Thanksgiving kicks off a holiday season heavily characterized by family gatherings for many people, and even when active addiction does not play a role in the family’s history, it can be tense at best. If you are in recovery, there is almost always an added layer of angst served up with the turkey and pumpkin pie. You may feel anxious in social situations in general but especially in one where you are unsure what they know or don’t about your past, if they are judging you or not, and how they expect you to interact with them.
The truth is that every family brings a mixed bag of responses to addiction and to recovery. Everyone has their own experiences that will color their ability to be positive and/or allow you to be who you are now in recovery.
Some conversations that take place over the holidays may feel like you are walking a tightrope, and that’s not a good feeling if you are already struggling with trying to find a sense of balance in your life. If you don’t want to make it harder than it has to be, you can avoid the following:
- Talking politics: Especially in this climate, it is going to be exceedingly rare to find yourself sharing the exact same political views and opinions on every issue with everyone in your family. Politics have split the country in half. Don’t bring it up at the dinner table if you want people to be getting along by dessert, and if others start the conversation rolling, you likely won’t be alone in choosing to stay out of it or steering the conversation in a new direction.
- Bringing up the past: If you can avoid talking about volatile issues from the past, do so. If anyone tries to engage with you about choices you made in the past that they feel are harmful, sidestep the conversation as much as you can. There is almost no burden that has been weighing heavily on someone for years that can be resolved with a conversation or two over a holiday meal, and you don’t want to be caught off guard and end up saying something that only makes things worse.
- Judging someone’s parenting: If you are in recovery and you are bringing your kids to a family gathering, it is likely that more than one person will try to give you parenting advice. Some of it may be well-meaning while some may be overtly judgmental and intrusive. In most cases, it will either annoy you, make you angry, or cause you to feel depressed and unsure of your parenting abilities – none of which are good feelings that are supportive of your recovery. The best way to handle it? Acknowledge that their suggestion is an option and change the subject.
- Talking religion: Religion is just as volatile as politics, and in this case, it can be deeply personal. There is no safe way to get into the nitty gritty of it if people disagree on fundamentals. Like politics, the best plan is to avoid the conversation entirely if it is causing anyone pain.
- Taking things too seriously: Yes, your uncle may tease you about being sober, and your cousin may have a few too many and continually try to push a drink into your hand. Your sister may not be speaking to you and may instead talk about you behind your back to other people, complaining about something you said or did during active addiction. You may not get the attention you want from some people, and you may get too much from others. Whatever it is that annoys you this holiday season, keep it in perspective. This is just a few days out of your entire life, and it means very little when it comes to the trajectory of your recovery.
Family & friends can cause great stress in recovery over the holidays
But the good news is that you are in control of your choices. While there is not much you can do or say to impact how people treat you, you can control how you respond – and you always have the option to leave. Take a walk, take a nap, or give yourself some space until the next holiday gathering and try again.
How do you handle stressors with family over the holidays? Do you feel that spending time with relatives makes your recovery stronger or jeopardizes your ability to stay sober?