‘Set boundaries,’ ‘don’t exclude’: Hosting the holidays when a loved one is in active addiction

Hosting the holidays when a loved one is in active addiction

Hosting the holidays when a loved one is in active addiction

Tiffany White and Jeremy Sutliff know all too well that when the trees go up and the tinsel comes out, so do many, varied triggers for people living with substance use disorders.

White, speaking to holiday seasons past, said, “I was good at — like kind of off and on with my sobriety during the rest of the year. But like, once the end of the year came and the festivities ramped up, I ramped up.”

“And that’s the weird thing about alcohol and alcoholism,” Sutliff chimed in. “Is it almost seems like socially acceptable” during winter holiday celebrations.

These days, White and Sutliff are sober and years down the road to recovery. The pair are both peer recovery specialists at the MN Prevention & Recovery Alliance and teaching others how to navigate the season known to be coupled with high alcohol consumption.

The most important thing to remember in relation to a loved one struggling with addiction, according to White is “don’t exclude them from your family functions.”

Instead, she says, pre-set some boundaries with and for everyone attending along with the invitation.

“Give them that option to decline coming, or you know, if they want to come…setting the boundaries. You know, ‘Hey. I know, if you do choose to come, you might be using, but when you come here, like, you can’t use here,’ or ‘I would prefer if you do come, that you come as sober as you can be,'” White said.

“Kind of put the ball in their court,” Sutliff advised. “Like, ‘What boundaries would you set? What would you like to see? We’re inviting you to Christmas. You’re 100% welcome…but like, are you okay if we have a bottle of wine or would you rather have…?'” Sutliff trailed off, adding, “Just kind of leave it up to them.”

White, who is hosting this week, set her own boundaries, which will include barring alcohol from the gathering. No matter the boundary, it should apply to everyone in attendance, she said.

“For everyone, yup. It’s across the board,” she said. “We’re not gonna say, ‘They can’t drink.’ It’s, ‘There’s no alcohol,’ for instance. Or, we make options available…like mocktails.”

If things don’t go as planned, “and the person that you know is in addiction, or active use, shows up using,” Sutliff continued, “I think it’s just valuable to have a conversation with them, not to just cut them off, yell at them or say, ‘No, you’re not allowed.'”

The peer recovery specialists stressed the holidays are a time to express love and care and not the time for an intervention.

Each shared a story from a time when they were in active addiction and showed up to a gathering intoxicated. In both cases, they were asked to separate into another room and “sleep it off.” White and Sutliff both said they were met with grace upon returning to the celebration.

“You have to prepare the rest of the family members for those conversations,” Sutliff added. “‘Hey, Joe-Bob is coming over, and we all know he had struggles with alcohol use. Just you know, we’re gonna agree to love on him today…This isn’t an intervention, this is Christmas or whatever.'”

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use or you have questions about navigating the holidays, you can text the MN Prevention & Recovery Alliance anonymously at 612-440-3967.