A Family Affair: Navigating Holiday Triggers by Khara Croswaite Brindle

Family: Holiday Triggers

It’s that time of year again, the time where people like to highlight the good, the cheer, and the happiness of the holiday season. But what if holidays bring on a sense of dread? What if you have to navigate the heavy drinking of your family members? Or be in the same room with a person who hurt you in the past? What if holidays create loneliness, risk of relapse, or critical self-reflection as the year comes to a close? For many people, these worries are just the beginning of what they may navigate from November to the New Year. So how can we each feel supported through the stressors of the season?

Bolstering Boundaries

One important element of being successful in our functioning around family is boundaries. Boundaries can be defined as physical or emotional in the way they are implemented to allow feelings of safety. Here are some examples of boundaries to consider with family to support feelings of safety and security during the holiday season:

  • Allowing someone’s refusal of a hug from a family member they barely know
  • Supporting comfortable distance between individuals throughout holiday activity
  • Encouraging space when close proximity is triggering such as a walk or errand
  • Listening for verbal cues about safe and unsafe topics during meals
  • Honoring a person’s decision to decline an activity due to risk of relapse

In other words, identifying ideas of how to support each family member’s needs can encourage enjoyment in all holiday festivities without judgement or conflict. This mindfulness of self and others can entice individuals to fully participate and engage in positive experiences as a family.

Tracking Triggers

Mindfulness can support positive experience through coping with triggers in the holiday environment. Supporting each family member’s self-awareness of triggers can be a first step in determining adjustments to allow full participation in festivities.  In the hope of healthy family connection, below are some examples of triggers that may arise:

  • Interacting with a family member that was formerly abusive
  • Talking of trauma topics that create conflict such as the time they had a drinking problem, eating disorder, or abusive partner
  • Engaging in traditions that encourage relapse including spectator sports
  • Recognizing people or places that are connected to trauma memories such as the holiday party where they experienced sexual assault
  • Feeling peer pressure to engage in activities that feel unsafe including binge drinking
  • Having the perception of criticism or judgement by their family, coworkers, or friends
  • Remembering trauma anniversaries that overlap with the holidays including death and breakups
  • Experiencing sights, smells, and other sensory information that connect to trauma such as cologne/perfume, alcohol, or ice and snow

Cultivating Connection

With all of the potential triggers at play during the holidays, it becomes crucial that we feel a connection to one another in our efforts to contain the stress. Reaching out to trusted family and friends or seeking the help of a professional can support a person in navigating the holiday demands. Balancing out stress with positive connection can make a significant difference in our ability to participate in holiday traditions and create new, positive memories where trauma memories formerly dictated our experience. By connecting with people who can relate, we may also learn new skills of how to remain fully present in the holiday experience and find joy in the family and traditions we’ve come to value.

 “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Khara Croswaite Brindle, MA, LPC, ACS, is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Lowry Neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. She received her Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver with a focus on community based mental health. Khara has experience working with at-risk youth and families, including collaboration with detention, probation, and the Department of Human Services. Khara enjoys working with young adults experiencing anxiety, depression, trauma, relational conflict, self-esteem challenges, and life transitions.


Conrada “Bunni” Jauregui Shares Her Gift of Recovery

Gift of Recovery

After being “out there” for many years, running amuck with my addiction, turning my back on “life and my family” it was time to turn my life around and what better time than the holidays. It was the perfect “gift” I could give myself and my family. Holidays were not always festive when I was in my active addiction. I spent little time with my family and more time with friends drinking and using.

My “norm” became a bottomless pit of darkness, I couldn’t see anything but black surrounding me and my addiction was putting me in harm’s way. I needed help. I needed “to change” no matter what. So when the opportunity came up for me to go to treatment, I went willingly.

I entered treatment at Harmony on December 16th a few weeks before the holiday season. I was excited to leave California and go to Colorado. Even though I was “high” when I arrived in Colorado, I remember the beauty of the mountains and the snow and how I felt like I could get better here. I knew that it was going to require sacrifice if I was going to get better, including letting go of Thanksgiving, Christmas and even New Years. This was my time to get well, and my family’s time to rest and know I was someplace safe.

