Early alcoholism recovery can be a scary time for everyone – the family members, close friends and the addict | alcoholic - as phone calls, emails and late night conversations buzz with worrisome thoughts…
“Should we serve alcohol?” “Uncle John won’t come if he can’t have his Jim Beam.” “Do we talk about it?” “Should we tell my parents what’s going on?” “I don’t know, should we ask him if serving alcohol will bother him?”
These are but a few of the questions I get this time of year. Everyone wants to do the “right” thing. Often the alcoholic in early recovery will insist alcohol be served because they don’t want to make others “suffer,” or they don’t want others to ask, “Aren’t we having any wine?” Family members want to stay light-hearted, act as if nothing’s wrong because they don’t want to trigger their loved one’s relapse by being “too aware” or “not trusting them” not to drink.
So what can you do to enjoy the holidays when a loved one is in early alcoholism recovery?
1. Change it up. Switch the start time or the venue or even the menu. It’s time for a new tradition.
2. Keep in mind your loved one has a brain disease. Alcoholism is one of the brain diseases of addiction. Sure their drinking behaviors were awful and left a swath of hurt and destruction. But remember, it wasn’t them. It was their brain under the influence of their disease. If your loved one had cancer, you and the rest of the people at the holiday event would be wrapping them in a warm blanket of love and support. Just substitute addiction for cancer and wrap your loved one in a warm blanket of love and support. [For those who are not familiar with the “addiction is a brain disease” concept, check out Addiction is a Brain Disease? But How?]
3. Don’t serve alcohol. Don’t ask, just don’t serve. The most important thing your loved one can do to treat their type of brain disease is not drink. And how bad is that? Can’t drink? So what. In the scheme of things that could be wrong with your loved one and in the scheme of things you don’t get to do – not being able to drink for one holiday event suddenly falls pretty low on the list of awful. And besides, not having alcohol there relieves both you and your loved one of “wondering” if it’s a problem. And if someone should ask, give a straight answer (provided this is OK with your loved one), “John has the brain disease of addiction. With that particular disease, he cannot drink alcohol. We’re supporting him by not serving it. But, hey – come check out the beverages we are serving!”
4. Bring out the games. Play cards or charades or Scrabble or put together a jigsaw puzzle. Part of healing the brain is changing how/where we think. Distracting it, if you will, from its old thoughts, fears and rituals by giving it new, fun ones to focus on can help.
5. Add a walk after or before dinner. Exercise is good for the brain and reduces stress. It’s also a change of venue, and it gets everyone out of the house.
6. Keep your expectations low — not off but not Norma Rockwell, either. Try not to put stock in the hope that this will be the holiday you’ve always dreamed. It may. It may not. But it’s just one day. And as the 12-step rooms for both sides of this family disease remind us, it’s “One Day at a Time.”
7. When you send out the invitation – whether that be by phone, email or formal invitation – simply announce, You’re Invited to “A New Holiday Tradition.” Briefly state what you’ll be doing and inform people there will be no alcoholic beverages served. If that’s a problem for Uncle John, well…he can always stay home with his Jim Beam.
8. MOST importantly – and I know you know this, but sometimes it gets overshadowed by all the worry – count your blessings, for on this particular holiday, your loved one has chosen recovery!! Now, that’s something to celebrate!