What an Older Person in Recovery Needs During the Holidays

 This week’s article is written by guest writer, Teresa Greenhill, who has an interest in mental health. She is the co-creator of MentalHealthForSeniors.com,  which is dedicated to providing seniors with information on physical and mental fitness so that they can be active and happy in their later years.

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For more and more aging baby boomers, alcohol or other forms of self-medication have become coping mechanisms for dealing with aches and pains, including loneliness. This time of year can be difficult, with the holidays adding stress over seeing family members we may not be close to. If you’re an older person who is recovering from addiction, the holidays can be especially painful as we face them with family members who we have strained relationships with or, worse, alone. Addiction recovery is a long process, with many stops and starts along the way. Adding emotional triggers to the mix can put a recovering addict over the top. If you’re in recovery or have a family member who is, what can you do to be safe throughout the holiday season? Here are some tips.

Know that it will be difficult and plan for it

Addiction causes a person to spend more time chasing relief and less time doing necessary daily activities, which can cause friction among family members and friends. Know that you will need to address this friction and work to ease tensions; avoidance does not solve any problems. Know before you get together that you will need to work on rebuilding trust with your family members, and it must begin with you. As indicated in 12-step programs, making amends is the start. If you can practice saying what you want to say before you get together with family, it will be easier to have those conversations. Your family members may not be ready to forgive you, but the process begins with you and your seeking forgiveness, after you have forgiven yourself.

If you’re going to be alone over the holidays, plan for that as well. Loneliness is often a trigger for drinking or taking drugs, and the holidays only make those feelings worse. Plan to be active on the days that others are gathering so that you can avoid being alone. Volunteer to serve others at a soup kitchen, or to collect toys at a toy drive. Anything that you can do to keep yourself busy and put the focus on others is another way to make amends and to stave off triggering moments that lure you to self-medicate.

Find good support

Finally, find a place where you feel supported. If your family isn’t that place right now, find another. Visit self-help groups such as AA, and keep going until you find a group where you feel supported. If one group isn’t right, don’t give up. Visit another. Find a group that is geared towards older persons and their needs; this will help you understand how your addiction might be especially risky if you’re prescribed drug treatments for medical conditions such as high blood pressure, liver disease, or other common age-related illnesses. If necessary, find a therapist who can help you navigate whether your symptoms are physical or emotional, and why you felt the need to self-medicate to begin with. This person could also help you take steps to repair relationships with family and friends.

The most important thing to remember is that recovery is a process, and it’s not short. Allow yourself time to work on those things that trigger you, and to rebuild trust with your family and friends. Forgive yourself for past mistakes, and move forward. You can reclaim your life, and you can attempt to build bridges with those you’ve hurt. They might not forgive you now, but they might eventually. Plan for it. Work for it. Don’t let the holiday season throw you for a loop. Do what you need to do to stay sober and reach out to others. One day, they will reach back.

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11 Responses to What an Older Person in Recovery Needs During the Holidays

  1. Still the Lucky Few says:

    You’ve given us a very helpful framework for understanding and supporting family members who are addicted, and having a difficult time during the holidays. Thanks for this, Teresa! As you say, it’s not easy, but it is possible to help.

  2. this so not me…but what is me: is avoiding all family stuff at this time of year because my sibling/children/relatives have an addiction basically called “critical addiction of me, my life, my finances, my health…” which all rolls down to them being as miserable as sin – so anytime they believe they have my undivided attention – “hell streams from their mouth” “strange presents are apparently to show me the way”. I’m advised not to gift any, so now I don’t…and time I asked to provide some food as a contribution – I had to bring it all home again…because apparently they enough!

    Of course, this is “good” in a way – because what I buy now, is just regular stuff with some treats – I bought myself a couple of nice presents – one from a shop would have had most of the rellies faint in fright 🙂

    And because I’m in the Southern Hemisphere – where it’s summertime, I will probably go to the beach, and enjoy the ambiance that usually I see…

    • PS – I was married many years, but we had no children due to problems with “other half” – we are now truly living single lives. So meanies are my older sibling and her dear kids etc..

      • Cathy, thank you so much for reading my article! Spending the holidays on the beach sounds wonderful to me! It seems like you’ve found a way to celebrate that works best for you — that’s what really matters. Happy holidays!

  3. I’ve never bought into the insanity of the Christmas holidays. My Christmas present to myself and my husband right now is doing a major uncluttering, rearranging of the apartment. No Christmas decorations, just a present that will last the coming year and beyond.

    My husband is starting to think of putting his “Christmas tree” up on the roof of our little house in the mountains. The neighbors love it, but I hope he doesn’t hurt himself. No more visits to the ER for a while! He’s still recovering from the one last Sunday.

  4. A good outline for coping with Christmas for those who are challenged by addictions. Addiction is not something I am prone to, it hasn’t been one of my personal challenges, but in the past, and now, I have loved ones who struggle with addiction… I am reminded of how difficult this time of year can be for them, and I strive to interact with respect, making my only expectation that I too be treated respectfully.

  5. This article presents great ideas for coping with the holidays even if one is NOT recovering from addiction. I have family members who use alcohol excessively and enjoy criticizing others. I’ve learned that it is best to spend only limited time with these individuals, so as not to expose myself to their toxicity. I’ve also learned through AlAnon to accept the things I cannot change. This is a great comfort. Thanks for the article!

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