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How to Treat Your Newly Recovering Addict/Alcoholic Through the Holidays…

December 2019

A friend recently asked, in a comment to a post, how to treat her niece who had been dis-invited from a family party because there would be drinking.  She was invited one minute, and not the next.  Now, that may seem a little harsh, but when the full context of why this happens is considered, it may not be all that terrible.  It happened to me, as many as fifteen-ish years into sobriety and I managed to live through it, barely.  My tongue is firmly in cheek…

My friends, this gets a little tricky, dealing with your recovering alcoholic or addict.  First, you’re so used to living in fear your loved one will relapse, because they’ve done that so many times, and blamed you/others for it, that your initial reaction is to treat them with kid gloves.  I’m not a particular fan of that approach, but I absolutely understand it.  I can only imagine the heartache one must go through just to get to that point, then to be afraid that any little thing can send the person they care about so much out the door to the nearest liquor store…

We can’t hide from alcohol, though.  Because it’s everywhere.  At best, we can avoid the liquor aisle at the grocery store, but it’s so pervasive, it’s simply inescapable.  And because it is inescapable, we have to be prepared to live in that world.  Does that mean we go to a family party, even a holiday party, if there’s going to be drinking?

Yes.  And No.

Recovery is “a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our [program]”.  What that means for me is I have to honestly assess where I’m at on a daily basis when it comes to whether or not I should go to a particular event when I know there will be drinking.  Some days I can handle it, others I can’t – and when I can’t, I don’t.

There’s more, though.  How about those instances where we feel we’re on solid ground, but we find out while we’re there, the ground looked good but it was really quicksand?  What then?  Well, if we have a desire to stay sober, we have a reliable way out of the situation ready at a moment’s notice.  For instance, we park the car where it can’t be parked in, even if it means having to walk a distance to the party.  Nothing can be in the way of making a hasty retreat should the need arise.  Finally, find a meeting nearby (before you even go to the event) and/or have your sponsor’s number at the ready should you need to be brought back from temptation.

As for relatives, we don’t treat our recovering folk as though they’re damaged goods, even though they often are.  Once alcoholics have found the path and have a firm desire to stay on it, they can usually handle a holiday party with the family.  If you’re concerned, ask them about their program/spiritual condition.  Are they on solid ground?  How about their way out?  Do they have an escape plan if they feel squirrely?  How about someone to talk to?  Did they look up a local meeting just in case?  If you’re not going to be drinking – and only if you’re not going to be drinking anything, let your loved one know you’re there if they need someone to talk to during the party.  If you’re going to have a beer or ten, don’t offer.

One final note to the recovering person; often, when we aren’t invited to these functions, it’s not because people are really nervous about whether we’ll drink or not.  That’s just a clever, easy excuse.  A manipulation.  Often, the real reason we aren’t invited along is because we’re a buzzkill.  We are shining examples of what happens when shit goes sideways due to a career of drinking too much.  Most people don’t want a constant reminder of how f***ed life can get staring them right in the face while they’re in the process of drinking too much.

I’ve been an un-invited co-conspirator more than once, and for exactly that reason.  It bummed my wife out, but I looked at it as a badge of honor; I am a buzzkill, because I am what happens when shit goes sideways.

I’m also a buzzkill because I am a constant reminder that complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol works.  I am a reminder for heavy drinkers that their days are numbered… and who would want to drink around that?!

I wouldn’t have.



  1. Eliza says:

    Thanks for writing this…
    Love, light and glitter

  2. Sue Slaght says:

    Wise words Jim. Its this kind of article that needs to be in a popular magazine and distributed to hundreds of thousands in the holiday season.

  3. joliesattic says:

    That was timely, beautifully written and appreciated. Thank you!

