Holidays in Recovery: Is Heading Home the Best Choice for You?

Man packing suitcase for heading home for the holiday while in recovery

When you were living in active addiction, you may have missed a holiday or two at home in favor of staying put to maintain your addiction, or you may have headed home with the intent of spending time with family and hoping to hide your use of drugs and alcohol with disastrous results.

While home may be the best possible place for you this holiday season, it may also be a stressful situation replete with triggers for relapse. If you have not been home for a while, it may be difficult to gauge what to expect. So how do you decide if you should head home this holiday season or instead stay where you are and make it through the holidays with friends in recovery?

Support Is Key

For every choice you make in recovery, the first consideration is whether or not it will help you to stay sober or if it will cause you stress or difficulty that could lead to relapse. The decision about whether or not to head home for the holidays should start with this consideration as well. You can ask yourself the following questions to determine whether or not you will have the support you need to stay sober at home this year:

  • Will there be people there who are drinking heavily or using any other substance?
  • How will people respond to the fact that you are staying sober? Will they try to push a drink into your hand?
  • Would your family be amenable to putting away the alcohol and/or other substances in support of your sobriety?
  • Is there any ongoing tension between you and your family members? Do you think that any past issues will be brought up during the holidays or that you will feel uncomfortable?

Only you can honestly assess what you anticipate experiencing at home. Bottom line: If you want to go home and you believe you will have support in staying sober, then you can make some choices that will increase your ability to manage stressors, expected or not. If you do not want to go or if you feel relatively certain that people will undermine your sobriety or otherwise trigger the urge to relapse, then going home may not be the best option for your recovery this year.

What Are Your Other Options?

If you are on the fence about whether or not to go home – perhaps the support is there but it’s lukewarm, or you know that your Uncle Al will be drinking from morning until night but you do not feel threatened in your sobriety by that fact – consider what the alternative may be. If you have amazing options available to you outside of your family’s celebration, then maybe the lukewarm family alternative may not be the best choice. If you are struggling in your other relationships or feel that you have nowhere to go where you are welcome outside of your family’s home, then it may be the best thing for your recovery to head home.

New to Sobriety

If you are new to sobriety, you may really have no idea about what to expect should you decide to head home. Some of your extended family members may not even know that you are currently clean and sober. Some may not know that you struggled with addiction. You may have damaged relationships and not realized it, or everything could be fine, with everyone on board with your sobriety and excited to support you.

The best way to get a good idea of what to expect is to make some phone calls. Talk to different family members and find out how they are and if they are going. Connect with them via social media and see what is going on in their lives. Consider honestly how you feel about heading home for the holidays, and if it is impossible to go for just an hour or so with a simple exit plan, then it may be a good idea to consider waiting until next year when you are more solid in recovery.

Will History Repeat Itself?

If you have years of clean time under your belt, you may have a good idea of what being home for the holidays means. If it has historically been a time full of arguments, bitterness, resentment, and drunk relatives and/or exposure to old acquaintances who are still actively living in addiction, then it may not be the best idea to repeat history. Though you may still be invested in your relationships with family members, the highly stressful holiday season may not be the best time to try to work on big issues. Instead, it could be a better goal for your new year in recovery.

On the other hand, if you have found that things have gotten increasingly better over the years, then maybe this is the year that you give it a shot and show up. Trust your instincts; if it feels like a positive idea, do what you can to prepare yourself and make it happen.

Tips for Staying Sober at Home during the Holidays

  • Talk to your therapist and/or sponsor about the situation prior to going back home. Discuss difficulties you anticipate and how best to manage them without relapse.
  • Bring a sober buddy with you. When things get stressful, a sober friend can help you to keep things in perspective and avoid drinking or using drugs.
  • Take care of yourself. Get good sleep, eat healthfully, keep working out, and keep going to meetings. When most things in your life are normal, balanced, and positive, it is easier to handle it if things get a little stressful.
  • Keep a list of phone numbers of people who are happy to talk you through tough times. One number is not enough; the holidays are a busy time, and even if someone wants to be there, they may not get to the phone in time. Have a few different people to choose from, just to be safe.

Are you headed home for the holidays?

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