The holidays are a wonderful time of year during which families create precious memories as they celebrate and spend time together. However, for families with loved ones in treatment or early recovery, the holidays can be a difficult time. Understanding some of the underlying reasons for this difficulty can help families and their loved ones cope with these challenges.
Here are four reasons that holidays can be stressful.
Family Conflict Emerges
The roles within the dysfunctional family system can reemerge during this time reinforcing the status quo. Families and clients can resort to unhealthy coping skills to manage the stress the family system creates. As a result, conflict among family members increase as familiar, but painful communication patterns surface and open old emotional wounds. Many families begin to question the progress made on their recovery journey.
Increased Financial Stress
The pressure to give gifts, travel and prepare meals to carry on family traditions can be expensive. In early recovery, clients are getting on their feet finding employment while families navigate the financial obligation of their loved one’s treatment. The inability to meet both self-imposed expectations, as well as the unspoken expectations of others can be a significant source of stress. It is important to manage these expectations. For example: “Do I have the disposable income to purchase the latest iPhone for the kids or to purchase my loved one’s plane ticket to visit for the holidays?” Be honest about your internal self-talk regarding your ability to meet expectations. Then, get clear in what ways you can meet these expectations without risk to your recovery process and peace of mind. Remember, your recovery and/or ability to support your loved one is the most important gift you can give your family.
Emotional Isolation and Loneliness
In the early stages of recovery, your loved one may be away in treatment, supportive housing or establishing a new life; maybe for the first time. Although this may be the next best step for your loved one and your family as they gain their independence, feelings of loneliness and emotional isolation can affect everyone in the family. Holiday get-togethers may feel incomplete while clients may long to be with loved ones despite the supportive network they have established. Recognizing these feelings as normal allows families and clients family to embrace this experience with less resistance.
Alcohol Is Everywhere
Alcohol is easily accessible throughout the year. However, particularly during the holidays, wherever you turn, alcohol stares you in the face extending an invitation to have a drink. The refusal skills learned during treatment are tested. With the increased pressure during this time, it is understandable that so many people struggle.
Remember no matter how challenging families and their loved ones can get through the holidays. Getting through time it takes self-awareness, planning, intentionality, and the belief that everything is already provided to you to successfully navigate this time of year.
Lystra Lewis LMFT MCAP, Family Therapist at Destination Hope