Navigating the Holidays when your Child is in Early Recovery from Addiction


100% better than I was but not at 100% yet
I found this today and even though I won't be doing this with our son until holiday season 2018, I think of it often even now. I thought there were some great insights here so thought I'd share since 'tis the season!!

Families can experience many emotions while navigating the holidays, whether in still waters or rough seas. Friends and families come together and we place at the forefront of our thoughts all of the joy of our connections that we sometimes forget in the day-to-day. In these special times, our gratitude for life and joy in all we share is so sharply focused that many describe these as “magical” times, bursting with wonder and delight.

The flipside to this coin is that emotional pain and difficulties may also be magnified during these times. We miss lost loved ones a little bit more. We remember and wish for simpler times. We feel the weight of difficult circumstances a little bit heavier.

In few ways is this phenomena more realized than with families who have a loved one in very early recovery. Strong emotions combine with a multitude of questions to create a feeling of constant pressure and walking on eggshells. Families want to know how they should act around their loved ones new to recovery. They ask if they should have alcohol at gatherings, who should be invited to functions, even if they should participate in celebrations at all. They wonder if they should give gifts or hold back. They agonize over how to have a “normal” holiday, often having had so many where their loved one was actively using substances – or even absent altogether.

As someone who has been in this position, I can share that there are three important guiding principles that can help families navigate these times.

1. The Principle of the Sail
In sailing, the seasoned mariner knows that no matter how exact he is in his rigging and tacking and moving all of the parts of the boat, he cannot control the wind. Knowing what we can and cannot control, and then practicing the art of accepting that which I cannot, is paramount in keeping sane during these times. I remember the first time I went to an Al-Anon meeting and I was told that I could have peace in my life even if my loved one was still drinking and using substances. I thought it was the craziest thing I had ever heard in my life. And yet, it is true.

At the end of the day, no matter what you do, you cannot control your loved one’s recovery. That is the wind to you. You can let go of that outcome. You must let go of that if you are to find peace. This is incredibly difficult to do alone. No matter how smart or strong you are, getting support from others who understand what you are going through is critical. Participation in groups like Al-Anon, Families Anonymous and other support groups for people who have family members struggling with substance use should be as important as getting gifts ready for the season.

2. The Principle of Waxing Strength
When a person has an allergic reaction to a food that causes them to nearly die from anaphylaxis, they may end up in the hospital for days. They may feel weak and be particularly vulnerable to that allergen. It would make perfect sense that in preparation for that person to come home from the hospital, we would clear the house of the allergen and encourage others not to bring it into the home. Eventually, in time, as the person gains strength and learns how proximity to the allergen affects him, he may be fine with it next to him.

In the same way, it is a good principle to keep alcohol, medications that can be misused and any other substances out of the recovery environment of a person in early recovery. In time, a fully recovered person may be able to be around alcohol with no problem at all. For this first holiday season, though, it is usually better if it is not around.

3. The Principle of Falling Walls
This principle will cover so much more than one might imagine if it is bravely pursued. As I have already mentioned, family members have many questions about how to act and what to do around a loved one in early recovery. Also, they have questions about how much should be shared with others in the family and circle of friends. A simple, though sometimes counterintuitive way to handle this is to ask direct questions — and ask permission to ask, too.

What might happen if you approached a loved one in early recovery and said, “Hey, I am new to this and I have some questions. Would it be okay if I asked you about your perspective on the holiday?” In my experience, I was able to get so many answers that I could never have figured out on my own even though I had been agonizing over them for weeks.

Ultimately, there is no magic formula to make things perfect for this holiday season. And I’m pretty sure there is no such thing as a “perfect” holiday season, anyway. In fact, it is often the bumps, hiccups and awkward moments that make for the most laughter and joy when we are accepting of the reality and beauty of our imperfections.

If you have a loved one in early recovery this holiday season, know that you can have joy and peace in your life and your home no matter what happens. Know that the actions you can take are like the mariner’s work on the sails — but remember that the wind is out of your control. So talk as openly as you can and push yourself beyond your comfort zone to open up even more. Reach out for help and remember that everyone deserves the gift of support, including you.

so ready to live

Well-Known Member
RN thank you. I especially liked the part about simply asking them for info on what to do. My son is not in treatment and I'm already dreading holiday celebrations. I realize I would like it if he would just say "I don't want to be there", or "just forget it". The mom in me still can't imagine not having him here with all his siblings, but that would necessitate everyone locking everything up. He is not welcome inside our home currently. So... What is right? His actions have so punished us all...


