Family Gatherings During the Holidays: Rewarding or Challenging

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC for Addiction Hope

heart-195147_640Each year, the holidays can sneak up quite ferociously, bringing with each season a sense of expectations. Family gatherings are typically the way in which holidays are commemorated, and this can generate both rewards and challenges for all parties involved.

If you are in recovery from substance abuse, you may find any holiday gathering especially challenging. Holidays in general, whether Christmastime or Fourth of July and anything in between, are seen as a time to relax and indulge.

This mentality can lead to overstepped boundaries, especially among family members and individuals recovering from addiction. If your family understands, and supports your sobriety, holidays can be a bit easier to experience.

On the other hand, if you have had little support from your family through your recovery journey, you will likely find the holidays to be more burdensome and challenging.

The Rewards and Challenges of the Holidays

What are the potential rewards and challenges you will face with family gatherings as you navigate through the holidays as a recovering addict?

Understanding the challenges you could potentially face will help you be better prepared for the circumstances you may encounter. Family gatherings during the holidays can present with the following challenges:

Destructive or hurtful conversations:

We have all encountered that family member, relative, or friend who cannot have a conversation without bringing up something negative or hurtful. As someone going through recovery, it can be dampening to interact with such an individual, especially if past hurts or misgivings are brought up.

Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done to prevent this from happening during a family gathering. You can however control your reactions and chose not to fuel any negativity. Be prepared to assert yourself in a productive manner.

Use “I” statements in communicating how you feel when something out of line is said, such as “I do not feel comfortable discussing this”, or “I feel discouraged when you talk that way. Let’s discuss something else.” Setting boundaries with family members is an important way to maintain your recovery, especially during times that can be stressful on you.

Access to your drug of choice:

In the day to day of your recovery, it is easier to abstain from the drug or alcohol you abused as you likely do not have convenient access to it. Sobriety is supported by not having an easy way to obtain the drugs or the alcohol.

Family gatherings, parties, and celebrations can present greater challenges for maintaining sobriety as you find that alcohol or drugs are easily accessed. These substances may even be welcomed at parties for the sake of celebrating or indulging, and it might seem like an appropriate time to or setting to join in.

However, even the slightest use can set you back in your recovery tremendously. If you know that drugs or alcohol will be available at a family gathering, consider joining another celebration to help support your sobriety.

Or, consider bringing a supportive friend to a family gathering who can help keep you accountable throughout the night.

Heightened tensions or stress:

The joining of family and friends from a wide ranging background can cause an increase of stress, chaos, and tension. This type of environment may trigger addiction behaviors or habits. Be prepared ahead of time for these types of situations.

How can you best handle stress without resorting to addictive behaviors? What positive coping mechanisms can you utilize? Think through these scenarios ahead of time.

A Time of Reconciliation

hand-173584_640Family gatherings also can bring many rewards and benefits. This may be a time for you to reunite with family members of friends who may have been distant from you as a result of an addiction. This can also be a time of reconciliation and restoration with many relationships. The fellowship with family members can encourage you and support you during a potentially difficult time of your recovery process.

Whether you encounter the rewards or challenges of family gatherings or a combination of both, know that you have the capacity to sustain your recovery through any season of life!

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What are challenges or rewards that you have discovered from family gatherings while in your recovery from addiction? How have you navigated through challenging family gatherings?

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 1st, 2015
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