be lifesaver for the recovering addict with no family members supportive of his or her efforts to maintain sobriety.
Research has found that recovering alcoholics who help their peers maintain long-term sobriety in recovery are better able to maintain their own sobriety. Other earlier research has pointed to self-help group involvement, enhanced friendship and increased active coping responses that promote reduced substance abuse post-treatment.
KEEP FOCUS ON ABSTINENCE AND SOBER CELEBRATION
What is it about self-help groups that fosters well-being and the confidence you can maintain your sobriety during the holidays? Just as 12-Step group participation is instrumental at any time of the year in this endeavor, it’s even more so during holidays when society places so much emphasis on drinking. Self-help groups, among their many recovery-oriented characteristics, provide the following:
- Support, goal direction and structure — and all-important emphasis on abstinence
- A venue for participation in substance-free activities
- Abstinence-oriented role models
- A belief system that espouses a lifestyle that’s free of substance use
- Emphasis on boosting self-efficacy and developing better coping skills
- An opportunity to help others in their efforts to overcome problems with substance use.
While you may feel a pang of disappointment that you’re not going to spend time with your family, if you do have family, remember that your priority is to safeguard your sobriety. When the family atmosphere is toxic to your recovery, when you know you’ll be assailed by temptation, encouraged to party, to “just have one” and other all-too-familiar jeopardizing verbal comments, maintain your focus and emphasis on your abstinence. There’s no point putting yourself in harm’s way, meaning that you don’t go where the dynamics of the situation threaten your sobriety. It’s as simple and direct as that.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOURSELF
Here’s how you can better safely navigate the holidays when you feel like you can’t go home, don’t have a family to go home to, or believe it’s in your recovery’s best interests to steer clear of family this time of year.
- Make a list of 12-Step or self-help group meetings you can go to on different days and times. This way you’ll be prepared to interact with other sober individuals wherever you are when you feel stressed, lonely, sad, left out or like you’re veering towards succumbing to a trigger or cravings. The most important thing is that you’re not alone this holiday. Others in recovery are ready and willing to offer you support and encouragement.
- Go early and go often. There’s no rule against going to more than one meeting or group in a day, nor is there a limit to how many groups or times you can visit in a week or any period. If you know you need help, absolutely go. In addition, go to be in the company of others who share your recovery goals: to maintain your sobriety, feel good about yourself and your progress in recovery, and celebrate the holiday with joy instead of sadness or regret.
- Be good to yourself. This means be vigilant to ensure you’ve eaten a well-balanced meal, gotten sufficient sleep, engaged in physical exercise (how about a morning walk?), taken time to meditate or pray, talked with friends and arranged your day so that you tend first and foremost to your recovery. Then venture out to be with people you enjoy and with whom you can feel comfortable in your sobriety. Avoid shrinking from human contact by staying at your residence by yourself.
- If you know someone else in recovery who may be alone, get in touch with them and invite him or her to accompany you to a 12-Step meeting so the two of you can celebrate the holiday safely and in a supportive environment and atmosphere.
- Another incredibly selfless and generous way to spend the holiday is to do something good for a person in need. This doesn’t have to be someone in recovery, although that’s also an excellent idea. You may know a neighbor who’s housebound, suffering from a chronic illness, a widow or widower, a single parent, an adult child whose parents are deceased or live far away. Bring over a hot meal, an inexpensive gift, offer to play board games or watch classic holiday movies. Your presence alone may bring unexpected joy and provide both of you with a feeling of well-being. Such generosity of spirit is what the holidays are all about.