Supporting a loved one in recovery over Christmas
If you have a loved one in recovery, you may wonder what the best ways to support them during Christmas are.
You may be worried that they will feel overwhelmed and not confide in you if they are tempted. With all of your best intentions and efforts, their first recovery over the festive period is not your responsibility. However, there are a few things you can try and do to ensure that Christmas goes as smoothly as possible, not just for your loved one, but for everyone else concerned.
Christmas can naturally be a very challenging time of year, with added social and financial pressures. The festive period is all about excess, excess food, presents, booze and partying. It is perfectly normal to worry if this is your loved one's first sober Christmas. We want to lift this extra worry from you, with some practical tips on how to support a loved one in recovery from addiction.
Tips on how to support a loved one in recovery over Christmas
Christmas and the New Year can be trying for anyone new to recovery or in their first few years. Your loved one may be feeling fearful and overwhelmed if this is their first time in recovery over the Christmas period. You may also be feeling the same way.
Perhaps Christmas time brings up some painful memories of their active addiction for both of you. However, Christmas is a time that can be celebrated sober. It is a time that can be enjoyed by both of you and a time to create some new and better memories.
Review your Christmas traditions and make some changes
If your Christmas traditions have always involved alcohol, now is the time to review them. For your loved one’s very first Christmas in recovery, it is best to have as much temptation removed from the home environment as possible. As time goes by, they may find that this isn't necessary, but let them communicate this to you in their time.
Placing cookies and a glass of whisky out for Santa Christmas eve is a common festive tradition. The whisky can easily be swapped for milk so that your little ones don't feel disappointed in the morning. Chocolate liquors can easily be swapped for alcohol-free chocolate and Christmas recipes can be adapted to exclude alcohol from ingredients.
Making small changes to eradicate alcohol from your festive season is simple and easy - if you are prepared. It will also give you some peace of mind, knowing that everyone in the family home will be celebrating in the same way.
Speak to other family members and ensure you are all on the same page. Agree that just for this festive season that the home will be an alcohol-free zone so that you can all support your loved one's recovery.
Have plenty of alcohol-free alternatives
There are lots of alcohol-free drinks readily available on the market today. This is not necessarily a good thing. Anything that resembles alcohol, whether that be in its packaging or taste can be a potential trigger. You are best opting for some fruit juices and a varied selection of soft drinks. You may also want to get some different hot beverages that your loved one would consider a treat and that you can enjoy together.
Having the family home alcohol-free is probably the single most important way in which you can show your support to your loved one in recovery over Christmas. They will not only appreciate that there is no temptation, but that you have considered their recovery and are doing whatever you can to make things easier for them.
Don't place expectations on them
It can be hard not to have any expectations of someone in recovery over Christmas, especially if past years have been a write-off due to their addiction. You may be keen to spend as much time with your loved one actually being present for the first time. However, consider that they may find this difficult to achieve over long periods of time. Being sober will be new to them too. You may find that they skip the traditional Queen (now King’s speech) in favour of attending a recovery meeting. You may also find that they frequently need to check in with their recovery sponsor or others in recovery. Whilst this can be a little frustrating, it should also reassure you that they are putting their recovery first.
If they feel that taking part in certain festivities could be difficult for them, allow them to find an alternative that feels safe. This includes visiting extended family and friends. Whilst you can keep your own home an alcohol-free zone, this doesn't extend to other homes, and shouldn't. You cannot expect others to change the way they celebrate for the sake of your loved one. Some family members may be very supportive, whilst others will not understand the nature of addiction.
Keep things simple
Simple plans work best when it comes to addiction recovery. Extravagant plans will also cause you additional stress. This in turn could cause your loved one stress. Have a simple plan for the important days, ie Christmas day, Boxing day and New years eve. Decide together what you are going to do, and how you would like to celebrate it. This keeps second-guessing out of the equation.
You can also plan for some individual time, where your loved one may want to do certain things for their recovery and you may want to visit some family. Time to yourselves is also important as each person can do whatever it is that nurtures them.
Keep the lines of communication open
Some family members may be tempted not to acknowledge a loved one's recovery over Christmas. Or, they may avoid mentioning it through fear of how they will react. No one wants to tread on eggshells over the Christmas period and your loved one will sense it.
Ask your loved one if there is anything they would like to do this Christmas, if they have any plans, or if there is anything you can do to support them. The fact that they are in recovery should be celebrated and treated as a really positive thing, not something that they should feel ashamed or embarrassed about.
Tell your loved one that you understand that they will need to prioritise their recovery over Christmas and that they shouldn't worry about doing this, that you will support them wholeheartedly. This will relieve them of the pressure of trying to accommodate others whilst still putting their sobriety first.
You may also want to check in with your loved one from time to time, although try not to pester or smother them. Doing this will only be counterproductive. Checking in with them once a day should suffice unless you notice their mood dipping.
Questions that may be helpful to ask them, include:
- Is there anything that is causing your stress at the moment that I can help with?
- How would you like me to support your recovery over Christmas?
- Is there anything, in particular, you would like to do?
Don't forget to have fun!
Getting some fun board games in over the festive period can be a great way to spend time together and raise the vibration in your home. Other things that you and your loved one may enjoy include going out for a walk as a family or watching some Christmas TV. The simplest of things tend to give the most pleasure.
Help your loved one find support for their recovery over Christmas
Your loved one will have the best chance of remaining sober and in recovery over Christmas if they have a support network they can reach out to.
If your loved one has recently stopped using substances, now is the time for them to connect with like-minded others.
There are plenty of recovery groups they can attend over the Christmas period, either in person or over zoom. 12-step fellowships and SMART Recovery are two of the biggest recovery organisations around. Whilst your support is incredibly important and helpful, the support of others who understand what they are going through is invaluable, especially at this time of year.
Others who have been in recovery for longer will be able to tell them how they coped in the early and vulnerable days. They will also be able to point them towards an effective recovery programme that worked for them.
Equally as important is that you seek some kind of support too. As the saying goes - you cannot pour from an empty cup. You can check out our article on support for families, which details numerous organisations where you can access free support.
Recoverlutions Recovery Community
Recoverlution offers a community of support that is a safe space for anyone recovering from addiction. Your loved one can join for free and learn plenty of recovery tools from our Knowledge section articles and access them within our community hub.
Above all, try not to overly stress. The fact that you are willing to support their recovery will be the best gift you can give them over the Christmas period.