themighty logo

How to Navigate Addiction Recovery During the Holidays


Packed airports, pesky relatives, old friends and lengthy vacations away from your routine are some of the challenges we have to face during the holidays. Someone who doesn’t struggle with an addiction might read those as the cost of having an amazing holiday, but for me, the addict, they’re terrors that could jeopardize sobriety.

San Diego was my home. It’s where I grew up, had my first drink, took my first drug and slowly lost control of my inhibitions. Since I’ve moved up to Washington, coming home is always challenging because of this. The San Diego airport is a goldmine for my anxiety ever since a few Christmas’ back. It rings with reminders of arguments, police and being taken to the nearest hospital. This is how my Christmas vacation starts every year, full of anxiety and shame of the past.

It’s Christmas Day. I’m surrounded by my family and holiday cheer. I’m asked to grab some wine for the guests, open it and serve it. A family member asks, “Do you want a glass?” I hesitate for a second and hold my tongue, but I’m frustrated, annoyed and overwhelmed because my family should remember. Do they want me to relapse? Is this a test? Do they think my addiction isn’t serious? All of these questions arise and suddenly I find myself wanting a drink, line or anything to make me feel different than I do at that moment. Despite the work and steps completed to stay strong and clean, in a matter of seconds I’m back into my addictions.

I don’t take a drink.

It’s these moments when you don’t realize what you’re doing to someone’s sobriety. It’s really easy to forget how much someone who struggles with addiction leans on the ones they are closest to and how easily they can compromise the years of work completed. No, it’s not your responsibility to change your behavior or walk on egg shells, but it is to remember that you have someone who struggles with addiction in your family or friend group. The second you forget about that, you put everything at risk for them. So what do you do? Where’s the training manual for managing addiction during the holidays?

For the family and friends:

Ask them about their journey, their process, but don’t beat around the bush. Be direct, be aware and be caring. Don’t ask if you don’t want the real answer. There’s always the potential I could say I relapsed, and if that bothers you don’t ask this question. The last thing I need is a lecture on how addiction has ruined my life.

Be comfortable being uncomfortable. People with addiction live in daily discomfort. We are pros at managing it and have learned to cope with it. Discomfort is good for recovery because it’s challenging and forces you to see different perspectives.

Don’t check in every hour. If there’s alcohol at your holiday, don’t ask me if I’m doing OK as often as you want. It’s annoying, it’s frustrating and for someone who is managing sobriety, you’re just going to remind them that they aren’t “normal” or make them feel like a burden. If you notice me isolating or not engaging in conversations, it’s because I needed a break to focus and recenter myself.

Treat me normally. As if my sobriety isn’t who I am, but it is. Drink around me. Do things you would usually do around others. Enjoy yourself and I’ll feel “normal” and included. The worst thing you can do is make me feel like I’m changing your normal behavior or causing you to miss out.

For the person with an addiction:

Remember to be selfish. You’ve stayed sober because you fought for yourself. You put yourself and recovery first above everything else. Continue down this path, especially during the holidays.

Speak up. If a family or friend is offending you or saying something that doesn’t sit well with you, speak up in a mature, collected manner. Don’t suppress your feelings. If someone offers you a drink, respectfully remind them that you’re in recovery and say no.

Walk away. As hours progress, people get drunk. When this happens, walk away from everyone and spend some time on your own. Check in with your sponsor, read blogs on staying sober, practice your steps, etc. I’ve missed gift exchanges, family photos and more because I needed to take a break. That’s OK and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Remember the first point — be selfish.

Reflect on your journey, your process, your achievements and struggles. Think about why you got sober, why you stay sober and what you’ve achieved during the process. Reflection is critical because if you don’t remember why you got sober and why you’re staying sober, you’ll lose track of your sobriety all together.

All of these recommendations are things I do each holiday. As a friend or family member, you can help someone with an addiction stay strong. As someone struggling, you’ve already got a full set of tools waiting to be used — so use them.

If all else fails, remember: take it one minute, one hour, one day and one step at a time.

Follow this journey on Ashlie’s site.

Photo by Max Bender on Unsplash