How to Deal With Going Home for the Holidays When You’re in Treatment

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Every year, lots of our addiction treatment clients go home to see their families over the holidays. This visit might even be the first time visiting home since you started treatment. If it is, then congratulations! If you’re going home during the holidays, it’s because your therapist and sponsor have faith in you. That’s a great sign. Exciting as your trip home may be, however, it might also be very stressful.

Visiting home will likely present new challenges to your treatment process. Preparing for these challenges is the best way to stay on top of your treatment and have a great holiday season. To help, we asked Sea Change Recovery Clinical Director China Vangsness to share her best advice for clients headed home over the holidays. Here’s what she said:

Prepare Yourself

Going home is going to be stressful, especially if you haven’t seen some family and friends since starting treatment. There’s no point pretending it won’t be. Instead, take the time to mentally and emotionally prepare yourself for that stress. Speak with your therapist about concerns you have going into the holidays. Don’t be afraid to ask them for advice on anything you’re nervous about. Talking to your therapist can help put you in the right frame of mind to deal with potential stressors.

Another important aspect of preparing yourself is managing your expectations. Visualize how your holidays might go. Are there any stressful or toxic situations you should be on the lookout for? Make a plan for dealing with potentially triggering scenarios, like family judgment or discussions of politics. “Practicing self-care during the holidays is very important,” China says. That self-care can take many forms, including choosing not to engage in discussions or activities that feel stressful.

Encourage Communication

In the article we wrote about how your family can prepare for you this holiday season, we stress the importance of communication. That goes double for you. Often, a client’s family won’t know exactly how they should broach discussing your treatment with you. They may try to avoid the subject entirely, which never helps. If you’re comfortable with it, you should encourage your family to speak with you as openly as possible.

You should also encourage your family to clearly communicate their expectations to you. The better you know the guidelines and boundaries, the better you can avoid stressful passive aggression. Accept your family’s honest feelings and recognize that even sharing those feelings may be difficult for them. Communicating expectations honestly and directly is always better than avoiding the discussion, no matter how awkward it may seem. We also encourage you to involve your therapist whenever possible. You could even schedule a family phone call to get everyone on the same page.

Don’t Neglect Your Treatment

You might be back home, but that doesn’t mean your addiction treatment is over. Your recovery is still ongoing, but you’ll be managing it slightly more independently. Do what you have to do to stay sober this holiday season. Make a schedule with your therapist before you leave and stick to it. Keep up with your meetings and make regular, scheduled calls with your therapist and sponsor. Avoid triggering situations and practice self-care.

Even if you’re away from the facility, you have resources available to you. Never feel ashamed to reach out if you need help. Make sure you always have access to a local AA meeting—you can find them online before you travel. There are even 24 hour “marathon” AA meetings during the holidays in every state. Arrange transportation to these meetings, along with anything else you need to stay sober. Don’t forget to practice positive thinking and gratitude, either. Look how far you’ve come!

Give Back

Remember St. Francis’ prayer from step 11: “For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.” The holiday season is the perfect time to give back to your family. Go into this holiday season with the intention of making amends. Trust that you’re ready; you wouldn’t be going home if you weren’t. Making this effort isn’t just what’s best for your family. It’s what’s best for your recovery, too.

Giving back can be as simple as giving time and attention to your family members. Engage with them on their own terms, at their comfort level. Offer to help with errands, chores, planning, and other activities. Join them for meals, church, or whatever else they’re doing. Sometimes, the best thing you could possibly offer is just your presence. “The 12 steps are about giving, not receiving,” China says. The holidays are the perfect time to give.

You probably have a lot of complicated feelings about going home for the holidays. That tends to be true for everyone, whether they’re in addiction treatment or not. That’s ok!

Don’t beat yourself up for having conflicted feelings or anxieties—they’re perfectly natural. Instead, try to mitigate these feelings as best you can by preparing yourself mentally and emotionally. Follow these tips and reach out to your therapist and sponsor whenever you need to. You’ll get through this. We’re here for you. Have a happy, healing holiday!