The holiday season is supposed to be joyful and magical, but for people in recovery, it can be not just stressful, but also an actual threat to their sobriety. A person in recovery, especially if they are new to recovery, might struggle during the holidays for many reasons.

1. The Ghost of Traumas Past

Many people who have struggled with addiction also have a history of trauma, some of which may center around previous experiences with certain family members. Gathering for the holidays may be a reminder of the pain they suffered and the support they needed but did not receive. For example, a person may be traumatized by past sexual abuse by a family member that was concealed, ignored, or denied by the rest of the family. 

Revisiting the location where a trauma occurred can also be painful, even if there is no one present who directly caused the traumatic event.

2. Toxic Family Interactions

Even if there is no past trauma with family, some family members may use family holidays as an opportunity to be disrespectful, start fights, and generally show disrespect to those around them. They might even belittle the recovery process or pressure their sober family members to drink. 

In this case, the person in recovery will need to set boundaries around behaviors they won’t tolerate and decide how they will respond if someone is behaving in an unacceptable manner. They might also choose not to attend family functions that include this person. 

3. The Presence of Alcohol

A person in recovery from drug addiction might find it fairly easy to avoid places and people they used to use drugs with, but someone in recovery from alcohol addiction may have a hard time avoiding alcohol during the holidays. Family, friends and employers may host events where alcohol is present, with or without the knowledge that someone on the guest list may be sober. 

It can be difficult for a person in recovery to know if they should disclose their history, avoid the event, or go and hope for the best. One good option is to bring a sober friend for support or to have an excuse to leave if they feel their sobriety is at risk.

4. Overloaded Schedules

A person in recovery may become overwhelmed by demands on their time. Balancing their recovery routines against work, expectations from loved ones, parenting responsibilities, and more can be really stressful. It can be tempting to skip out on self-care, which is a red flag for relapse. People in recovery need to protect their recovery and the rituals that sustain it, even during the holidays. This may include going to therapy, attending extra recovery meetings, calling their sponsor, exercising, meditating, or doing other practices that keep them centered. It may also mean prioritizing which invitations to accept and being okay with saying no. 

5. Feelings of Isolation

When someone in recovery chooses to avoid events that might trigger them, they can start to feel lonely and isolated. These feelings, if not managed in a healthy way, can put the person at risk for relapse. To mediate this risk, people in recovery will often make plans for alternate ways to connect with people during the holidays, like having their own gatherings with sober supports, volunteering, or attending extra meetings and events within the recovery community.

How Can You Help?

If you have a loved one who is in recovery from substance use disorder, here are some ways you can support their recovery during the holiday season:

  • Communicate with them – Ask your loved one what they need. Perhaps they would feel safer in an alcohol-free environment, prefer that people not drink in front of them, or choose to stay away from a toxic family member. You may be able to coordinate things in a way that meets their needs at holiday festivities.
  • Encourage them to bring a support person – If they want to invite a sober friend, welcome them to do so.
  • Take the pressure off – If it seems like they are drowning in invitations, suggest that you spend time together after the holidays have passed and things have calmed down. Reassure them that you won’t be angry if they are not able to accept your invitation right now.
  • Advocate for them – The person who is giving them a hard time about not drinking might need to hear from someone else that this is not an acceptable conversation and they need to back off.
  • Promote self-care – Let your loved one know that you are proud of them for going to therapy, attending recovery meetings, and sticking to the routines that keep them sober. Encourage them to continue to look after themselves.

If you need more ideas for how to support your recovery journey during the holidays, contact Safe Harbor Recovery Center. Our team in Portsmouth, VA, is ready to offer you or your loved one the individualized treatment you need to move forward.