Coping with Addiction & Recovery During the Holidays

snowflake and holiday lights

This is my daughter’s third year celebrating the holidays while in recovery. Six weeks prior to Thanksgiving 2017, she had left her third treatment center and was on the streets in Pennsylvania; five weeks before Thanksgiving she was back in Maryland and on medication-assisted treatment for opioids; and four weeks prior to the holiday she was living in a local sober-living house. Needless to say, for the past few years, how the holidays were going to unfold for our family was a complete unknown.

Thanksgiving in our house is a mandatory holiday. Family from all over the country converge on our house for a week filled with laughter, food, and a bit of family tension. We’re a blended family that is comprised of blood, steps, and friends. Our daughter’s addiction, and newly found recovery, was an element that added to the family tension.

There are four kids in total — my daughter with addiction is the youngest and all of the others live out of state. Looking back, this Thanksgiving was the first with everyone together since the full impact of addiction hit our family. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Do I ask everyone not to drink? What about those who partake in marijuana? My husband and I had lots of conversations between us but didn’t really involve the rest of the family. We did, however, ask our daughter what she wanted. Here’s what we collectively decided to do:

Coping Mechanisms for the Holidays When Your Child Is in Recovery

  • Bring a sober friend. My daughter brought along a friend who was also new to recovery. They spent as much time apart from the chaos as they needed and engaged with the family when they were comfortable.
  • Others drinking alcohol was OK. Alcohol is not my daughter’s drug of choice, but most everyone respected her and her guest’s sobriety and did not drink during dinner. I did ask that no one be high during dinner, and that request was readily respected.
  • Address the elephant in the room. This was probably the hardest and the most important. My husband pulled together the four kids and forced a conversation. One of the kids (the oldest) was completely unaware that there was tension and we needed to have a discussion; my daughter’s biological brother was contemplative, angry, and stressed; and my other daughter was sad and scared. And she also brought to light an inadvertent consequence of this disease — the unintentional neglect of other family members. As much as I thought I was present in my other children’s lives, I truly wasn’t. Because of my emotional and mental exhaustion, any energy I had left was used to get through the day. They wanted – and needed – updates on the situation, and I didn’t want to talk about it.
  • Go to a meeting together. My two daughters and bio-brother attended an NA meeting together. It allowed her siblings to get a glimpse of her new world and to begin the long road to understanding. Admittedly, this isn’t for all families, but it certainly helped the three of them cope together.

Making Forward Progress as a Family

Thanksgiving 2018 was less tense than 2017. We all felt like we really had something to be thankful for apart from the obvious: Recovery. The family had more earnest conversations, engaged in more activities (watching TV, shopping, going out to eat), and generally relaxed more. We openly talked about my daughter’s progress. By this time, she was living back at home and going to college full-time. It was, dare I say, normal. My daughter brought a sober friend to dinner; this time it was a boyfriend. Guests partook in celebrating with wine and beer; and like last year, those who normally smoke or consume edibles refrained during the day.

With the 2019 holiday right around the corner, the excitement is building for the family to be together. Is there apprehension? Sure. But this year it has less to do with my daughter’s addiction and more to do with normal family dynamics that can create drama – that regular, run-of-the-mill family tension that’s always present. This year, there is no sober friend attending the event with my daughter. I will still ask that the others not be high during dinner; I think that’s more for me than anyone else at this point.

What I Learned as a Parent to Survive the Holidays

So, how did I survive these past three years? 2017 is still pretty much a blur. In 2018, I started practicing self-care on a regular basis. I began seeing a counselor (which was immensely helpful), started saying no when I was feeling overwhelmed, and stopped trying to fix not only my daughter, but her relationships with other family members. 2019 has taught me that my daughter’s recovery is hers alone. However, that does not stop me from sharing observations with her on behaviors that I find concerning. This has kept our communication open and honest. And most of all, it has helped me to stop focusing so much on her and spend more time communicating with my other children.

The more educated I became on addiction and co-occurring disorders, I learned the importance of addressing my daughter’s underlying mental health challenges (depression, anxiety, PTSD) along with her addiction. Recovery is not a one-size-fits-all; nor is it our recovery; it’s hers and mine and my husbands and her siblings. And they all look different. I’m able to honor my triggers and my feelings about our ‘new normal’ and communicate those with my daughter without fear of ‘triggering her into a relapse’. I’ve learned not to take her addiction personally.

My daughter and I have always been close; her addiction didn’t change that. However, trust and respect took a hit. Once those were rebuilt and reestablished, I can honestly say me and my daughter are closer than ever.

