By Haley Kennedy, Recovery Coach – 11.19.2021 –
This time of year can be stressful for anyone, especially those recovering from substance use disorder. But I doubt many of us take a minute to think about the special set of challenges it presents for our families and loved ones. I don’t know about you… but I remember the nightmare-ish scenes I caused when I chose to drink a little too much or stole money from a family member at a holiday party…. Today, I can only imagine how uncomfortable, disappointing and upsetting that had to of been for everyone else. The party and everyone’s experience, was defined, possibly even ruined by my addictive behavior.
Here are some things that can be done to ensure everyone can celebrate the holidays safely, comfortably, and joyously, especially if a child, a sibling, a cousin or another close relative has substance use disorder.
1. Ask your friend or family member if they are comfortable taking part in the celebration this year. Make sure they understand that it is perfectly okay to miss it if that is what is best for their recovery. Their recovery comes first. It’s better to miss them this time around in order to increase the likelihood that they will be alive, well, and able to take part in future events.
2. You are not responsible for your guest’s recovery, even if that guest is your child, sibling, or parent. The ‘orchestration’ behind the scenes to ‘help’ the person through the event, is sometimes actually unhelpful. Instead, reach out to them and ask if there’s anything you can do to help them get through the event smoothly. If you do, be ready and willing to accept “No, thank you” as the answer.
3. Hosts should keep in mind that they are in control of what goes on in their home and set expectations before the visit or party — Be specific. Spell out boundaries on issues like arriving on time, not using, and/or dressing and behaving appropriately. Let them know that if they violate the rules, they will be asked to leave.
4. Unfortunately, some guests might use even if they’ve been told it won’t be tolerated, so emphasize safety. If your guest is clearly impaired don’t let them get behind the wheel. If they’re staying with you, once they’re clear-headed, let them know that you love them, but they broke the rules and they have to find another place to stay. If they’re staying at a hotel, arrange for a ride to take them there.
5. Think about making your home substance-free. You don’t need to get rid of them necessarily — you can keep them with a trusted friend or relative, or in a locked box hidden from view. Offer nonalcoholic beverages, like apple cider, and/or plan fun non-drinking games, like charades.
6. Consider meeting in a public place, rather than your home. Meeting somewhere like a restaurant provides structure that can help lessen the odds of a substance fueled debacle occurring and it gives people the opportunity to leave at a time of their choosing.
7. Allow for time and space for recovering guests to step away from the group, if needed. Being able to take a walk or a break in a quiet room, connect by telephone with another person in recovery, attend a mutual aid meeting, or gracefully leave early, are very important.
6. The holidays are a time when loved ones and important people are gathered together; which could present an opportunity for a heart-to-heart conversation, NOT an intervention, with someone who is still struggling. If you think it will be well-received, encourage your loved one to get help — make it clear that you care for their well-being and are there to support them in whatever they choose. And if they don’t agree in that moment, at least you’ve planted a seed.
Although there can be special challenges — navigating temptation, expectations, heightened awareness and emotions — the experience of sharing the holidays with family and friends can strengthen recovery, reinforce the value a fuller, more authentic way of life and allows us to reconnect and restore.