Coping with Holidays in Recovery- How to Avoid Smashing Easter Eggs
Happy Easter everyone.
I wanted to write a quick post about dealing with family during the holidays. There are plenty of articles providing tips to alcoholics coping with holidays in recovery, but it is not as easy to find articles directed toward drug users. Holiday functions usually revolve around alcohol, so the dangers for those trying not to drink are obvious. However, holidays are just as dangerous, sometimes even more dangerous, for drug users.
Obviously, a drug user does not need to worry about turning down a heroin fix during dinner, like an alcoholic may have to do with a glass of wine, so exposure is not the issue. The main trigger for drug users during a holiday is insidious and often unavoidable…this trigger is FAMILY.
There was a time when I was deep in a using cycle, where I could not bring myself to have so much as a phone conversation with any of my family members without getting sufficiently doped up first. My family never meant to make me feel this way. but my own shame made me feel inadequate and I felt I needed to numb myself if I was to have a level-headed conversation with anyone who really cared about me.
Later on in recovery, I had to do some work, with a therapist, on my relationships with certain family members before I was able to have healthy conversations with them. Conversations where I would not feel the need to get completely stoned beforehand.
This took months of counseling and we are still working on our relationships today so there is no immediate fix, certainly not in time for Easter dinner tonight. If you feel seeing family today is going to be detrimental to your recovery, you are not alone.
Your family may be loving and supportive, emotionally and physically abusive, or even cold and dismissive. It does not matter what kind of family you have. If you are struggling with drug use, you will inevitably feel drained after a family function. I call this the ‘after-family hangover.’ Getting high may seem like a great way to alleviate ‘after-family hangover’ symptoms, but it will cause you to take one step back in your recovery. Eventually, you will have to learn to cope with your family. It takes practice, but I would like to give you a head start.
How to Avoid Smashing
the Pretty Pastel Easter Eggs
1. SHOW UP, even if you have not stopped using completely.
Even when I was using, I tried my best to attend holiday functions with my family. It is important to show your family you love them, even if you are strung out. However, do not get completely fucked up before seeing your family. They will know and you will not escape the spotlight. If you do this, none of these techniques will save you from distress.
I hate that I have to say this but, DO NOT steal from your family members or ask for money at gatherings. You will not be invited back next year and, when you decide you finally want to stop using, you will have lost the respect of the people who could be your best advocates.
If you are high, stop by, give hugs, eat some turkey, and leave. Do not put your family through hours of watching you nod out at the dinner table.
Some may not agree with this advice. If this is you, please consider this. While I was using, I attended holiday functions with my family. When the functions went smoothly, I would start to feel confident I could ask for help from my family. These positive interactions pushed me toward making better decisions.
NOTE: If there is an abusive dynamic between you and any of the family members that will be at the holiday function, consider avoiding the function until this family member has left. Your recovery and sanity are more important than missing one holiday. Also, if you are not welcome to a gathering, do not attend. Unfortunately, you have lost this privilege.
If you have no family, or you are not welcome to your own family’s gatherings, find another place to go. Many Anonymous meeting halls serve food and hold meetings over the holidays. Churches are also a good place to look. If you have any friends that are celebrating, see if you can join them for the holidays. Being alone on a holiday, whether using or in recovery, is not the answer, EVER.
2. AVOID talking recovery with family members.
It is rare to find a family in which every member agrees with the recovery plan you have laid out for yourself. Do not bring it up.
Instead, ask questions about how your family members are doing, to avoid putting your recovery in the spotlight. After all, it is YOUR recovery, not Great Aunt Mildred’s. What worked for cousin Johnny is not the same thing that is working for you. As I have said repeatedly in this blog, every person’s recovery is unique. There are as many ways to recover as there are individuals in the world.
Have a plan when asked about your future. Have your answer ready before you sit down for dinner tonight. Keep it short and sweet.
Pick a hobby you have enjoyed lately and share your plan to start making an income from this hobby.
Do not be ashamed if you are working a humbling, ‘recovery’ job. Explain how your job allows you to leave any work-related stress at the door after you clock out. As a result, you are able to make ends meet while taking some much needed time to reflect on what you truly want out of life.
4. LET IT GO immediately.
Some family members like to stick in the knife and twist. Most of us have a screwed up a few things in our life. For example, I did not finish my law degree. My family knows I have been coping with recovery, but that does not stop some of them from bringing up my degree and pressuring me for my plan to complete it.
A family member will bring something like this up, no matter what. It in unavoidable. Smile, nod, agree, and change the subject! Out of all days, today is not the day to discuss your failures and how you plan on fixing them.
5. PREPARE conversation starters and diversions.
Arrive armed with one-liner jokes and diversion questions.
Here are some jokes you can use:
For the raunchier family members:
- What did the Easter Egg say to the boiling water?
- It will take me a minute to get hard, I just got laid by some chick.
For the younger ones:
- What happened to the Easter Bunny when he misbehaved at school?
- He was eggspelled!
- What do you call a rabbit with fleas?
- Bugs Bunny!
- Where does the Easter bunny eat his pancakes?
- The IHOP, of course!
What invention seemed the most futuristic to you when it came out?
Tell me about the house you grew up in? Did you have electricity? Plumbing?
These questions are great because they shift focus onto the other person. Everyone loves talking about themselves. You will sound engaged and you might learn something interesting!
6. THE CHILDREN’S TABLE
When in doubt, hang out at the children’s table: Sometimes, the best place to hang out during a holiday family gathering is with the kids. Kids do not know enough to judge you and they will always laugh at your dumb jokes. If you are feeling stressed, find the little ones. Within a couple of minutes, they will have you smiling a genuine smile again.
7. REMEMBER your family members are not substance abuse counselors.
They are bound to make mistakes.
Your mother will think she is doing the right thing crying to you because she is scared. This will make you want to use.
Your father may choose not to say a single word to you this holiday because he is sick of your shit.
This will make you want to use.
Your aunt will go on for three hours about how well your cousin is doing since he made his first million last year.
This will make you want to use.
Give them a break, and ignore it. Engaging will make the situation worse.
Decompressing without Drugs
No matter how you have coped in the past, surviving a family gathering is not an excuse to get high if you are in recovery. Likewise, if you are not clean, surviving a gathering is not an excuse to take a bigger hit or do a bigger shot to celebrate. You may not wake up and, trust me, you do not want your mother to remember your death every Easter for the rest of her life. That would be selfish on your part.
You will feel relieved to have made it through dinner without any major incident. Of course, as users, we want to celebrate things like this. What do we do to celebrate? We use!! I know, counter-intuitive, but true nonetheless.
Eat an extra slice of pie and have a plan for when you get home. Pick out a holiday movie with a friend that you can watch when you get home from your family function. Pick a friend you can vent to easily because you will have things to vent about after spending a couple of hours with the fam.
If you have to be alone when you get home, get out your journal and write. Write anything. Write about how Great Aunt Millie’s halitosis seems to have gotten worse in the last couple of years. Write about how Cousin Johnny’s newest hobby, sculpting figurines out of cat hair, is one of the most ridiculous things you have ever heard.
Coping with family during holidays is rough, but it is possible. I suggest having an exit plan so you can leave if you feel uncomfortable. Leaving is better than letting arguments escalate. If this happens, do not be discouraged. Be proud that you tried. I am proud of you! If you have any questions, would like to add any advice, or need support, please leave a message below.