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    Tuan Hoang

    December 10, 2019 at 9:08 PM

    First and foremost, one must be prepared. Since most people at least know and are aware of the potential issues that might arise within their own families, it is crucial not to try to “wing it.” If you know that your family is going to be asking lots of uncomfortable questions, practice some appropriate answers and don’t feel obligated to discuss any aspect of your recovery that you’re not comfortable discussing. If your family is overly focused on achievement or likes to bring up stories from the past that are triggering or shameful, rehearse your reactions to them. If you have a friend or significant someone who can help, do a little role-play trying out different answers and see how they feel as you actually say them out loud. It will never be exactly the same as you practice, but being prepared can go a long way towards taming the body and brain’s natural stress responses.

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      Waismann Method

      December 17, 2019 at 4:11 PM

      Laurie learned that it is important for her daughter to address her underlying emotional issues in order to remain sober. Many older ideas about addiction do not address mental health. However, we believe and have seen that addiction is usually the result of untreated mental health conditions. People try to numb their emotional pain by using drugs and over time, an addiction develops on top of the other issues.

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    Ruth Pillow

    December 10, 2019 at 10:34 AM

    My son is 46 years old. He has been in 5 rehabs in the last 5 years and been diagnosed with a severe alcohol addiction in addition to cocaine and opiates. He has abused Suboxtane and possibly other drugs that I am not aware of.

    He is currently in detox again. He has lost his precious family, his wife spent the last 26 years trying to help him and has filed for divorce. He has 2 beautiful daughters, ages 19 and 13.

    I am his mother, probably enabled him by helping him with his finances. His finances now are a complete wreck. He recently had an accident and totaled another elderly woman’s car due but thank God no one was hurt. I am done with the flow of money and am home recuperating from a mild stroke that I had in November. I cannot help him, seems that no matter what I try he always winds up slipping and disappointing his children and our family. I am not sure if he has lost his plumbing job now and am sure he will lose his vehicle due to not being able to pay for it anymore.

    He has been living in a sober living home but still slipping and this is his second one.

    Please help me and give me advice. I am not sure if he can keep a steady job anymore and am so afraid when his divorce is final in April he will be off of his wife’s medical insurance and have none. Can you please advise how I will get medical help for him at that point? His addiction has been diagnosed as severe.

    Thank You

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      Josie Feliz

      December 11, 2019 at 8:44 AM

      Thanks for your message Ruth. We have forwarded your message to one of our helpline specialists who can help better answer your question, and she will be reaching out to you shortly. Our Helpline is a good place to start if you’d like to talk to someone about what you’re going through. Feel free to connect with us in whichever manner you choose in the future:
      Thank you. -The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

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    December 7, 2019 at 10:35 AM

    Thank you! I’m uncertain what to do (Again) when my felon son exits jail for the 7th time. Do we let him return home? He literally has no place to go no friends or family besides us to live with. Suggestions?

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      December 7, 2019 at 2:58 PM

      At 48 yrs old I became a victim of the opioid over prescribed crisis as a result of a worker’s Comp injury. It took me 7 years to recover from what felt like a Traumatic Brain Injury. I lived with young adults in addiction. They taught me and I listened. Research your your child. Get to the core. His thinking got him where he is. He needs your assistance and persistence. A support circle, defined boundaries, a good ear, a higher power that is greater than human power is a great start. Overwhelming fear sets in when the chemical is gone from the body. Remember a time you were most terrified-multiplied by . It will take time but the reward is far greater and everlasting. You are not alone.

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      Cathy Taughinbaugh

      December 9, 2019 at 12:33 AM

      There is no one right answer when it comes to whether your son should return home or not. If you feel that there is enough support and that he won’t be triggered by the environment or local friends, that certainly could be a possibility. Another option is a sober home where he would be with others who are on the same path. Finding the situation that will give him the best chance of living a healthy positive life is key.

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      Laurie S

      December 9, 2019 at 8:55 AM

      Ingrid, you and your family are the only ones that can answer that question. Have boundaries in place if you decided to let him return home. With boundaries come consequences, so know what you’re willing to put up with. Explore Sober Living houses in your area. After my daughter’s 3rd treatment failure, it was Sober Living for her because living at home didn’t work. Have the conversation with your son and try to have him be honest about what he needs. One size does not fit all, for their recovery and ours!

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      December 13, 2019 at 3:27 PM

      Hi Ingrid,
      I am not certain of all that surrounds release from jail. But recently I have gotten involved in developing a Finance 101 class for those incarcerated. It is still in draft form. That being said, I was told that there are many resources for those to be released….housing, programs, etc, etc. He will need to reach out for this help. It is time for him to start taking care of himself. There are resources if he is interested in finding the right, responsible path.

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