Being in treatment during the holidays wasn’t so bad. Harmony made the experience special. They provided us with presents on Christmas morning, we decorated and I shared my early recovery with new friends.

My family is important to me but I needed to feel and learn that I was most important. Everyone’s road to recovery is different. Making this decision to stay in treatment was a rare opportunity for me to turn my life around. So I surrendered to all my short comings, the time away from my family, and decided to become the most important reason to get sober.

Today, my sobriety is the reason why my life is so rich and vibrant. My willingness to look back at the short-term sacrifice of being in treatment during the holidays contributed to helping me get my family back again. This year, I can celebrate the joy of the season healthy and full of gratitude, knowing that this gift of recovery continues to bless me and all those I love.

As we approach the holiday season and you are reading this testimonial, know that you are worth every bit of happiness “sobriety” offers. Don’t wait until after Thanksgiving, Christmas or the New Year to make this change in your life. Do it now so that you can experience the countless holidays to come that are free from the pain and suffering of addiction. Give that gift of recovery to yourself and to your family. I did and it was the best gift ever!

Recovery during the Holidays. Watch one woman’s story of hope.

Putting Recovery First This Christmas


With Christmas less than a day away, those in recovery should already have a plan in place for navigating through the day without using a drink or a drug. It is important, even if you are traveling, to put your recovery first during the holiday; failing to do so can be dangerous and potentially lead to a relapse. Everyone wants to take part in the festivities, but for those in recovery it is paramount that we make safe and smart decisions. If you are new to recovery then it is always best to run your plan by your sponsor or recovery mentor, they can tell you if your plan is both sound and conducive to recovery.

If you are away from your family or your family is not a part of your life, it is best to make plans with your recovery peers. The people who are in your support network are both your friends and allies, being around them during the holiday will better ensure that you will make it through the day sober. Addicts and alcoholics often want to isolate themselves, especially when they are emotional. However, being alone for a significant amount of time can be a slippery slope that can lead to a relapse.

There will be many 12-step meetings that you can attend tomorrow, and everyone in recovery should make an effort to attend at least one. Attending multiple meetings on a holiday is not uncommon, and if you are having a hard time tomorrow it is wise to go to as many meetings as you need. Even if you are not struggling, it is safe to say that somebody else will be; you may be able to help another work through their problem.

Remember to take a moment tomorrow to reflect on that for which you are grateful. If you are working a program and staying abstinent, then you probably have a lot to be grateful for. It is likely that a number of people helped to you get where you are today, and it can be beneficial for you to let them know how happy you are to have them in your life.

Harmony Foundation would like to wish everyone in recovery a Merry Christmas. Never forget that the hand of recovery is always there for those who reach for it.

Making It Through Thanksgiving, Sober

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, which, for those in recovery may be a challenge. The majority of people in recovery would drink a lot over the holidays, so it is important to create new rituals and traditions that do not involve mind altering substances. This can be difficult, but it is possible; many recovering alcoholics now look forward to the holidays.

For those who are new to recovery, it is vital that you stay connected to your sponsor and recovery peers over the course of the day. Remember that people have walked the road you are on ahead of you. Learn from their past experiences, the dos and don’ts of recovery over the holidays.

Attending holiday dinners and/or parties should be approached with caution. Alcohol is likely to be in the hands of your peers, and you want to keep your distance as much as possible. It is always smart to bring a friend in recovery to such events, having someone around who is working towards a common goal can be a huge help. If you are having cravings you talk about it with them, if the urge does not dissipate then it is best to leave the event.

Family gatherings can really test the strength of your program. If you plan to attend, it is a good idea to leave early before people become intoxicated. It is never any fun being around drunk people when you are in recovery. If your family is not an active part of your life, spend time with your recovery family.

On Thursday, there will be 12-step meetings happening all day long. If you miss your homegroup, there are many other meetings you can attend. A number of meeting houses will be holding Thanksgiving events, such as a dinner and a meeting. Recovery events can be a great time, and a perfect opportunity to create a new ritual for the holidays. If you have time, volunteer your help, it is a great way to get out of your head. They are also a great opportunity to meet other members in your recovery community.

