First Holiday Without Drugs And Alcohol? How to Help Your Loved One Survive

First Holiday Without Drugs And Alcohol? How to Help Your Loved One Survive

With the holiday season here, one of the biggest concerns for family members and friends is what to do to support their loved one through his or her first holiday clean and sober.

While this may seem like a hopelessly difficult situation, with no easy answers and no single solution that’s guaranteed to work, there are some things you can do to help your loved one get through this stressful time without going back to alcohol or drugs.

Lighten Up

First, it’s important to adopt a more lighthearted look at the entire holiday season in general. It needn’t be all that stressful if you take time to sift through all the types of demands and activities that tend to increase stress and tension around the house – and then get rid of some of them, at least temporarily.

Maybe there are just too many obligations at this time of the year, some of which would be better rescheduled to sometime after the holidays are over. Maybe it’s more a sense of duty, to bring together the extended family, to show that things are really just fine, to put everyone in a tizzy trying to out-do others in entertaining, or any of dozens of other reasons.

Let’s face it. When your loved one is just trying to hang on here during their first holiday without the crutch of booze or drugs, now is not the time to discuss potentially triggering topics like finances or getting a divorce or selling the house or even asking the boss for a raise to help meet bills.

Find a little ray of sunshine in each day. Watch comedies instead of heavy drama. Avoid the news broadcasts with their focus on sensationalism, crime, drunken driving arrests of celebrities and all that negative news.

Help with Stress Management Techniques

One way to help ward off stress, for your loved one in recovery as well as you and other members of the family, is to engage in stress reducing activities such as walking, hiking, yoga, deep breathing exercises, and meditation.

Getting enough rest is also high on the list of recommended strategies for helping to manage stress during this time of the year. Remember that one of the acronyms for those in recovery is H.A.L.T. This refers to the caution that during times when you’re hungry, angry, and lonely or tired, you’re more at risk of doing something counter-productive to recovery. So, if you notice that your loved one who’s going to be experiencing the first holiday without alcohol or drugs is looking tired, or seems frazzled, encourage him or her to get a good night’s sleep.

Of course, you can’t really stay up all hours and expect your loved one not to follow suit. So, you’ll need to set a good example and go to bed at or around the same time so you both get enough rest.

Remember that things always look different and are easier to manage if you are able to face challenges after a good night’s sleep. It’s not a panacea, but it is common sense. And it does work.

Keep in Mind This is the Disease of Addiction

When the holidays have you all in a commotion over gift-buying and tree-trimming or other aspects of the festive time of the year, it’s wise to keep in mind that your loved one in recovery has the disease of addiction. This means that even though he or she is in recovery, they still are very susceptible to relapse at any time – especially during the first few months of recovery.

If your loved one has close to a year of sobriety that still doesn’t mean that recovery is smooth sailing, however. In fact, it’s the holiday season that often pushes the newly recovered over the edge and into relapse. What the rest of us may take in stride may just be the last straw for the newly sober individual.

Case in point: all the alcohol ads on TV, in the newspapers, on billboards. The sight, sounds, smells associated with being around others drinking is like waving a red cape in front of a bull. It’s a simple example of cause and effect, with the effect being, in many cases, giving in to the overwhelming urge to use.

Maybe you hear your recovering loved one start to rationalize, saying things like “Just one will be okay,” or “I can handle it.” While you can’t be a nag about it, remind your loved one of the reasons he or she got sober in the first place. Recommend a talk with his or her 12-step sponsor as a proactive step to take.

Be Selective About Accepting Party Invitations

Getting back to the rounds of parties that are often available during the holiday season, it’s a good idea to sit this one out in many cases. Maybe you don’t have to put yourself and your newly recovered loved one into a risky situation after all. Why not be very selective about the number and types of events or party invitations that you accept?

Think about it. There’s nothing that says you have to attend every activity you’re invited to. It is possible that people are inviting you because they always have, or they feel that you’d be insulted or hurt if they didn’t invite you and your loved one – whether or not they know of your loved one being in recovery.

Even the events that are more or less pretty obligatory, like visiting with relatives or making an appearance at an annual company function, you can manage better by going late and leaving early. Have something pressing that demands your presence so that you can leave when you need to without causing any undue concern. Your loved one in recovery could have the “urgent” matter to attend to, or it could be you that has another obligation, one that both of you are required to take part in.

The point is, weigh your options. Don’t accept every invitation you’re given. Be selective in where you do wind up going. Don’t feel obligated to make an appearance at places if you’re only putting in face time and it’s not really needed. You and your loved one in recovery have more important things to do with your time.

