Alumni Interview by EHN Staff
In this blog post series, EHN alumni share their experience, strength, and hope for the holiday season.
What were the winter holidays like for you prior to recovery?
I am sure it was a very painful time for my family. To me it was like any other time of the year though. I would often show up late to family functions or sometimes not at all. My family learned to not rely on me and I am sure they didn’t believe any of my excuses. I was always broke and felt ashamed that I didn’t have any money saved for gifts so I would often sabotage plans or waste all of my money at the casino as a last-ditch effort to be involved. It was like I would really invest myself in using as a way to remove any expectations others might have of me. It was so painful though. It got to a point where no amount of drugs, alcohol or gambling could fill the void. I felt like I couldn’t escape the cycle. Every year it was the same.
Is there a part of the winter holidays that is particularly special for you now?
Honestly, all of it. Even the family arguments! There is so much life, energy, and focus on connection this time of year. I am just grateful to be able to experience it all! What a gift it is to be alive and involved in the lives of those who I care so deeply about. Bring on the family chaos!
What advice do you have for people in treatment over the holidays?
Being in treatment is never easy, especially when it means being away from family during a time that is geared towards getting together at any cost. Being in treatment is the best gift you could give to those who care about you. Think of it as an investment in time. This is just one Christmas out of many. Focus on your own healing and give your family the person they love back. You all deserve it.
What would you say to the loved ones of someone who is new to recovery or attending treatment over the winter holidays?
Bellwood really does make Christmas in treatment special. I know it isn’t ideal and you may feel compelled to try and have your partner/son/daughter/loved one leave treatment early to be home for Christmas. I have seen this happen and it is a huge mistake. Instead, share about the memories you look forward to creating with them. Tell your family member how proud you are of them for doing something so difficult. You can even share with them some of the pain you may have experienced in previous years, with the support of their counsellor. They are being well taken care of and they will not be forgotten. It may seem difficult not having them home but remember how painful it was to have them home but not really there. Bellwood also has support for families, so if you are struggling please reach out. Bellwood’s family counsellors will help you get through it.
What are your top three suggestions for people celebrating the winter holidays in recovery for the first time?
- Give yourself permission to say no. As a professional and prominent member of my local community, I felt obligated to attend all the socials and corporate parties. In early recovery this was just too much for me. I learned that I could decline invitations to events I didn’t feel quite ready to participate in and it was freeing! It gave me more time to spend with my family and people I felt comfortable being sober around.
- Practice open communication. I was terrible at this in my addiction. I thought that being vulnerable and expressing my feelings was considered weak. I know now that by telling people who care about me what I am going through, I can prevent resentment and improve relationships.
- Create new traditions. We also don’t have to do everything we used to do. If you have a blended family like me, you can find yourself being pulled in many different directions. Perhaps stay in one place and invite people to your home. Simplify any way that you can so you have more time to actually spend with people. I also like having people over at my house because I know there is no alcohol around!
What struggles do you still face during the winter holidays and how do you respond to these struggles?
I still have that limiting belief that no matter what I do, I am always going to let people down. I have that little critic in my head who says people won’t like a gift I bought or a meal I have cooked. I snap out of this by reminding myself that being PRESENT is the greatest gift of all. People love what I do for them because I actually DO IT. I have integrity today so even if that means I burned the turkey I still did it sober, and that is all my family ever wanted.
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