Most people fail to recognize the difficulties experienced by those in recovery or in alcohol treatment centers during the holidays. The common misconception is that everybody enjoys the holiday season, and that addicts get a break from working on their recovery .
That’s so far from the truth. People in recovery must work harder than ever on their goals at this time of year. Most people let their hair down a bit, but addicts generally endure depression and anxiety, and their sense of self-esteem can suffer a real nosedive.
‘Tis the (Sad) Season
Take a look around you as we float past Thanksgiving. By the end of November, television commercials show people laughing around wine bottles or flirting over liqueur glasses. The soap operas take forever to get through their end-of-year story lines, and the characters toast one another endlessly. Magazine ads display glossy bottles of pricy liquor, tempting thirst quenchers dotted with chilled condensation or swirls of frost. As the football season wraps up, happy fans clink foaming mugs over big games won and records set.
The reality of the season is even worse. People party their way through the holidays. From mulled wine to spiced eggnog, it’s all right out there as a reminder of everything the addict can’t have.
Someone struggling for sobriety in an alcohol treatment center generally has spent many holidays celebrating just like the people in all those ads, all those TV shows, with all those friends and families. The holiday season might be the first time in an addict’s recovery experience that the loss of his favorite pastime really reaches out and slaps him in the face. It’s hard to say no at Christmas because everybody else is saying yes, okay, just one. But the addict can’t have just one, because one is too many, and a thousand is never enough.
Our Families, Our Adversaries
People who are going through treatment during the holiday season walk beneath a double-edged sword. Certainly they long to come home and be with their families at Christmas. They are the people who make our home—the place, as Robert Frost said, where they have to take you in. But for addicts, some pretty severe dramas have taken place at home, and visiting there might very well rip open some pretty painful wounds.
Many people in treatment for alcohol or drugs struggle with family dynamics that contribute indirectly to the addict’s problems. That’s not to say that an addict can blame his use on someone else; but conflict, blame, and codependency nevertheless have ruled over too many family get-togethers. The addict knows that this year’s gathering might not be any different. If someone is actively using in the household, it will be an even bigger challenge. The addict longs to be at home, and simultaneously he dreads that visit.
Love and Resentment
Consider another dilemma that takes place during the holiday season. People delay the need to seek treatment at this time of the year. Family members feel ready for a confrontation, but this just isn’t the right time.
Instead, the addict and his family go through one more holiday season struggling with harmful patterns of abuse and codependency. Before the season is halfway over, they resent one another for the pain that’s been caused.
As the holidays approach, remember that it really is possible to have fun without intoxication. No matter what holiday you’re celebrating—Christmas, Hanukkah, St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, or even the Fourth of July—both the addict and his family can commit to parties without partying. The addict should attend 12-step meetings regularly. If you hope to have any kind of peace on earth, you owe it to one another.