Somehow, Thanksgiving and the Holiday season are already right around the corner. Addiction treatment clients often visit home during the Holidays--sometimes for the first time since they entered the program. While this is probably exciting, it can also be stressful for both the client and their family.
With that stress in mind, we talked to Sea Change Clinical Director China Vangsness about how each respective party can best navigate their no-doubt complicated holiday seasons. These are her four top tips for families welcoming a treatment recovery client back into their home. If you have a recovering loved one coming back home this holiday season, keep these things in mind:
Communicate with your family
It’s a big deal that your loved one is coming home from treatment for the Holidays. There’s no sense in pretending like it isn’t. Talk about it, talk about it, talk about it! Figure out how everyone in your family feels, and discuss exactly how everyone wants the holidays to go. Make sure you’re all on the same page. If anyone has any concerns, now is the time to lay them out.
It’s natural to have complicated feelings about seeing your loved one again. Repressing those feelings out of shame or fear of judgment is never the answer. Respect the feelings your family members bring up and arrive at fair solutions together. Consider scheduling a time to get advice from your loved one’s treatment therapist as a family. We can help your family communicate honestly and openly. When you know where everyone stands, create a holiday plan that accommodates everyone’s needs equitably.
Communicate Your Expectations
Don’t just communicate amongst yourselves, either: it’s very important that you talk to your recovering loved one, too. Once you’ve come up with your family plan, explain it to your loved one directly. Tell them how you feel and what you need from them during the Holidays. Set guidelines, boundaries, and expectations. Create clear, concrete rules for keeping in touch, curfews, off-limits topics--whatever you need for everyone to feel safe. The more clearly you establish terms everyone can be comfortable with, the more effectively you’ll avoid hurting anyone.
Painful as it may be, communicating these boundaries is the most important way to prepare for the Holidays. Most problems that arise during Holiday visits happen when recovery clients aren’t on the same page as their families. “When clients go home, they feel like they’re finally getting a break,” China explains, “meanwhile, their family sees them just relaxing or laying around and thinks, ‘they haven’t changed at all!’” Avoid these situations by being as honest about what you want as possible--with your loved one and yourself. Trust that your loved one is ready to accept the responsibility of being home with you.
This comes back to the trust we just brought up. The reason your recovering loved one is coming home is, in part, to re-enter normal life. Obviously, they can’t do that as effectively unless the life they come back to really is more-or-less normal! Often, families will go way out of their way to accommodate for or “tiptoe” around their recovering loved one. It’s an understandable and even admirable impulse to have, but ultimately, it’s one you should resist.
When families tiptoe around their loved one, it usually does more harm than good. The client may begin to feel like their family role is defined by their addiction. This can be a stigmatizing, isolating, and even triggering experience. Yet another reason why it’s so important to communicate is so you can avoid making your loved one feel this way. By communicating early and often, you can normalize your loved one’s presence back in your life. Having a normal, happy Holiday season is probably is what’s best for both you and your loved one.
Be Open to Receiving Amends
One of the most important parts of addiction treatment is making amends. The 12-step addiction recovery program is about giving, not receiving. “Selfless acts are medicine for addictions,” China Vangsness explains. The Holiday season is a very appropriate time for making amends. If your loved one is coming home for the Holidays, they’re doing it purposefully. They aren’t necessarily “finished” with their program, but they’re in a place where they can begin to give back. Let them!
We’re not asking you to play therapist. Just be mindful about the fact that your loved one is still working through their treatment. They’re trying to reach out to you. Remain as open to these attempts as you can be. Actively engage with them when they want to engage with you. Allow them to help you with holiday planning, chores, or activities. Make yourself available to them as much as you feel you can. It’s up to your loved one to take the first step, but you can be ready to accept it.
You probably noticed a common theme shared among each of these: communication. Honestly talking through the process of accepting your loved one back home is always better than bottling up your feelings. If you get everyone on the same page and follow these four steps, you can help make your Holiday season a happy, healing time for everyone. Happy Holidays!