Before we start, remember that the holidays have a way of creating higher emotional responses than the average day. For this reason, I encourage you to allow greater compassion for yourself and more empathy for your loved ones.
As you begin to think about the upcoming holidays, likely your mind will wander to memories of previous years–years that were less than jolly, possibly even horrific. My intention in spurring your thoughts on past holidays is not to recreate trauma, but to prepare you for the thoughts and emotions that will arise when the holidays hit. These thoughts and heightened emotions will come, so our goal here is to prepare you for them, so that the holidays can be navigated successfully.
So, Step One for a successful holiday season: Have a Plan.
Have a plan and communicate the plan clearly and early to your loved one in recovery. One of the first things to do when he or she comes home for the holiday shall be to have an open conversation about the expectations and boundaries in place for the stay. Boundaries are set by asking yourself, “what am I comfortable with?” then checking this proposed boundary with a spouse and therapist or sponsor. Expectations often live in our subconscious, and unless brought out before the heightened emotional experiences of the holidays can lead to disappointment and chaos. Therefore, process through these expectations with a spouse and a therapist or sponsor before the holidays arrive. This allows for clear communication with your loved one when it’s time for this preliminary conversation.
Creating plans can set you up for success, but only if you’re willing to follow through with the plan. As you set boundaries with your loved one, consequences for the broken boundaries need be set as well. Hopefully the consequences will not be used, but must be in place to ensure best care for your loved one and yourself. As a reminder treatment centers are open on Thanksgiving and Christmas and ready for admissions.
Step Two for a successful holiday season: Take Care of Yourself.
Self-care is always important, yet becomes paramount during the holidays for family members of those in early recovery. Just as your family member will be encouraged to attend AA meetings, I encourage you to regularly add Al-anon to your holiday schedule. Al-anon provides a community of support. Passing on the encouragement I’ve heard in the past; it’s helpful to “bookend” possible difficult times with meetings or other positive recovery experiences, like calls with a sponsor. Sponsors and therapists can offer further emotional and individual support as needed. They too are likely extra busy this time of year, so plan calls and meetings with them to ensure you’re getting the support needed in a possibly difficult time.
If nothing above proves helpful, remember that recovery is all about service and humility. What a better time to think less of oneself and more of others, than the holidays? Utilize the holiday season as an opportunity to serve others together.
May this holiday season be the best one yet,
Jesse Gable, LPC