Well-Known Member
Can you have a second seperate celebration, just immediate family, at a nice restaurant rather than in home? Nobody orders alcohol? You have to think of the entire family, not just disturbed child. You can do the eve and the day. If a child is unsafe in our home for any reason, including being a possible thief, that child should not have the opportunity, no matter the pain in our mother heart. What if he stole Aunt Millies cherished diamond ring or got drunk and shoved Grandma into the wall. Is it worth it?
When things were tough, I used to wish Thanksgiving and Christmas would stop existing. On thr plus side, those hard times made me forever put the holiday days into perspective...two days of the year...most people not so happy to be with family. In fact I read an interesting poll back in my bad ole days. It was on TV or in a magazine, but it made me smile in a cynical way. Given a choice, 33% of people polled prefered celebrating the holidays with fsmily over chosen friends. Most of the rest preferred friends. A small % didnt care or had no opinion.

We as the wife and mother put so much pressure on ourselves for the perfect holidays. Maybe too hard. We care more about perfection thsn those we host.

I have learned to take it somewhat easy.

If we can only relax, i believe holidays with difficult kids can help us relax. I figured it out too late.

In spite of TV and stores packing their aisles with holiday joy, I believe at least half of the people dont enjoy the holidays all that much...we give into societal glitter and pressure and insist that WE put forth an unforgettable holiday. But in most ways it is just another Thursday (whoever said that....brilliant) in which many of us eat dinner with family. Its a more elaborate dinner with extra folks at the table. If it doesnt go that well, so? The world will still turn.

I hope everyone figures out how to enjoy these holidays yet keep the pressure to a simmer.
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Well-Known Member
Staff member
SRTL, if you are concerned about your child stealing from other family members or becoming abusive, then your son hasn't earned the right to be in your home . . . holiday or not. I like RN's suggestion of a small family celebration in a restaurant with your son.

In the cases where the loved one is in recovery and working on staying sober, I think the rest of the family needs to be accommodating and give up alcohol. I like the comparison in the article about making food accommodations in the case of a food allergy.

My daughter now has 20 months of sobriety and she tells us it is okay if we have a drink in front of her. However, the rest of us don't drink when we are with her because it doesn't seem right to rub it in her nose so to speak.

Holiday's have always been hard for those of us with troubled loved ones. Unfortunately, they seem to ramp up the crazy during the holidays.


in a daze

Well-Known Member
Thanks for posting this, RN. I haven't looked forward to the holidays since our D.C. first went off the rails in 2011. I was always nervous about him being around alcohol. I can never completely relax if I'm at a party where he is present. We never drink in front of him.

Although, it's gotten a bit better since he's been sober for the last two years. Last time he stayed over, I didn't bother hiding the wine and the sleeping pills, and he was home for several hours before we came back and nothing was touched.

Wishing a peaceful holiday season to us all, if not this year.... someday.


Well-Known Member
Staff member
Wow, Inadaze, you are braver than me. I am not sure if I will ever get to the point where I would feel comfortable leaving my daughter alone in my house where there is alcohol and sleeping pills.


100% better than I was but not at 100% yet
I think I like the part about not ever being able to drink in front of them again but not initially.

Not sure if that is realistic/true.

I know that husband and I do enjoy having drinks on the weekend.


Crazy Cat Lady
I like the occasional cider/mead, and usually have a few bottles of the craft-brewed stuff on hand.

When my mother was able to visit, years ago, I had wine on hand for her because despite her having had a drinking problem/alcoholism in the past, she was/is able to have a glass of wine and stop.

on the other hand, when my sister visited, I did not serve alcohol. She is unable to stop at one.

I think with a family member in early recovery, it is kindest not to drink around them, and best not to have alcohol available.

Friends or family who can't accommodate that might have issues of their own. (I'm thinking of the poster whose family was drinking in the kitchen after being asked not to serve alcohol.)


Well-Known Member
Staff member
I don't think we will ever drink around my daughter. To me, it would be like ordering a huge piece of cheesecake in front of a dieting friend. I'm sure they would say it was fine but it would just seem cruel to me.

I could always have the cheesecake at another time.