If you have a friend or family member who has recently left behind alcohol or other substances, you may be wondering what you can do to support them. For many people, and especially those in recovery from addiction, the holidays can be a difficult time, and therefore a good opportunity for their friends and family to offer help.
When a person in recovery asks for modifications to family holiday traditions in order to maintain their sobriety, do your best to accommodate them. Doing things differently can be uncomfortable for some family members who rely on yearly traditions, but it can greatly reduce your loved one’s risk of relapse.
Modifications requested might include things like changing the drink options to remove alcohol from events or locating festivities away from where the person used to buy drugs. If this is not possible, ensure that your loved one is offered options that do not contain alcohol, that they are not pressured to drink, and that they are given a ride to and from the event, so they aren’t tempted to stop at their old hangout.
Making New Traditions
If your efforts to make family holidays and events recovery-friendly are met with opposition you cannot work through, you can join your newly sober friend or family member in building new, sober holiday traditions:
- Game night
- Holiday movie marathon
- Baking session/cookie exchange
- Getting together to wrap gifts
- Attending holiday events in the community
Sometimes, what a person in recovery needs most is just for their friends and family to be present for them. This can mean different things for different people:
- Listening without judgment to the things that are bothering them and the needs they are expressing. Don’t assume that you know what they need without hearing from them first.
- Ensuring they are still performing self-care
- Getting good sleep
- Eating healthy
- Talking to their sponsor
- Making it to recovery meetings
- Keeping therapy appointments
- Addressing their spiritual needs
- Physically accompanying them to
- Events they don’t feel they can miss but which could be dangerous to their sobriety, such as work events where there will be alcohol
- Holiday events sponsored by their recovery community
- Spiritual activities at their place of worship
- Being on standby to get them home if needed. Even if you cannot attend an event in solidarity with a loved one, being willing and able to bring them home should they need, a quick escape can be a huge help.
- Making it okay for them to say no. If the rest of the family refuses to leave the alcohol out of Aunt Mary’s famous rum punch and your newly sober family member feels like it would put their recovery at risk, they may need to hear that you aren’t upset with them for choosing to skip the event. It might be even better if you skip with them.
- Running interference at events with difficult family members. If you know a certain relative will push back against your loved one’s sobriety or cause them to feel emotionally triggered, try to keep the two of them apart. This could mean not inviting them to the same events, giving them things to do that place them in separate rooms, speaking up when you hear anything being said that is unhelpful, or educating a loved one who has false information about substance abuse recovery.
A big part of the recovery culture is giving back to the community, so you may find that your loved one is doing more volunteer work than they used to or that they would like ideas for volunteering. Joining them in this endeavor could help you to rebuild your relationship, see a new side of them, or remember things you loved about them before substances took over their life. Volunteer opportunities that are often available around the holidays might include:
- Working in a soup kitchen or handing out holiday meals at a food pantry
- Participating in a winter coat/clothing drive
- Visiting elderly residents in a nursing home
- Donating to a toy drive for needy families, children in foster care, or families with hospitalized children
- Rounding up blankets and other supplies for area homeless shelters
If you would like additional information about supporting a loved one who is new to celebrating the holidays substance-free, Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, is happy to provide suggestions and advice.