For those in the early stages of recovering, seeing relatives again can feel like stepping into a minefield without a map. As the holidays approach and family reunions begin, well-meaning relatives might start asking you about your life or even about your recent absence. Family members who are unaware of your recovery might be inquisitive about your choice to not drink during an upcoming Christmas party. Or, you might be unsure how to honestly start — or tactfully avoid — conversations about your alcohol or drug addiction.
You are certainly not the only one trying to navigate the murky waters of open communication with family members. Here, we'll offer some suggestions for how to approach conversations about your recovery during the holiday season.
Remember that you are the one who holds the reigns of when, with whom and how much you feel comfortable sharing. If you're not ready to share the details of your addiction and recovery journey with a distant cousin or nosy aunt, that is your prerogative.
However, if you feel comfortable, we encourage you to find those family members you can trust to share with honestly. Having more reliable people in your life who know about your struggles opens you up to more support, love and positivity than isolating yourself ever will.
If you're not ready to dive into heavy conversations about your addiction and mental health, come prepared with ideas for fun activities. You can spend quality time with your relatives without the pressure of long and focused conversations. Whether it's a hearty walk in the snow, a series of competitive board games or an energetic round of charades, have some playful suggestions in your back pocket to help balance out the serious times.
If you're worried about conversations circling around to your addiction or past substance abuse, put the focus on your family members instead. If you feel comfortable sharing — great! We always encourage honesty and transparency. You can also employ the tactic of asking plenty of questions and giving your relatives opportunities to share what's new with their life as well. Not only will this keep the conversation from being consumed by your experience, but asking questions and showing an interest always makes the recipient feel loved and appreciated.
Are you nervous about being offered a drink at a family get-together, and having to awkwardly explain why you're abstaining this year? Or are you dreading the moment your uncle asks you where you've been the last few months, right at the quiet point of dinner?
Opening an entirely honest dialogue about addiction, substance abuse and early recovery can feel like an extremely vulnerable task. But a frank conversation might be the best way to help break down stigma and share your perspective. If you don't want to distract or escape the conversation, embrace the chance to speak your truth.
For your own self-care and anxiety relief, it's a good idea to go into the holiday season with an escape plan in mind. If the pressure of being around alcohol is too difficult, or conversations with relatives are making you seek comfort in the form of a substance, remember that it's okay to leave the situation. Think about setting a curfew for yourself to exit the party, appointing a close relative as your wingman or attending an AA meeting for support right before or during the holidays.
No matter how close you are to your extended family, the holidays can be a challenging time of year for anyone going through addiction recovery, especially early recovery. If you need treatment or assistance, particularly during this time of year, please reach out to us at Diamond House Detox. We are a premier substance abuse treatment center in the North California area and would love to offer you our care and service as you fight for your recovery. Contact us today to learn more.
Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on December 17th, 2019.