Holidays pose a challenge to those in recovery

MARYSVILLE While its the time of the year to spread the good cheer, the holidays can be rough on people struggling with alcoholism.
Chemical dependency counselors note that it can be a dual whammy for people who are just getting clean and sober, as those folks need to be around others but need to keep away from the liquor, wine and beer that are ubiquitous at social gatherings around the turn of the year.
Donna Wells is the operations director for the Chemical Dependency System Northwest, a branch of Catholic Community Services of Western Washington. They offer chemical dependency counseling at their offices in Marysville, as well as locations in Everett and Bellingham.
For people in early recovery, who havent been through a holiday season before, there can be a lot of triggers than can cause them to relapse, Wells said. Its particularly important for them to have a plan.
Its not just the gatherings where booze will be pushed on everybody, but that fact that these gatherings can also feature family conflict or other issues. And many people feel pressure to attend work-related events where drinking is common. Combine that with the urge to go along with what everybody else is doing, and youve got an awful cocktail of potential problems, according to Wells.
A lot of times people feel that in their jobs they are obligated to go to the company parties, Wells said. I just think that its a really hard time. Its really equivalent to sending somebody back to a bar.
But staying home and just curling up under a blanket is not an option, Wells stressed.
Isolation is a huge no-no for recovering people, she said.
That means people who have just started to turn their lives around will need to consciously make a plan and stick to it. It helps if they rely on the network of people in their 12-step programs to guide them, and they have to realize that there is a range of choices to make, not just a yes or no decision.
There are several options for alcoholics facing the holidays:
Communicate Tell loved ones about your recovery and the challenges it presents for you. This may mean starting a new tradition for these people and they will often need to ask others for support. Thats tougher than it might sound, since many addicts got that way because they had trouble asking for the things they needed in the first place and used drugs or drink to deal the fallout from those decisions. Most families will usually be willing or understanding, but they usually dont realize what their loved ones are facing, Wells explained. She suggested that they dont make demands or issue ultimatums. Dont make your family choose between the bottle and their loved one. Instead, Wells offered that they might say something alone the lines of I will find it a struggle to be around alcohol this year.
They dont want to seem like they are asking for special accommodations, Wells said.
Advise and consent Offer some tips for hosts who will want to provide options for their guests. Soft drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages should always be on hand at every event, but sparkling ciders can help recovering drinkers still fit in during toasts. She said to stay away from low-alcohol offerings such as near-beer, which could trigger a relapse. Designated drivers should always be available at any gathering, Wells added.
Time and place If there is going to be drinking at family gatherings, make arrangements to visit earlier in the day before the party gets going. Schedule a lunch date or brunch, especially at a restaurant or church where there will be no alcohol but the opportunity to eat and socialize. That way a person in recovery will get to visit with their loved ones but not feel like they are raining on the parade.
Stay with the group Many 12-step programs and recovery centers have social functions where people can meet-and-greet and avoid the bottle at the same time. Most have their own New Years Eve parties, so auld lang syne is still on the table along with other holiday favorites.
Those can be particularly supportive to get together with other people in recovery, Wells added.

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