How to support a recovering partner through the holidays (without being codependent or controlling)
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? The holidays are fast upon us and for many people eating and being merry includes drinking alcohol. Alcohol is a part of many family traditions and office parties will often have a fully stocked bar. It’s one time of year that we are encouraged to indulge and possibly even to over-indulge as the time from Thanksgiving through the New Year are full of indulgence as a method of celebration. Popular culture tells us that wine with Thanksgiving dinner is a great way to deal with relatives you don’t agree with (it’s not); mulled wine or “wassail” is mentioned in a classic Christmas carol; and who hasn’t celebrated the New Year with a champagne toast at midnight? The holiday season can be a particularly stressful time for those who are sober which means that by extension it can be a stressful time for those who support someone who is clean and sober.
the holidays can be a tough time for many
It does not help that the holidays may also be a difficult time for many people who are not in recovery from drugs or alcohol. Whether you are far away from family, or perhaps estranged from them, whether it is a close friend or loved one who has passed away, many people find the holiday season difficult. According to PRN Newswire the Center for Network Therapy saw a 150% increase in past patients readmitting during the holidays due to relapse. With emotions running higher or lower than during the rest of the year and the increased availability of alcohol it might make you feel more concerned that your loved one may relapse. While you know that there is nothing that you can do to prevent the decision another person makes, here are some things that you can do this holiday season to support them and your own serenity.
Things you can do to support a loved one in recovery
- Encourage them to go to meetings as usual
While you might find yourself wanting to ask your spouse or partner to skip a meeting to accompany you to a party, this is a time when support from others in the program is very helpful. Skipping meetings is never a good way to maintain sobriety. It might be prudent to attend an extra meeting or two, or to attempt to attend parties where there will not be drugs or alcohol available. If it is not possible to avoid skipping a meeting, encourage your loved one to find an alternate meeting to attend perhaps earlier in the day or on the day before or after. Be sure not to try to force them to go to a meeting however or to nag them if they want to skip one. Remember we are trying to be supportive NOT controlling!
- Abstain yourself
While some partners of alcoholics and addicts in recovery may choose to abstain year round, many do not. You do not have the ability to make choices for your loved one but you do have the choice on whether or not you will drink alcohol or use recreational drugs this holiday season. Also pay attention to drinks like punch at adult only parties, it may contain alcohol even if it is not specifically noted. Modifying your lifestyle in certain situations in order to support someone you care about is not codependent, however you do want to be sure that you are making the choice in order to be loving so that you do not become resentful or angry at the person you are attempting to support.
- Be flexible but have a plan
If you go to a party and are having a great time but your spouse is finding it difficult or overwhelming to be there, be flexible. You can leave with them; you can let them take the car home while you take an Uber later or catch a ride with a friend; or they can take an Uber or cab now and leave the car for you. If you know there’s a good change that your partner may want to leave early, go ahead and speak ahead of time about what the plan will be. Do not be upset or angry at them for leaving rather than staying in a situation where they are more prone to relapse – leaving a less than ideal situation is the responsible choice.
- Communicate openly and be aware of your own feelings
Whether or not you identify as codependent it is important for the families of those in recovery to be aware of their own emotions and communicate them in effective ways. It is healthy to say, “I really want to go to my parents house for Christmas eve. I understand that you don’t but the thought of not going makes me sad and angry, so I have decided that I will go alone.”It’s great to spend time together around the holidays but you want your husband or wife to stay sober and that may mean putting their sobriety before family time.
It’s even ok to say, “I know your boss has an open bar at the holiday party every year. It scares me to think about you surrounded by people who are drinking.” Addiction is sometimes the elephant in the room, it is not unsupportive to express feelings of fear. What is not supportive is to say things like “You’ll relapse if you go to that office party” or “I don’t trust you not to drink.” Trust is something that couples and families have to work to rebuild when one person enters recovery. It may be true that you do not trust him or her but it feels blaming to say “I don’t trust you” so rephrasing to “it scares me that you might drink” allows you to own your feelings without placing responsibility for those feelings on your partner.
- Avoid manipulation
In the end, we cannot control whether or not a person we love relapses. That is a good thing, because it is not our responsibility to keep another person sober. As a wise person in Al-Anon once said “I didn’t cause it, so I can’t fix it.” For some people who are in codependent relationships with an addict or alcoholic, our first instinct might be to lie or manipulate in order to keep them from a situation where we think they will relapse. Remember there are liquor stores everywhere and they likely know where to go to find their drug of choice, a person may be more likely to relapse in certain situations but if they are determined to drink or use, keeping them from that situation will not keep them from relapsing.
a word of caution
These are tips meant to help and encourage those who are partners and spouses of someone who is in recovery from drugs and alcohol. Whether he or she has been sober 8 days, 8 years, or 80 years we want to be supportive while not being controlling.
It is also important to have your own support system. Even if your loved one is doing well in recovery Al-Anon is a wonderful place to find others who understand what you are going through and are not emotionally involved in any particular outcome as friends and relatives might be.
These tips will likely not be helpful if your loved one is still in active addiction. No matter how much you want someone to get clean or sober, it is up to that individual to make a very difficult choice to change. If you or your family is in danger, there is no wrong time to leave. Do not put your personal safety or the safety of your children off because it is the holiday season. You can find resources online Womens Shelters Resource List. Unfortunately for same sex partners there are fewer shelters available but you can also call or chat online with someone at the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7/365, 1-800-799-7233, 1-800-787-3224 (TTY), support is also available for those who speak Spanish.
More to read about relapse during the holidays
Lowering the Risk of Relapse During December
Holiday Challenges to Addiction Recovery
4 Ways to Support Your Loved One’s Recovery During the Holidays
6 Strategies for Spending (Sober) Holidays with Family
Helping an Addict Stay Sober During the Holidays: A Simple Guide for Families
10 Tips For Avoiding a Relapse During The Holiday Season
PDF from Hazelden FOUR GENERATIONS OVERCOMING ADDICTION Enjoying a Happy and Sober Holiday Season
Stacey Aldridge, LCSW is a therapist
in the Jackson, MS area. She supports
the partners of addicts and alcoholics
through therapy. If you would like to
schedule an appointment to see Stacey
in Canton, MS or Vicksburg, MS please call Grace Christian Counseling 601-636-5703.