Renewing the Holidays

Harmony Alumni Share In Their Own Words

The holidays mark a time end of year celebration but for people in recovery, however, the holidays can be more complicated emotionally warns The Recovery Book: “They are also a time when temptations to jump off the wagon seem to multiply.” Holiday stress can cause people struggling with alcohol and drug addiction to resume or intensify their substance misuse. The increased presence of alcoholic beverages during holiday celebrations can be a dangerous trigger. So, how can people in recovery avoid all that?

First off, if you think it’s going to be too much for you, don’t do it. “A lot of people with addiction think because it’s your family, you have to be with them over the holidays but if they are not your ‘safe place,’ don’t go, says Harmony alumna Talya. “I make sure I surround myself with people who won’t be a trigger for me.”

If you go, go for the right reasons. “When I was in active addiction I used to—in the words of my family—destroy the holidays,” remembers Harmony alumnus Alex. “I was physically there but not mentally present. Now it’s much different. It’s actually nice to be there with my family, being able to interact but also to be present. I’m able to make living amends to my family.”

You have to be ready for it, though. If you aren’t there yet, your family should understand. Sarah used to “destroy” holidays, too. “I had a knack to relapse just in time for the holidays, once it was the night before Thanksgiving,” says the Harmony alumna. Everything changed when she got sober. “I contributed, washed the dishes. I was present and I wasn’t drinking.” But it took coping skills and a plan to stay sober. “For my first sober Christmas, I needed a meeting on Christmas Day. My family was in Al-Anon and had learned that the holidays are hard for people in recovery but they still didn’t understand why I had to go to a meeting that day. ‘We don’t understand,’ they said. ‘We’re just hanging out as a family, why would you be stressed out.’”

Going to a meeting, even at Christmas, should not be seen as slight to the family. People in recovery often need the special kind of support that only other people in recovery from addiction can provide. Before you plan your visit, find out about local meetings you can attend.

If you decide to go to an event where people will drink alcoholic beverages, prepare well. “Plan to stay only for a short while and have an exit plan,” recommends Harmony alumna Kelly. “Be really aware of the danger, always have somebody you can call, or bring someone who is also sober. You probably should go to a meeting before and after.”

Kelly knows what she is talking about. She relapsed at a family wedding because she underestimated the trigger danger. “If there is drinking at the holiday event, maybe you shouldn’t be there. Make sure you really know how you feel about it.”

Many local communities nowadays offer sober alternatives. Activities like skiing, sledding, or bowling with sober friends. Some people rediscover activities, they gave up because of their addiction. “I always loved live music, skiing, and golf before my addiction,” says Harmony alumnus Mark. Ironically, I always thought I had to drink or do weed while I was doing these things. I had this fear that it won’t be much fun anymore without drugs and alcohol but it’s actually more fun now and I’m five times better at skiing.”

Improving relations with your family won’t happen overnight. It can be a long and sometimes awkward process. In the meantime, many of the Harmony alumni decide around the holidays to re-engage with “the tribe”—as Kelly puts it. They seek the support and fellowship of other sober people and connect with the Harmony alumni team.

If you get into trouble, reach out and seek help. Whether you’re in active addiction and have never been to treatment, or you’re suffering a relapse, whatever you do, don’t delay treatment because of the holidays. For Harmony alumna Talya it was important to make the decision not to wait. “For me, it wasn’t so much about ‘I need to get sober for Christmas or New Year’s.’ It was simply that I needed to get sober or I was going to die!,” she remembers.

People in recovery should “focus on gratitude, set boundaries, have a plan of action and stick to it,” recommends Mark. “If you’re triggered work the plan. It’s perfectly okay not to go to the family event if you can’t handle it.” For families, he recommends, “to be patient. It’s okay to voice expectations but don’t push too hard. Trust the process.”