How To Support An Addict In Recovery Over Christmas

Christmas is just around the corner and families around Australia are starting to plan their holiday get-togethers.

For families and friends of recovering addicts the festive season can hold some unique challenges.

As Christmas is traditionally a time of indulgence, it can be a minefield of triggers for people in the process of breaking unhealthy patterns of behaviour – and by extension can cause a lot of headaches for their nearest and dearest.

Being supportive of a loved one’s recovery process is important, but at times it can be difficult to know where to start.

To help you make your Christmas a joyful event for all involved, here’s a quick guide to navigating the holiday traps and triggers.

Remove temptation and triggers

If you have a friend or family member who is recovering from alcohol and/or drug addiction, the best thing you can do for them is to minimise triggers at your Christmas lunch/dinner/party.

Stocking your eskie with soft drinks rather than beer, wine and spirits can make all the difference to a person in recovery.

By removing temptation, you can give them the freedom to relax and feel safe during your Christmas party.

If you think that some guests might take issue with this, it is wise to inform them beforehand that this year you are having a dry Christmas – no exceptions.

In the unlikely event that someone should absolutely refuse to celebrate without alcohol it is perfectly fine to tell them not to attend.

If you can accept their priorities, they should accept yours.

Play it cool

It sounds simple, but not making a big deal out of your loved one’s newfound sobriety can be incredibly difficult.

You might have the urge to constantly tell them how proud you are of their recovery efforts, or feel the need to point out just how supportive you are, for example declaring something like “Look, we’ve got all this juice! No one’s drinking just because of you.”

While you of course have only the best of intentions, being excessively vocal about someone else’s recovery process, and your part in it, can make recovering addicts very uncomfortable.

Firstly, it draws focus on their issues with addiction and that is not a particularly pleasant sensation.

Secondly, it might make your recovering loved one feel as though their needs are inconveniencing the rest of the party.

So, this Christmas be mindful of your loved one’s needs and simply allow them to enjoy themselves in a safe environment.

Have realistic expectations

Depending on which stage of recovery your loved one is currently going through, it might drastically impact their desire to attend any Christmas get-togethers at all.

During the early stages some recovering addicts might be daunted by the prospect of facing the entire family at once, especially if their substance abuse issues have caused conflict in the past.

If your loved one does not feel up to attending a massive party, do not force the issue. It is enough for you to let them know they are welcome AND to make it clear that, while you will miss them, you will not be offended if they would rather not come.

If your recovering loved one does decide to join you for the festivities, it’s still important to be mindful of their needs. Perhaps they will only stay for a little while before needing to take a break; perhaps they will need to call their recovery counsellor or sponsor at some point for extra support; perhaps they will be happiest sitting and observing without engaging in too much conversation – all of this is fine. It is not your job to nag your loved one into having a good time, the best you can do is provide them with safe conditions to socialise. Realistic expectations are not just to be applied to your loved one but also to yourself.

Be brave and have a conversation

It can be very hard to talk to recovering loved ones about their needs and ongoing issues, especially without the help of a family therapist. If you are concerned about how your loved one will cope over the Christmas period, don’t be afraid to invite them to have a conversation before the festive season kicks off.

There is no harm in asking your loved one how they would prefer to be supported during this time – just as there is nothing wrong with sharing your own worries about the celebrations ahead. In some cases it might be helpful to schedule an appointment with your family counsellor or therapist to mediate any points of contention. Even if your recovering loved one might be apprehensive at first, you might be surprised how much they will appreciate your willingness to face difficult topics.

Christmas, above all things, is about love and kindness and sharing a special time with those closest to us – even if things are rarely ever perfect. This year, strive to appreciate every good or perhaps even great moment; and rest assured that being supportive and understanding is the best gift you can give your recovering loved one.

Merry Christmas and best of luck.

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