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Holiday Stress in Drug and Alcohol Recovery

Tradition 10: “Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.”

The holiday season is right around the corner, and this is a challenging time both for addicts and for their families. Overindulging—both in terms of food and alcohol—is most common during this time of year.

Fitness clubs sell the most memberships in January because people tend to put on the most weight during the preceding two months. It is no accident or coincidence that addictive behaviors resurface at the same time of year when families spend the most time together.

Tradition 10 teaches us to practice neutrality with regard to controversial subjects for our own health and for the good of the groups we participate in. Discussing heated subjects like religion and politics is potentially toxic. Unfortunately, many families fail to understand the impact that this can have on an addict or alcoholic in recovery.

The Dark Side of the Holidays

Aside from the fact that extended family visits commonly occur most frequently during this time of year, traditions have a tendency to stir up memories of the past. While many holiday customs give families something to look forward to, these customs have side effects as well.

Old arguments and dysfunctional behaviors become “traditional” in the sense that they consistently happen year after year, whether anyone likes them or not. Families long divided by religious or political differences usually find that these disagreements become amplified during the holiday season. Does your family re-live the same political or religious argument each year? Can you predict how and when the argument is going to start?

Create a Supportive Environment

A hostile family environment is the last thing any alcoholic or addict in recovery needs. The recovery process is a demanding emotional roller coaster. Staying sober requires an addict to face deeply-rooted fears and resentments. During this challenging time, loving and compassionate support are absolutely crucial. Dredging up old hostilities is likely to make a difficult process even worse for the addict. In severe or particularly challenging cases, complaining loudly about politics place unneeded stress on an addict in early sobriety.

Using any kind of gathering to air your personal opinions and grievances is inappropriate, even under normal circumstances.  The stress of holidays with family can exploit areas of vulnerability where the addict needs to continue strengthening their program. When someone you love is struggling with addiction, these situations can spell the difference between life and death.

Work Your Program

As always, no matter what your situation looks like, the key to navigating emotionally challenging times and situations is to actively work a program of recovery.

Many recovered drug and alcohol addicts, as well as their families, find that staying in contact with those in the fellowship, engaging in prayer and meditation, and being of service to others, are both beneficial and necessaryduring the holiday season. If you do not have a sponsor, start looking for one immediately. If you cannot attend face-to-face meetings, dial into a phone meeting.

Whether you are an addict or the family member of a drug or alcohol addict, you will find that a little bit of support and fellowship from other people who are working the twelve steps can go a long way.

If your environment is not supportive of your recovery and you cannot separate yourself from it, be honest about that. You may be surprised how much difference it makes when you are honest with yourself the unpleasantness of a situation rather than trying to force a fake smile. Remember that there is a large community of people in recovery from addiction in every city. Reach out to that community, and you will find the support and understanding that your family may not be able to provide.

Make Amends Where Appropriate

Another potentially troubling aspect of the holidays is interaction with loved ones that have been harmed through actions of an addict while in their active addiction.  Being confronted face to face with the “wreckage of the past” can stir up feelings of guilt and shame that have been suppressed for many years.

While some maybe unwilling to hear them out, making direct amends to those who have been harmed is essential to beginning the process of healing broken relationships.  When past issues are brought to light and the addict takes responsibility for his actions, shame and remorse begin to melt away.