By Audrey Beim
The desire to feel good during the most “wonderful time of the year” is universal. Unfortunately, high expectations, travel, increased temptations and busy schedules can build up and produce elevated levels of anxiety and tension during this hectic season.
For a recovering addict, this time of year presents a unique set of challenges. The manner in which family members and friends approach these events can have a direct impact on how well the addicted loved one copes this winter.
Here are 5 practical ways you can care for a loved one struggling with addiction during the holiday season as the year winds down to a close.
1. Verbalize your love.
As a kid, we craved the approval of our parents. As we mature, very little changes in our need for approval (often beyond just our parents). So if you are the parent, family member or friend of someone struggling with addiction, do your best to let them know that they are cherished and valued. This basic message opens the doors of communication and brings them that much closer to either getting help or continuing strong in their recovery path.
2. Make gifting easy.
For the person abusing substances, as well as for family and friends, the greatest gift of all is sobriety. Nothing can be purchased and wrapped that even comes close to the precious gift of recovery.
So before exchanging elaborate holiday wish lists, consider trading in material objects for “healing gifts.” This can relieve tremendous pressure that may be placed on addicts who are often just getting back on their feet financially and can’t afford to purchase presents. Therapists refer to healing gifts as simple ways to share what the gift of recovery has given to your life as a parent, uncle, sister or addict. It can be as simple as verbalizing, “Thank you for believing in me even when I did not believe in myself” or finding a precious photo and writing the caption “I remember.”
3. Remind them it’s progress, not perfection.
You will be surprised at what a difference even a minor attitude change can make in behavior. Your recovering loved one is likely under a lot of stress just keeping up with the rest of family or friends and staying in high spirits, so remind them of a phrase that’s said a lot in rehabilitation programs: “It’s progress, not perfection.” It’s a valuable reminder for them to continue moving forward one day at a time, and, though it might not always feel like it, a holiday is just another day like any other in the large scope of one’s sobriety journey.
4. Help eliminate temptations.
Holiday celebrations are infused with toasts and tributes that focus on alcohol and the pop of the champagne cork. Be supportive and discreetly get rid of spiked foods or drinks for your addicted loved one. By offering an alcohol-free environment, you send a clear message of encouragement and healing, not just to the addict, but to all who surround them. If it’s not possible to remove all the alcohol (or if the addict does not feel comfortable having the entire event be alcohol-free due to his or her sobriety), you can offer to change environments with them if they appear to be overwhelmed. Just physically moving away from the situation and taking a walk can reduce stress hormones and stimulate mood-enhancing neurochemicals that improve feelings of well-being.
5. Don’t hover.
Have the strength to let your loved one feel safe, even if it means giving up some control. For example, allow them to stay at a hotel instead of your home if they have an overwhelming feeling of being smothered with too much attention. If he or she needs to skip out on the customary touch-football game to get to a support group, you should give them room to do that and permit their absence at this event. No accusations, no judgments. Period.
With some awareness and understanding, you can extend the best support that’s possible for your loved one in sobriety. With these simple actions, you can be a source of true joy and gratitude, which is what the holiday spirit is all about.
Do you have other tips for reducing holiday stress for a loved one in recovery? We would love to hear! Please post your ideas in the comments section above.