Those we love most often make us feel the craziest. The proof of this can surely be felt at family gatherings, especially around the holidays. Especially for those who are newly sober, the anticipation of family conflict and stress could be a potential trigger to return to drug or alcohol use. 

Identifying triggers

Attending family events around the holidays offers numerous potential triggers situations. Here are a few common reasons that family conflict and stress could lead to a setback in your sobriety.
  • Family inquiring about recovery
  • The expectation of family members that you will have been successful in your career, family and life
  • Negative comments from family
  • Comparison to other family members who may appear to “have it all together”
  • Others share opinions on substance use and recovery
  • The presence of alcohol at family gatherings
  • Pressure to relax, enjoy yourself or indulge in the holiday spirit
  • Fights among family members
  • Excessive drinking by other family members
  • Having relatives who regularly binge drink or use drugs
  • Remembering lost relatives or times of grief
  • Negative emotions like loneliness, guilt, depression, etc
  • Reminiscing on memories that could be triggering

While the holidays can bring triggers that can be expected (like a family argument), there will also be triggers you could never have prepared for (like a surprise guest who is unaware of your status in recovery and encourages everyone to drink).

Identifying your own triggers is one step in the process of maintaining sobriety despite issues in family matters. The next step is implementing tips that can make your holidays run smoothly.

Tips for dealing with issues in the family during recovery

1. Setting limits

Dealing with family chaos seems like an inevitable part of life. While it’s not a good idea to cut ties with your support system (as family support can prove crucial in long-term sobriety), it may be necessary to set some boundaries to protect new and fragile sobriety.
Consider attending only certain family events for a limited amount of time. You may need to clearly state that you have no interest in talking about treatment, or that you will leave immediately if a family member brings alcohol or makes negative comments about recovery.

2. Designate a support person

While you may have family members who are doubtful or criticize your recovery, you’re also likely to have family who is fully on your team. Asking a loved one to be your support person can help reduce family conflict and stress.
Be sure to share any boundaries you have for the holiday season, your ultimate goals and ways he or she can help if you’re experiencing urges to relapse. Your support person can diffuse awkward conversations or redirect topics to non-substance use-related subjects.

3. Prepare yourself for the potential chaos

Picture-perfect holidays only seem to happen in movies. No family is perfect and no family gathering is exactly how we expect it to occur. Managing our expectations can help balance any anxiety we feel attending holiday parties.
A realistic expectation could include the possibility of talking to people you’re uncomfortable around, needing to excuse yourself from a conversation or two and needing to take several breaks when urges strike. You may want to equip yourself with a list of coping strategies you can implement, even when you’re at someone else’s home (such as breathing exercises or a quick phone call to a mentor).

4. Plan an out

Family conflict and stress aren’t always something we can manage at the moment. If arguments become too heated or issues in family affairs are overwhelming, it may be the best thing to leave the gathering. 
Planning an out for yourself isn’t a dramatic event. Leaving should always be a backup plan, though. It’s much preferable to leave quietly if you’re feeling triggered. Involve your support person, a friend or a sponsor to be available to pick you up, talk through what happened or help you temporarily find a distraction from distressing emotions.

5. Recommit before you go

Issues in the family can bubble over at holiday gatherings, causing unnecessary stress on your sobriety. If you’re going into a family gathering anticipating some conflict, you will find it helpful to recommit to your recovery before you go. 
You can attend a 12-step meeting, an extra therapy session or a meet-up with your sponsor before you head to the holiday party. Read through your treatment plan, or journal about your long-term goals in recovery. No matter how you prepare, recommitting yourself to the daily task of staying away from substances is important to feel secure in your sobriety.

6. Get trusted advice

Family conflict and stress can sometimes be predicted. You may know your family so well that you can anticipate certain disputes long before they happen. In these cases, you may find it helpful to solicit advice from your sober support group.
Chances are, in recovery meetings, your counselor or your sponsor will have some practical tips that apply directly to your situation. Nothing can replace personalized advice when it comes to staying sober over the holidays. You may also find your support people can offer you a confidence boost or motivation for the upcoming days.

7. Brush off incendiary comments

We often assign a lot of weight to the things family members say. While it’s healthy to value some of our loved ones’ opinions, it can be dangerous to take everything people say at face value.
Try to ignore comments that are critical or condescending at family gatherings. These comments may make us angry, frustrated, defensive, sad or misunderstood, but it’s important to make a conscious decision to let them go. Respond to a negative comment with humor or nonchalance and then remove yourself to another setting.

8. Prioritize your treatment

The best way to overcome substance use is through professional recovery services. Family members may have all sorts of differing opinions on the best way to achieve recovery and share their thoughts without being invited to. Chances are they are attempting to be helpful, but the best path to sustained freedom from substance use is by sticking to treatment.
If you’re looking for lifelong recovery and family conflict and stress are a barrier, it’s time to get professional support. Reach out to Silvermist Recovery to find holistic treatment for addiction and mental health disorders.