Sobriety In The Holiday Season

by Pat Brown, LCSW - The holiday season is upon us and there is little doubt this season holds the most stress for those in early recovery and their families. When we look at incidents of relapse, a great majority center around stressful events. Some of these stressful events are sitting on the calendar awaiting our arrival. The holiday season fits this description, and far too many families in early recovery fail to understand and communicate the presence of that stress this time of year.

Building a survival guide for the holiday season begins with the recognition of how extremely challenging the season can be for many. The expectations of constant happiness and presence at all events can overwhelm, frustrate, and build tremendous anxiety for those in early recovery. Families will often underestimate the shame involved in sitting at a Thanksgiving dinner for someone who is returning from inpatient rehab or struggling to communicate their sobriety to those closest to them. Without all involved finding a way to discuss these aspects and more, we are in danger of building a pressure packed day or weekend that could lead to bickering, frustrations, and potentially relapse.

The solution? Courageous conversation coupled with flexibility. This is not the time for rigidity, this is the time for honest reflection on what is most important. Building a new tradition of a sober holiday season can be a new generational pattern that we begin this year. If you’re in early recovery and you must attend a family party—bring your sponsor. Have a friend close and a plan of how to navigate the event. If you’re a parent and your child is not ready to attend a large family Thanksgiving, find peace in their ability to prioritize their recovery, even when they know feelings will be hurt. Being proactive can ensure that your holiday is spent with healthy, comfortable, supportive people and not in isolation.

The holidays can be wonderful, not a pressure packed season. This happens in early recovery when we share our fears and create a survival guide with our support system. May your holiday season be joyful and safe.