Families have a variety of holiday traditions.
Some families have special cooking and baking traditions. Others might have long-standing approaches to tree decorating. Maybe caroling around the neighborhood is a yearly activity.
Or maybe your family has a tradition of having uncomfortable conversations over the holidays. If you are in recovery from a substance use disorder, you may be worried that the topic of this year’s conversation will be you.
If so, it is important to consider how you might approach such a conversation, whether it comes up over dinner, while presents are being unwrapped, or on the way to holiday services.
Here’s a present you can give yourself: Remember that your recovery belongs to you. That means you get to decide how much to share and with whom. Even as you acknowledge that addiction can affect entire families, you should remember that you are under no obligation to share the details of your recovery with the entire family. This is true whether you are spending the holidays with your immediate or extended family.
With that firmly in mind, it is still worth your while to think about how you will respond if the topic comes up. Because odds are, it will come up.
Are You Ready to Unwrap the Conversation?
The holiday season may be a convenient and appropriate time to attempt to apologize to members of your family who were hurt in some way by your substance use disorder and its aftermath. This making of amends is a central component of 12-Step programs, so you may well want to take advantage of the family gathering to make progress in this area. You will, of course, want to plan your apology in advance so that you are calm in the moment and can offer clear and sincere words.
On the other hand, you might hope to talk with your family about issues and experiences from the past that may have contributed to your development of a substance use disorder. This can be a challenging conversation in the best of circumstances—and the holidays may not, in fact, be the best of circumstances—so you will want to have a carefully considered plan before diving in. That said, you might decide this is your best opportunity to address the past and chart a path to move forward as a family.
We want to repeat an important note from above: Your recovery belongs only to you. As a result, you are not obligated to enter into either of the conversations we’ve considered. You should always remember that you can choose to tell curious family members that it simply isn’t the right time for a conversation about your recovery. You might have a family member or two who has a hard time taking the hint, and so you will want to have a plan for making some space for yourself. That might mean leaving a celebration early. If it does, you should not feel guilty about making a decision that supports your ongoing sobriety.
Will Someone Try to Give You Advice Without a Gift Receipt?
Even if you have chosen not to initiate conversations about your recovery, there is still a strong possibility that a relative—no doubt with the very best of intentions—will decide they need to give you some advice. Maybe this person has been on his or her own recovery journey. Or maybe they have been doing some research on the internet and want to share what they have learned.
Either way, you can treat that advice like a gift you don’t really care for. Smile politely and remember you don’t have to keep the gift. After all, you have an official treatment plan in place which has been created by a physician with expertise in substance use disorders and a full understanding of your specific situation. That treatment plan, of course, is your recovery guide—and no amount of advice from your family can change that.
Don’t Let the Stress of the Holidays be the Gift that Keeps on Giving
It is only natural for the members of your family to have questions about your recovery and to want to offer their advice. After all, they love you and want to support you. But as we’ve discussed, sometimes the support you need is an understanding from everyone that you are not ready to discuss the details of your recovery. Be ready to calmly deflect invasive questions with answers like, “I’m sorry, but I can’t answer your question right now.”
A stressful holiday family gathering might feel like it will never end, but at some point all the packages will be unwrapped, and it will be time to give everyone a hug and head home. And the fact of the matter is you don’t have to make it through all the unwrapping. If the unsolicited advice and the barrage of questions becomes overwhelming, it perfectly appropriate to give yourself the gift of some peace—even if that means leaving early.
Just be sure to grab a plate of Christmas cookies on your way out.
The Greatest Gift is Sustainable Sobriety
Difficult conversations are often part of the holiday season. At Wooded Glen Recovery Center, we understand that—and we’re ready to connect you to resources that might make the yuletide conversation more manageable. If you (or a loved one) need treatment for a substance use disorder and ongoing support during your recovery journey, we hope you will give yourself the gift of our expertise and compassionate care.