Several years ago, I posted a sarcastic holiday post about how relatives can sabotage a loved one’s recovery. One reader commented it could have been more helpful if I’d left out the snark and written something useful. I agreed, and re-wrote my blog post for this year.
So, this post is written for the friends and relatives of people in recovery from substance use disorders.
What to do:
- Do invite your loved one in recovery to family functions, and treat her with the same respect you treat the rest of the family. If you have resentments from her past behavior, you can address this privately, not at the holiday dinner table. Perhaps given how holidays can magnify feelings, it’s best to keep things superficial and cheery. Chose another time if you have a grievance to air.
- Allow your relative some privacy. If the person in recovery wishes to discuss her recovery with the entire family, she will. Let her be the one to bring it up, though. Asking things like, “Are you still on the wagon or have you gone back to shooting drugs?” probably will embarrass her and serve no useful function.
- Accept her limitations graciously and without comment. Holidays can be trigger for drug use in some people, and your relative may want to go to a 12-step meeting during her visit. Other people in recovery may need some time by themselves, to pray, meditate, or call a recovering friend. Allow them to do this without making it a big deal.
- Remember there are no black sheep. We are all gray sheep, since we all have our faults. In some families, one person, often the person with substance use disorder, gets unfairly designated as the black sheep. She gets blamed for every misfortune the family has experienced. Don’t slip into this pattern at holiday functions.
What not to do:
- Don’t ask the recovering person if she’s relapsed. If you can’t tell, assume all is well with her recovery. If she looks intoxicated, you can express your concern privately, without involving everyone.
- Don’t use drugs, including alcohol, around a recovering person unless you check with them first. Ask if drug or alcohol use may be a trigger, and if it is, abstain from use yourself. If you must use alcohol or other drugs, go to a separate part of the house or to another location.
Being around drugs including alcohol can be a bigger trigger during the first few years of recovery, but any recovering person can have times when they feel vulnerable, so check with them privately before you break open a bottle of wine.
If your family’s usual way of celebrating holidays is to get “ all liquored up,” them understand why a recovering relative may not wish to come to be with family at this time, and don’t take it personally.
For some of us, remaining in recovery is a life and death issue, so please accept we will do what we must to remain in recovery, even if that means making a holiday phone call rather than making a holiday visit.
- If your recovering loved one is in medication-assisted treatment with methadone or buprenorphine, don’t feel like you have the right to make dosage recommendations. Don’t ask “When are you going to off of that medication (meaning methadone or buprenorphine)?
Your loved one may taper off medication completely at some point, or he may not. Either way, that’s a medical decision best made by the patient and his doctor. Asking when a taper is planned is not your business.
- Remember your loved one is more than the disease from which they are recovering.
Some people have diabetes and some people have substance use disorders. These diseases are only a small part of who they are.
Refrain from giving hilarious descriptions of your loved one’s past addictive behavior, saying, “But I’m only joking!” This can hurt her feelings, and keep her feeling stuck with an identity as a drug user. She can begin to believe that with her family, being an addict is a life sentence.
I hope this helps.
May all my readers have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!