  4. annastk76 says:

    This is all so true. First off it’s super tricky for those around us to know how to do the right thing. My dad did the opposite to what I needed him to do but it was out of love and his way of showing me he’s got my back: he was pouring Prosecco for the others at a get together as he walked around the table waiter-style. When he got to me he stood straight and loudly announced “AND ABSOLUTELY NOTHING FOR MY TEE-TOTAL DAUGHTER”! I nearly died and was so annoyed with him for the half second it took me to recognise he was doing the best he knew how, my silly, loving, kind, genuine father. Bless him. So I try my best to be patient with the people who love me, appreciating that they’re doing the best they can with the tools they have.

    Also, you’re right about the buzzkill thing! Spot on. And it has another glorious effect…. …I now have two close friends who quote me as the trigger – one has ditched booze saying she was inspired by my joyous sobriety, and another who’s heading in the same direction saying she questions what good it is because clearly I don’t need it. Neither is an alcoholic. Booze is shit and so, so bad for you. And when we turn our backs on it and suddenly live our best life, I think others feel a bit sheepish for drinking. Like we’re underlining how bad what they are doing is. Even when they are in control. I mean, it’s slightly less comfortable to chomp down a dripping kebab next to someone who’s eating a big sallad.

  5. limetwiste says:

    Exactly. Having crossed over to the sober side I know what works for me. Before then I have looked at sobriety without understanding and treated it as a disease. Not knowing what to say or do. Do I drink in front of the sober person? I spent a lot of time thinking about alcohol around them. It makes people confront their own drinking and for some it is deeply unsettling.
    Love the suggestion of parking with thought when going out. That is great. Will use that from now on myself.

  6. Patunia says:

    Yes preach sir!

  7. Peggy says:

    You are amazing. I wish I had just a pinch of your strength.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Peggy, I appreciate you immensely, Peggy. Alas, I’m just an ordinary guy who happens to he scared to death of what would happen if I take a drink again…. I can’t look at it any other way, lest a lack of humility take me down a road I have no desire to travel again. Thank you.

      • Peggy says:

        My knee would benefit from weightloss, but sweets, junk food etc are soooo nice. Maybe I will borrow that pinch from you and make a new years resolution. The goal being to cycle somewhere awesome 🙂

      • bgddyjim says:

        Ah… I’m an all or nothing sweets guy. As soon as I give in, I’m pooched. As long as I don’t start, I can resist the temptation.

  8. curlymamaof2 says:

    Like a gut punch with the timing of this post. “At best, we can avoid the liquor aisle at the grocery store, but it’s so pervasive, it’s simply inescapable.” THIS.

    I went to a get together with my parents at one of their friends’ homes on the water. It was a holiday boat parade, complete with hors d’oeuvres, yummy desserts and a counter full of booze. After moving back around family, conveniently at holiday time, the pervasiveness of alcohol is hitting me hard. Being in the military and living all over gives me some distance and ability to not be around it.

    At one point in the evening, there was some kind of liqueur they were all trying. My mom who no longer drinks, doesn’t consider herself an alcoholic, but wants to be supportive and realizes that it’s not a necessity, found herself essentially surrounded by 4-5 of her friends telling her she just HAD to try this. “What is the flavor? Can you guess it?” I was off to the side watching and realizing that that had to be so incredibly hard. For whatever reason she chooses not to tell people she no longer drinks so she proceeded to touch it to her lips but not actually drink any and sort of “faked” it. The whole scene was such a mess.

    I knew in my heart of hearts that I was in a place where I could handle it for myself, but as I was filling my hot chocolate from the pot on the stove, I was hyper aware of the Bailey’s sitting on the counter just out of reach.

    I think you hit the nail on the head. To invite a known teetotaler or recovering alcoholic forces others to confront/deal with their own drinking and who wants to do that, especially if they are smack in the middle of their own drinking. As always you confirm that I’m on the right track! Thank you for continuing to help those of us who need it!

    • bgddyjim says:

      It is entirely my pleasure. I hope you have peace and contentment through the Holiday season. And remember, being hyper-aware is all in our head. This too shall pass. It always does. That’s exactly how I deal with it.

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