Make a Plan

Okay, so there are a few events, parties or activities that you feel, individually and collectively, that you absolutely must attend. Use the same principle of selectivity here. By that we mean you take the time to strategize just how you’ll approach going to and being at this event.

Who is throwing the party or hosting the activity? Find out ahead of time what food and refreshments will be served and if it’s likely to be an alcoholic blow-out, you and your loved one who’s about to go through the first holiday without drugs and alcohol, you’d better both have a plan to deal with people offering drinks in a non-stop fashion.

Help your loved one by practicing or role-playing things he or she can say when being offered a drink. This takes the sting out of being caught off-guard at a party or event and having no clue what to say or do other than reach out and take the glass of booze offered. Practicing what to say is a very good technique. The more you do it, the easier it gets. And, don’t just have one response in the toolkit. Try out various responses that your loved one can switch to, given various situations.

Be sure that you practice enough so that your loved one feels comfortable delivering his or her lines. Again, the more he or she practices how to say no in a polite and kind manner, the easier it will be to do when the situation calls for it.

Take Advantage of Available Support

Why do you think that the 12-step rooms get so busy at this time of the year? It’s not that people just got religion, so to speak, or that there are more people in recovery during the holidays than any other time of the year. The truth is that the holidays are the times when those in recovery are at greater risk of relapse – and everyone in recovery knows that.

Going to meetings, talking with sponsors, and taking advantage of the community of support available to those in recovery is one of the smartest things your loved one can do during this time. By attending an Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meeting yourself, you can show your own support for your loved one as well as get the kind of support you need for yourself.

This is, after all, a family recovery. No one recovers alone. We all need the help and support of others as we face challenges. Whether it’s the holiday or any other time of stress and challenging situations, support is always just a meeting away.

Go Elsewhere

While it may seem like an expensive undertaking, getting out of town during the holidays doesn’t have to be a break-the-budget proposition. Maybe you have relatives that live in a rural area, or in the mountains, or in a small town, or somewhere that is sparsely populated, doesn’t have a lot of traffic congestion, few bars or liquor stores, and so forth. No, we’re not talking about something that doesn’t exist, nor should you be necessarily looking for a deserted island. The idea is to change the scenery, in more ways than one.

First, you’ll be out of your normal surroundings during a time of the year when you and your loved one in recovery may be subjected to just too much stress and temptation. Second, you’ll be seeing something that’s out of the ordinary, that is, people and places that will take your attention off those pressing details at home.

You may also find that your loved one is more interested in the surroundings in this other location, has more energy and enthusiasm for engaging in healthy recreational activities such as skiing, tobogganing, sledding, ice skating, ice fishing and so forth. In fact, if you can both share in these activities, there’s a much greater likelihood that this will prove to be one of the most satisfying and enjoying holidays you’ve had in a long time.

Acknowledge the Risk, But Don’t Run From It

Yes, surviving the first holiday without alcohol or drugs can be a very scary time for your loved one. You need to acknowledge that upfront and do everything you can to help your loved one get through this difficult time without relapsing.

One thing you really can’t do is to pretend that everything is normal, that you can both just go back to whatever way you both used to approach the holiday season. That ship has already sailed. There’s no going back to the way it once was. When your loved one is in recovery, there’s no little bit of drinking, no single taking a hit or dropping a line or smoking some illicit substance. Abstinence is the only way your loved one will be able to continue effective recovery.

This doesn’t mean that your life with your loved one will be monotonous and dull. It would only be that if you adopt the mindset that you can’t live without the excitement and allure that previous partying entailed, with or without your loved one’s addiction. So, it will mean that you need to revise your lifestyle to accommodate the healing process your loved one is undertaking. Either that or you’ll need to make some different changes in your living arrangement with your spouse or loved one.

Again, no one recovers alone. Recovery support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are a key factor in ongoing sobriety, but the support and encouragement of loving spouses and family members is just as important. The two together provide your loved one with his or her best chance at continued sobriety.

This is also an excellent time to express your love for your partner. You’ve both been through some trying times, including your loved one’s time in treatment and early days of recovery. A deep and abiding love will help sustain you both, but it’s also true that each of us needs to hear and feel that we’re truly loved. Kind and loving words, gestures and touches will go a long way toward healing the soul and the spirit, now and at any time of the year.

Bottom line: Can you help your loved one survive their first holiday without drugs and alcohol? The answer really is up to you. Are you committed to supporting your loved one’s continued sobriety? Can you make a few sacrifices, do things a little differently, adopt a positive attitude toward his or her new life in sobriety so that everyone benefits through adoption of a healthier lifestyle?

With the holiday season upon us, now is a great time to begin.

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