Christmas and New Year can pose challenges for many people, sometimes the challenges are directly about ourselves, while other challenges can be about families and friends.

If you feel challenged by family and friends’ use of alcohol or other substances, this post is for you….

Coming together for gatherings can be tough enough as it is during festive seasons. And one of the things that can make it tough, is when there’s substance dependence in the family. In this post we’re offering you some tips to help make it easier…. for everyone.

Just as we understand the challenges those who have substance dependence experience, we also understand the heartbreak and difficulties that family members experience. Seeing your loved ones going through their recovery journey, and feeling as though there’s nothing you can do is no easy task.

There are two cornerstone principles that will help make this festive season easier for you:

Boundaries and expectations.

Boundaries are the personal rules and limits we set for ourselves to keep our health and wellbeing intact. Without them, we feel taken advantage of, and walked over. We may feel tired and energetically depleted. It’s important that we take care of ourselves so that we can have an enjoyable life as well. Therefore setting fair but concrete boundaries with your substance-dependent family member, is crucial.

Expectations are based on our hopes that things will be different this time. However, with our loved-one’s substance dependence, it’s our expectations that often get in the way, and then our hurt, frustration and resentments return.

Go in to the event/activity with the preparedness and an understanding that they may not be true to their word. Know that deep in your loved-one’s heart, change is what they want, but the path of recovery is treacherous and not as easy as you think, or would like. By not expecting change, a seamless event, or even perfect interactions, it may actually bring a sense of overall relief for you.

However, it’s important that you manage your expectations together with boundaries (strategies and limits), so that you too can enjoy yourself. For example:

  • You may want to talk to your loved-one a week in advance of your event/activity, and communicate your limits with them (eg arrive sober; cheerful interactions; set limits around the visit, eg. this will be a 3 hour visit)
  • Clearly let them know any ramifications if your requests are not met on the day (eg if they arrive intoxicated, or with alcohol on their breath, that you will send them away);
  • You might tell them that you’d be sad if their company was missed at the event.
  • Doubly ensure that you’re both on the same page of this arrangement so that no misunderstandings can happen on the day, or afterwards;
  • Ensure to follow through with your actions (ramifications) – consistency is very important;
  • Confirm that all family members/friends are on board so as not to be the lone soldier.

Additionally, everything we have discussed in our previous posts within the Christmas Silly Season series will support you to manage both your boundaries and expectations, where we covered tips on:

  • Triumphing our challenging emotions (Post 2) – to help manage any grief, hurt, resentment, anger etc;
  • Conquering stress and overwhelm (Post 3) – to ensure that you’re not overburdened with things; and
  • Handling difficult relationships (Post 4) – which could fit in perfectly with this.

Remember, you can call the centre to have a chat, book an appointment or to be given other referrals. Our counsellors are trained to offer strategies for your situation.

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