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Navigating the holidays with a loved one in early recovery

Thoughts from John Perry, Co-Founder, Clean & Sober Recovery Services

When a loved one is newly in recovery, the holiday season can be stressful and difficult for those family members who keep replaying that same old script from the bad old days. The person in recovery may doubt themselves and have the sinking feeling that “I’ve been doing things wrong for so long now that I cannot relax and enjoy the family.” In turn, the family is wondering, “Who will really show up? Will he be sober? Will she cause a scene?” So here are some practical steps that can help the holidays truly be days of celebration

Talk openly about concerns before the Big Day. Either party could start the conversation: “I’m feeling anxious about the holidays because things were so messy in the past.” Having that conversation, while uncomfortable, can be part of the healing process. Then, agree to leave the past behind and focus on where you are now as a family.

Plan to celebrate in a new location. If your dining room was Ground Zero for explosions, then find a new venue where old anxieties and triggers won’t haunt the event. How about letting a restaurant do all the work? (Yeah!!) What about a family outing, like skating or a hike? Maybe this is the day to launch a new and healthy tradition.

Be aware that recovery from one addictive substance means abstaining from all. While pain pills may have been your loved one’s main attraction, any mood-or-mind altering drug can re-launch the brain disease of addiction. That means ditch the center-stage Champagne toasts or side-yard pot smoking.

Avoid shindigs where alcohol is the main event. Make food, family, friendship and conversation be the centerpieces of the day. It’s one thing for Grandma to have her tiny, annual glass of holiday cheer; it’s another thing to be popping celebratory corks right and left.

Don’t make your sober loved one the center of attraction. Nobody wants to be the topic of conversation or accolades simply because they aren’t drinking or drugging anymore.

Figure out your stance on drug or alcohol use at your event. Would you smoke in front of someone with lung cancer? If that seems wrong to you, then most likely you wouldn’t be comfortable flaunting alcohol in front of someone who is in early recovery from the brain disease of Substance Use Disorder.

Let other guests know about your ground rules in advance. If a “No drugs or alcohol” approach policy keeps guests at bay, they are certainly free to make other plans. (Side note: people who cannot or will not attend a family event without alcohol as their sidekick might want to look at their own relationship with alcohol or drugs….just saying.)

Embrace sobriety and discard the “What ifs.” Instead of dwelling on “How will this work? How will everybody act?” simply welcome the realization that “I am/he is/she is sober today, and that is enough.” Some call that approach “being in the present.” I call it the best gift you could ever give yourself - or someone else.

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