Harmony Foundation would like to wish everyone in recovery a safe and sober Thanksgiving. __________________________________________________

If you are or a loved one is one is active in their addiction, please contact Harmony Foundation to begin the journey of recovery. Harmony is a state-of-the-art, affordable, residential addiction treatment program located in the Rocky Mountains.

Staying Sober During the Holidays – For the Newly Sober

In our previous blog post we wrote about how the holiday season can be stressful for those in active addiction who may isolate from family or, alternatively, may regret their actions during family get togethers while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

This time of year can also bring extra stresses for those in early recovery. Examples of this stress include being emotionally triggered from unresolved family issues or from the presence of alcohol at holiday parties. Family members and closed loved ones elicit deep emotions, which are likely to come out during the holidays because of the frequency or duration of family time. These emotions can become further complicated when experienced in the presence of alcohol. Holidays often provide the first big test to those in recovery- testing their resolve to stay sober while experiencing strong emotions. This becomes an even bigger test when access to alcohol is thrown into the mix.

Another stress faced by those in early recovery are the expectations that abound, beginning with self-imposed expectations. Some may experience negative emotions and may get into their character defects when with family. This may be a departure from their normal sense of elation and being on the “pink cloud” of early recovery, so they may feel they have failed somewhat in their recovery process.

There are also the expectations of close family members and friends. Those newly sober feel that their parents or spouses expect them to be healed after addiction treatment and they grow worrisome at any sign of imperfection, like being in a bad mood. Their auto response is often concern that the recovering addict may be using again. Others may expect those in early recovery to apologize for their past actions because they have seen on TV, for example, that amends is part of recovery, even if the person is not ready to do the 9th step.

These are all variations on the same theme, that holidays provide challenges for those in early recovery in many forms. The positive element is that they are healthy challenges and getting through them sober strengthens one’s recovery and faith in the recovery process.

This is where true recovery begins, and the newly sober need to harness the tools they learned in treatment, including relapse prevention techniques and 12 step principals and fellowship to face their emotions and situations in stride with grace – realizing that is it progress, not perfection.

Addiction During the Holiday Season

Happy Holidays?

The Holidays are a joyful time for most people. It means time off work and time spent with loved ones. For those struggling with addiction, the holidays can be a very stressful time.

Those in active addiction face many obstacles during the holidays. Holidays bring family members together to see each other and check in on how everyone’s life is going. If addiction has taken a toll on an individual in recent months, the holidays make it clear that something is going on. The addict in active addiction may have lost weight or appear more isolative and withdrawn compared to the year before. This can be stressful as family members may worry and ask what exactly is going on with them.

The holidays can also be stressful for those in active addiction because drinking is a central theme at many holiday get-togethers. When an addict or alcoholic takes a drink, they seldom stop at one or two and never know where the drink will take them. More often than not drinking results in some form of drama from being too drunk, such as being emotional, insulting others, physically assaulting others or other regrettable behaviors. Many addicts can recall a painful memory of the holidays, either with family or purposefully isolated from family.

Another stress can be the financial stress that is brought on by the holidays. No matter what holiday you celebrate, the vast majority of them involve buying things for others. Many in addiction have no money at all. Any funds they do have usually go directly to fueling their habit. To avoid the discomfort of not bearing gifts they may make up excuses or not show up at all.

It is because of these stresses that many addicts have sobriety dates around this time of year. Many hit their bottoms during the holiday season because of what their addiction represented during this iconic time of year. Instead of being grateful they felt hopeless. Instead of feeling joyful they felt ashamed. Instead of feeling full of love they self loathed. After entering treatment and being in recovery they began to appreciate these stresses because the unbearable weight of holiday stress ultimately lead them to seek treatment.

If this holiday season you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction too big to endure, our addiction treatment program can help. We are open on Christmas, Chanukah, New Years Eve, New Years Day and every day to help those who need our detox and drug and alcohol rehab services.