The holiday season is a wonderful opportunity for families to partner with Phoenix House in supporting the treatment and recovery process. Below are some tips to guide your actions. Of course, if you have any questions or thoughts about these ideas, call your loved one’s counselor to chat.
Make sure your loved one – and your other family members – are clear about the holidays. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the holiday season is a time for people to reflect back on the year that has passed, and to think about the future with hope and determination.
There may not be a lot of money available this season to buy extravagant gifts, so let your loved one in treatment know that their sobriety is the biggest gift they can give their family right now. Offer to have gifts for children be from “Santa” or “the family” so that your loved one in treatment can feel included in the gift-giving. Share homemade presents and time together. These are usually more valuable than store-bought gifts, and create more lasting memories. Don’t give your loved one in treatment a gift of cash. Follow the facility’s guidelines for gift-giving; if you have any doubt or question about a gift being acceptable, ask staff. And don’t be surprised if staff want to see your gift before they approve it—it is part of the treatment structure to closely monitor what comes in and goes out of the facility.
Your loved one is making many changes in treatment—and he or she will probably want to “do” holidays a little differently than in the past. This might include:
More activities planned ahead of time – cook and eat together, play games, volunteer, attend church services, or just take a walk in the park.
A drug and alcohol free visiting environment – this means that no one in your home should be using drugs or alcohol. Don’t be surprised or offended if your loved one tells you that they would rather you not drink or use drugs during the visit. This is a sign of treatment progress and you should welcome it.
Family rituals – traditional rituals that involve alcohol or other drugs might be changed. Maybe the champagne toast you have at Christmas dinner could be replaced by a non- alcoholic beverage.
Family troubles – in some families, holiday visits always end up with trouble. Try to avoid situations that give rise to these events, and don’t be insulted if your loved one has a “Plan B” to escape from the chaos if it does occur.
Visit and Contact Restrictions
It can be frustrating to have limits on the time you can spend on the phone or visiting with your loved one over the holidays. But limits are established for a reason. People in drug treatment are often at high risk of relapse around the holiday season and treatment programs sometimes see relapse coming, and so may restrict contact with family over the holidays.
Try to remember that treatment isn’t forever—your family will have more contact and freedom from program restrictions as time goes on. Be patient with the program and know that there is almost always a good reason for contact and visit restrictions, even if it doesn’t seem so right now.
Your loved one may be tempted to leave the treatment program before finishing. Although you may want your loved one back, let this person know that getting well is most important to you and the family, and encourage the person to stay in the program and keep working.
For many people, the holidays carry with them an increased risk for relapse – the abundance of alcohol, the high intensity of feelings, the powerful expectations for joy and happiness can all lead to trouble. Be aware of your loved one’s warning signs, and be prepared to contact Phoenix House if you are concerned about what you see.
Requests for Forgiveness
Your loved one may want to use the holiday season to make promises or amends, or ask for your forgiveness. Don’t feel you have to forgive if you don’t genuinely feel it. Your loved one should be working on recovery regardless of your feelings. And it is normal to feel unready to trust again. If your loved one makes promises about future behavior, you should let that person know that you expect them to keep any promise they make, so they should be realistic about what they are committing to doing. You can let your loved one know that actions speak louder than words, and so apologies are most valuable if it is coupled with changed behavior.