By Alanna Hilbink
Holidays are marketed as a time of joy and togetherness. Everywhere you look, you see images of smiling, laughing families gathered around dining tables and piles of presents — with no sign of family drama, stress or the individual challenges a person may face.
But the truth is, not all families celebrate in the same way, and not all homes are happy and healthy.
If you’re in recovery, going home may remind you of the people you love and your reasons for being sober — or home may not be a safe, encouraging place at this point in your journey. There’s nothing wrong with this. You don’t have to mimic the commercial image of a “perfect” holiday celebration.
We’re all different, with different traditions, personal histories and home environments. The right way to celebrate the holidays is the way that best supports your recovery.
So how do you decide if going home for the holidays is right for you?
Recognize Your Triggers
If you’re in recovery, seriously consider the pros and cons of getting together with family before making your plans. Think about your potential relapse triggers, and talk with your therapist about how going home might impact your recovery.
Here are a few questions you might discuss:
- Is being around alcohol too tempting at this point in recovery? Don’t go home if family members aren’t willing to host dry events.
- Does stress cause you to crave “escape” or “relaxation”? If family’s a significant source of stress, stay away.
- Do you associate home with past drug use? If so, think twice about spending the holidays there. “Even the house (including the room where an addict used to act out) and certain family members (like that cousin they used to smoke weed with) can be important cues that may re-trigger cravings and old behavioral patterns,” Psychology Today 1
It’s also a good idea to consider who you’re going to be around. Will you feel safe and loved, or will you feel pressured — either internally or externally — to pick up substance use again?
Ask for Change
If you want to go home but know holiday traditions or family dynamics will be a problem, ask for change. This may include alcohol-free get-togethers or alternatives to high-stress events or celebrations. Change has been a good thing for you so far, so don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and your recovery!
Be sure to pay attention to the way others react to your requests, as this can help you decide if going home is a good idea. If family and friends are supportive and open to new ideas, it may be the right time to go home and create new memories. If they’re hesitant to help you in your recovery, create your own traditions, and make the holidays special for yourself.
Make a (Healthy) Compromise
If you do go home for the holidays, remember, you don’t have to spend the entire holiday there. Visit with family for just an hour or two, then drive back to your place. If you live further away, rent a hotel room or stay with sober friends so you have easy access to a peaceful, supportive environment. Walking away at particularly stressful or negative times is another option that can send family members a clear message about what words, actions and behaviors are unacceptable or unhealthy.
If the holidays are simply too overwhelming, make plans to go home once things have calmed down instead. A quiet week with close family after the holidays can mean much more than showing up for all the seasonal stress.
Practice for the Holidays
Whether or not you go home for the holidays, practice those recovery skills with your therapist and peers. Make plans for saying “no” to a drink, stepping away from drama or telling your family you won’t be joining the festivities this year.
“For those in early recovery, practicing with a therapist ways to refuse extended hospitality or turn down ‘just one drink’ can be useful,” according to US News & World Report.2
Practice can also help you gauge whether or not to go home. Do you feel comfortable using the tips and tricks you’re working on? Can you safely say no to family? If in doubt, don’t put your sobriety at risk!
The Final Decision
The decision to go home for the holidays is yours to make. Don’t let family or friends (or an internet article!) talk you into making a choice that isn’t right for you. Listen to yourself, and lean on your support system. You’ve already shown how strong and brave you are by getting this far. Choose what’s best for your continued health, recovery and happiness.
Treatment During the Holidays
If a friend needs treatment and you question if going to treatment during the holidays is right, we’ve provided insight to help answer those questions.
1. Jaffe, Adi. “Addiction During the Holidays: Recovered or Not, It’s Important to Be Prepared.” Psychology Today, December 23, 2010.
2. Esposito, Lisa. “Should You Skip the Holiday Family Visit?” US News & World Report, November 18, 2015.