The range of emotions that swirl around the year-end holidays can prove troubling for patients in recovery. Addiction Professional spoke with two of its contributing writers from the clinical community, asking how clinicians can help patients navigate what one of these counselors calls the “Bermuda Triangle” around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
Here are five tips they say clinicians should share with patients:
1. Ignore the media. Those magazine and TV ads somehow never portray the drunken uncle drooling into the gravy, says Brian Duffy, LMHC, LADC, mental health counselor at SMOC Behavioral Healthcare in Framingham, Mass. “I want my clients to recognize that their messed-up family is closer to the norm,” Duffy says. “The family on TV just doesn't exist, so don't compare your situation to that.”
2. Be kind to yourself first. Thomas Greaney, MEd, LADC, a private-practice clinician in New London, Conn., wants “kindness” to be the watchword for the holidays. “I cannot be as kind to others if I'm not kind to myself,” Greaney says. At a time when patients are vulnerable to painful memories, even a small self-reward in the moment can go a long way. “You deserve the gift of a mental health day,” Greaney says.
3. Handle parties with care. “Holiday parties can be a relapse waiting to happen,” Duffy says. If there is a compelling reason to attend, however, the patient should go with a sober companion who is willing to execute an early escape plan if it becomes necessary. “Above all, do not rely upon will power,” Duffy says. “Maintaining sobriety requires actions, not just intentions.”
4. Reach out for support. People revisit their grief during the holidays, so it becomes important for them to find help from another. “We need to reach out and say, 'Help me. Can I lean on you for support?'” Greaney says.
5. Be of service. Amid the materialism of the season, “The holidays also present opportunities to do service work,” Duffy says. “Get the 'gift of giving' by volunteering at a local food bank, hospital, detox, etc.”