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.