Deck the Halls With Less Family Stress

The holiday season should be a cheerful time, filled with family joy. But for those going through rehab and recovery, dealing with that very same family can also be a lot less than jolly.

Attending numerous family celebrations along with busy travel schedules to see relatives in or out of town can also mean having to face up to expectations, over-commitment, and fatigue. These seasonal road bumps can turn joy into bah-humbug, quicker than you can say HO, HO,HO!

Family holiday survival

Every year, clients tell me about their added holiday stressors, especially the ones relating to family matters. Being away from their traditional support network and removed from familiar routines can increase feelings of isolation.


Plus, holiday customs, memories, and events associated with alcohol or other drug use may tug at anyone, addictive personality or not.

But there are ways to prepare for and stand up to this high-risk, high-stress season and safeguard the greatest gift you could ever gave yourself and those you love: sobriety.

For many people fighting a daily battle for sobriety, family holiday get-togethers require strategies for staying out sticky situations. Before you head over the river and through the woods, give some thought to what George Burns said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family… in another city.”

When you get down to it, a major reason holidays are so stressful to those of us fighting for sobriety is because those dear relatives who live in Seattle suddenly are lingering in front of your refrigerator in New Jersey. Suddenly, you have to figure out a socially acceptable way of setting the table or doing dishes together, resisting the urge to re-expose the childhood wounds that you’ve learned to protect against.

10 holiday tips to help you take (and stay in) control

1. Make a plan. Ahead of key holiday events, prepare a plan to support and protect your sobriety and stay out of situations that jeopardize it. Relapse prevention is about recovery planning.

2. Limit time in stressful situations or around difficult people. Always have an escape plan. Leave behind the addict behaviors that you don’t want, such as: being mean, getting even, competing with others, settling old scores, cutting people out of the family, getting drunk or high, isolating, and taking anybody’s inventory.

3. Don’t be shy about saying NO. You don’t have to say yes to every event. It’s all about having a good time without over committing or overdoing it. By telling ourselves and others “no” at the appropriate time, we’re reclaiming the freedom from undue expectations upon which our serenity (and sobriety) depends.

4. Set realistic expectations. Instead of going to an event on the defensive, be on the offensive so you know how to act. Don’t rationalize reasons to drink before, during or after the holidays.

5. Don’t succumb to peer pressure. Get your own drinks and know what you are drinking.

6. Focus on others with gratitude and joy. Serve a meal at a homeless shelter. Reach out to a newcomer. Go sledding with children. Spend time with a neighbor who is confined.

7. Stay out of vulnerable situations. If you know Great Uncle Abe is going to criticize your job and your hair, avoid him. If Aunt Theresa will try to mix you a stiff drink, stay away from her.

8. Take care of yourself. Proper nutrition and exercise can be extremely helpful. The better you feel physically, the stronger you will be emotionally.

9. Allow for some quiet time. Each day take some time for relaxation and meditation, even for a few minutes, no matter how busy you are. Allow time to unplug and enjoy the silence…and then breathe. Giving yourself permission to step back and clear your mind of all the clutter at least once each day will make you feel more refreshed and enjoy the peace, joy, love, and gratitude of the holidays.

10. Savor the season. Here’s the best tip of all…one you’ll appreciate when everyone around you is doing the holiday stress and anxiety dance. This year, spend a lot more time and effort savoring the joy of the season, not worrying about what anyone says or when you can down your next drink.

I invite you to welcome the holiday season with open arms and a plan to protect and nurture your sobriety. Your recovery is the true and beautiful gift that keeps on giving for the rest of your life.

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