For most of us, Christmas is supposed to be a magically happy time for everyone, but often that is far from the case. Many of us have grown up watching idyllic films like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Christmas Carol”, but in real life, Christmas doesn’t change family issues, remove stress, or somehow manage to make anyone happy. This is especially true for recovering addicts who might face criticism, judgment, temptation, or any number of other negative emotions at home over Christmas. Unfortunately, the holidays makes many of us especially vulnerable to these negative emotions and therefore to temptation.
If you’re meeting your family for the first time since getting clean, going home to a judgemental family, or otherwise have to deal with stress at home over the holidays, you can use these coping strategies to handle your family over Christmas.
Understanding Negative Emotions
Negative emotions are one of your worst enemies as a recovering addict because they drive you into a downward spiral that can be difficult to come out of. Negative emotions like guilt, shame, stress, and anger deplete the reward system in your brain, which leaves you craving the dopamine and serotonin provided by most addictive substances so that you can feel better. Having a previous addiction actually makes this worse, because your brain has been flooded with excess amounts of dopamine for so long that feeling bad can feel worse than it does to everyone else. For that reason, handling very stressful situations and negative emotions over Christmas, when alcohol and other substances are more likely to be available, can be very damaging. However, the key to building a healthy life is to learn coping skills rather than avoidance, so that you can get back to your life.
Don’t Hope for the Best
It might seem optimistic to hope that the best will happen, but most of the time that only sets us up for disappointment and more negative emotions. If your family isn’t likely to give you a stress free Christmas, don’t expect it. In fact, you should take the time to rationalize what you are likely to be up against, determine how to avoid stress, and how to cope with it when it crops up. For example, if your issue is telling your family that you are a recovering addict, you can create a strategy to tell them and deal with negative responses. If your problem is that they don’t forgive you for your lifestyle, you can similarly create a strategy to cope with the negativity, rebut accusations, and reinforce that you are moving towards a recovery. If your issue is that your family holidays are stressful and messy, you can also work to create a plan to ensure that you are stressed as little as possible over the period.
Talking Things Through
Whether your talk involves an explanation of your addiction, a reminder that you are moving towards your recovery, or is generally a place where you set boundaries, you should have one with your family. While not every family will be understanding, you can explain your side of the story, set boundaries, and make the effort to communicate and let your family know how you are feeling, that you need space, and that negative emotions are harmful. If you’re setting boundaries, remember that anything you put across as accusatory will make the people you are asking feel uncomfortable and even hurt, which can cause them to react defensively. Use statements like “I am uncomfortable when” or “I know that this is my problem but ‘this behavior’ causes me to stress, and I am in recovery and should be exposed to less of that”, or “My recovery from addiction means that I am not supposed to be around X, and I know that may be inconvenient for you, so is there anything I can do to make it up?”
Remember that even if it isn’t quite true, taking part or all of the blame for a situation being bad onto yourself ensures that you can ask for it to be changed without causing anger or frustration. However, if your family is deliberately upsetting you, you may have to confront them.
- Set boundaries, but be polite and take the blame where possible to reduce friction
- Be apologetic, even if it’s not necessary
- Emphasize your recovery and your treatment if you’ve attended
Don’t overdo it, take time to de stress, and don’t agree to do too many things. Stress is often caused by having too many things to do and not enough time to do it. Plan at least half of your holiday time to relax, so you can destress. You can also plan in games, movies, and other fun and entertaining things while you are taking time off. Stress is one of the most common triggers for relapse, and it is crucial that you take the time to avoid it and to destress.
Exercise and Eat Well
Exercise and good nutrition can help to ensure that you feel better, even if your experience wih your family is less than stellar. Make some time for activities every day, and make sure that you eat at least one nutritious meal every day, even if you’re indulging in holiday foods.
It can be difficult to be polite if you aren’t getting along with someone, but in the long run, it’s a much better strategy. People also respond better when you are nice to them in return, especially if they are expecting belligerence or sarcasm. Controlling yourself can be difficult, especially if your family members are being less than polite themselves, but it will reduce the tension over your entire visit.
Let it Go
No matter what happens remember that it doesn’t matter. You are trying your best, doing your best, and working towards your own future. If your family cannot understand that and help you, ensure that you aren’t stressed, or even forgive you for your past, that is their problem and not yours. Christmas can be difficult if your family isn’t supportive, but you don’t have to dread it. Expect the worst, plan your rebuttals, and decide how to react to people who are likely to cause problems, but remember that stressing over it will just make things worse. Try to plan in fun things to do, plan in rest, and remember Christmas is one a year, and it will be gone quickly. Good luck with your family. If you or a loved one needs treatment for drug addiction or alcoholism, please contact our Southern California Drug and Alcohol Rehab today to discuss detox and treatment options. One of our professional and experienced intake advisors are waiting to speak with you at 877-296-7477 today.