Holidays Are Dangerous For People In Early Recovery

thanksgiving-mayhemHolidays can be tough for recovering people, their families, and friends. Emotions are close to the surface and expectations — good and not so good — are in the air. It’s a pretty safe bet that all of us have issues of one kind or another that are closely associated with holidays, especially Thanksgiving and the other Winter holidays. The dark jokes about wrestling around on the dining table and knocking the turkey on the floor can carry more truth that we’re happy admitting.

Wrestling aside, all sorts of things may surface when families get together. We are the people who hardwired each other’s buttons. Even without intending to we can play a merry minuet on them, and when old animosities and resentments raise their ugly heads the minuet can rapidly become a full-blown rendition of A Night On Bald Mountain, with dance steps to match.

This is likely to be especially true this year, with its plethora of divided opinions and philosophies regarding the recent election and the hopes and fears that arose both before and after. (My personal policy is not to discuss politics, religion or gender orientation at any time, but it’s probably an especially good idea during times when emotions are likely to be high and the participants may be likewise.)

There’s no question that even under the best of circumstances holidays, weddings and funerals are stressful. Over the years, people in recovery have become pretty savvy regarding the pitfalls associated with such occasions. There are a number of precautions that we can take to minimize the dangers they may pose to our serenity and sobriety, and I thought I’d list some of the more obvious ones here. Feel free to comment and add any additional tips that you believe are appropriate.

NUMBER ONE: If there is any real doubt in our minds about our ability to handle a few hours with family members or others, we need to give serious thought to skipping the whole thing!!

We don’t have to explain or make excuses. A simple, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to be able to make it” is sufficient. If pressed, we can say “I don’t think it would be good for my sobriety” and leave it at that. There’s no need to say that another drunken family brawl or the cold shoulders of people whose resentments are dragging them around by their thoughts are the reason. Folks who understand and wish us well will get it, and the others aren’t going to no matter what we say.

Some alternatives might be celebrating with other recovering folks from our fellowships, some of the marathon meetings that abound at Thanksgiving and Christmas, a dinner with a sponsor and/or sponsees, spiritual retreats, and similar diversions. If we feel down, we can remind ourselves that we are taking care of ourselves in a healthy fashion so that down the line we will be able to participate safely in family gatherings. We need not feel guilty for taking care of ourselves; no one else is going to — nor are they able to.

These suggestions are especially appropriate if we HAVE no place to go for the holidays. In such situations, the support of others who understand will go a long way toward protecting us from handling the stress and depression in less healthy ways.

If we decide that we can attend with caution, there are some suggestions that will help us better manage what might come up.  We can…

  • Take a recovering person along. Any halfway reasonable host will respond positively to a request to bring a friend “who needs a place to go”. Not only can our friend help keep us centered, it’s sometimes amusing to watch the antics of others with someone who also gets it.
  • Arrive early before everyone gets emotionally wound up and DON’T stay late.
  • Refuse suggestions to move on to this or that party, go out for a “cup of coffee” to relax, and so forth. We need to keep in mind that our plan is to cut things short.
  • Ensure that we have our own transportation. If we are riding with someone else, we make sure we have money for a cab or car service to get us home. This is a thing even if we’re riding with the other recovering person. WE might not be the one on the shaky ground, and what if they can’t handle the pressure, and act out? We don’t make assumptions about other people that can jeopardize our safety.
  • Order a soda or a glass of seltzer with a slice of lime, and keep it in our hand to avoid offers to get us a drink.
  • Avoid setting our drink down where some helpful person can “top it off” for us, and…
  • …we don’t let anyone else get our drinks or refills. We do it ourselves and make sure we get what we ordered.
  • We don’t try to disguise our choice of beverage. If it looks too much like someone else’s drink, we might pick up theirs by mistake.
  • If someone insists we have a “real” drink, we are only obliged to say “I’m not drinking tonight” or “Thanks, but I’ve had all I can handle”. It’s not kind to make them uncomfortable by saying we’re in recovery while they are standing there with a drink in their hand. It may embarrass them, and will usually trigger a fusillade of “I only drink” remarks that fail to enhance the conversation.

These considerations apply even if we’re not recovering alcoholics. Drinking and other drugging makes us do stupid things, and one stupid thing can lead to another.  We don’t need a social lubricant to help us manage anymore, and our recovering friend will help us avoid feeling left out of the group.That’s part of what recovery gives us. (See NUMBER ONE if you’re not comfortable with that.)

If we are careful to deal with the little things, we will be able to enjoy the party without too much worry.  If things are getting a bit rough, we can simply leave.  Regardless of our party plans, we make sure to hit some extra meetings and make some extra phone calls and so forth during the holidays. It helps us, and someone else may need the contact with recovery even more than we do.

Finally: Happy holidays and wishes for an amazing New Year in recovery! Although it may not seem like it at times, it really does keep getting better and better!

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