Written by Ahmed Hosni, Collegiate Recovery Program Coordinator at The Ohio State University.
The holidays are often a challenging time of year for students in recovery. Whether it is family dynamics or having to leave the support of your college classmates or campus, the holidays can be hard.
In this week’s blog post we spoke with several collegiate recovery students about how they spend their holidays in recovery, challenges that may arise this time of year, and how they navigate the season.
First, let’s meet the students:
My name is Natalia L. I’m from Houston, Texas and I have been in recovery for 8 months now. I attend graduate school at The University of Texas at Austin. I graduated undergrad from Texas Tech University and am now finishing up my first semester at UT. Something interesting about me is that I speak three different languages.
My name is Josh S. and my sobriety date is 07/31/13. I am a senior advertising major at the University of Georgia. About two months into sobriety I started to explore caves. I attend the same school I originally left to go to treatment back in 2011, although I was in and out of recovery for some time before I actually wanted to get sober. I also intern for a fashion brand.
My name is Micaela V., I am from Alice, Texas and I have been in long-term recovery since Oct. 19, 2014. I am currently enrolled in the Master’s program for History at The University of Texas at San Antonio. I am the Graduate Assistant at the Center for Collegiate Recovery here at UTSA. I also love to sing, workout, and hangout with my cat.
Describe your family for us:
Natalia: My family consists of a four person traditional family unit. My father is also in recovery and has been for the past 7 years. He has been one of the most influential members of the family. My mother, who is not in recovery, but has experienced a lot of life also plays an integral role in the family dynamic. I count on my mother as one of my confidants who has my best interest at heart, whom I almost trust more than anyone else. I have a sister who is in and out of recovery. She chooses to not drink because of incidents that have shown her that alcohol is a toxic poison for our family gene pool and would rather stay away. I say she is in and out of recovery because she does not work a 12-step practice, but finds serenity through prayer and abstinence. The dynamic of the family has shifted substantially since I got sober. I used to feel as though I was the glue that kept everyone together and the person whom nobody would ever listen to because of their own issues with other members of the family or whatever else. However, the dynamic now relies much more on setting boundaries, giving each other space, and being honest about feelings.
Josh: I come from a good family. Although there were some issues between us, I pretty much had everything a kid could ask for. Most of my issues with depression and poor self–image fed into my problems. My parents have been married for over 25 years. They started working on their recovery way before I ever did. When I continued to relapse they started attending a Family’s Anonymous meeting. They still go to that same meeting and they sponsor other parents as well. When I was drinking and getting high I hated it, but since I’ve been working my own program of recovery it’s been great. We talk about step work and we’re all very transparent about how things are going. It’s a dream come true and for the first time in my life I feel like we all have a progressive, honest relationship. I’m very lucky.
Micaela: My parents are divorced. My father is in active addiction and my mother is currently in a rough time in her relationship with my step-father. I have two siblings, an older sister and a younger brother. We stick together as siblings because it can get rough when our parents and step-parents have problems.
What are the holidays typically like for you?
Natalia: Over the holidays I will really begin to work my program by practicing my principles in family affairs. Even earlier this evening, my family and I were having a heated discussion and my sister got annoyed with me. I began to prod because what alcoholic doesn’t enjoy a bit of chaos and drama, when it dawned on me that it’s not about me, in fact it was because of me that I began to make someone else feel uncomfortable. I have to work on boundary settings, tolerance of others, and patience for others, and also to be kind to others despite my own feelings. This does not in fact mean that I allow myself to be walked over; in fact it simply requires me to be honest with myself and with others. It’s not always a fun, loving and kind environment, but it’s also not always stressful, toxic or harmful environment; it is an integrated mixture of all of those things. This is why it is important to be patient and honest with myself, as well.
Josh: My parents don’t really drink any more. They never really did, but when I started having problems with addiction they officially opted out of it. I do have relatives who drink. They all know about me and have witnessed me intoxicated on several occasions. I don’t really get tempted to drink. Staying active in my recovery helps me in those situations, whether it’s at dinner or a party. I’ve found that it is just hard being around family at first. When I got sober everything was new, including interacting with family. On top of that, I had a lot of bad memories that were haunting me. The hardest part is being present and showing up, one day –or holiday –at a time to make new memories. It gets better, at least it has for me.
Micaela: In the past my father and step-father, both addict/alcoholics, have become pretty overwhelmed with emotion whether it be anger or sadness about their situations in life. We have had a few times where I personally had to leave someone’s house because it was too overwhelming to be around. My father’s side of the family can be a little distant with my siblings and me, always very judgmental towards our father, and will always express their frustrations with us about him. The awkwardness gets to be frustrating after a while as well. My mother’s side of the family isn’t as close to us either, but for the past few holidays my step-father has caused problems with his drinking each time we get together.
What was your first holiday in recovery like and what do you expect this holiday season to be like:
Natalia: This is my first holiday season in recovery. I am looking forward to being around my family for a bit to not rely solely on myself. I am not looking forward to being in stressful situations, nor being over-analyzed by other alcoholics, nor am I looking forward to having to walk carefully around other people’s triggers and defects. I am aware that I need to be sensitive of my own and be respectful of others. Luckily, I have been given a good toolbox to go to in stressful times. This will take a lot of practice and patience, on my part, but I do believe that now is a good time in my recovery to do so.
Josh: This is my third holiday season in recovery. I like being at home and seeing family and friends. I have time to get to the mountains to go caving which is nice –I get to do a lot of meditation there. My grandmother is sick right now and that’s putting a lot of pressure on my mom, but everything at home is good otherwise. Holidays today definitely require reaching out to other people in recovery, much like other days of the year I guess. I think I have an image of how the holidays are supposed to be perfect or look a certain way, and when they don’t turn out like that I get down and I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. I do this thing where I benchmark what God and recovery are supposed to look like in my life. I guess the holidays can be a trap for that (although I’ve been known to do that the rest of the year as well). I just have to stay plugged in. I’ve learned I am not the only one who can feel like that.
Micaela: This will be my second go around for the holidays in recovery. The first time was sort of weird because of the family dynamics, no one really knew that I was in recovery because no one had really talked to me for a while, nor did I make an effort to tell them that I was, besides telling my immediate family members. I am looking forward to the food and to seeing my friends in my hometown. I’m also looking forward to seeing my mom who is currently going through some issues with her husband. The differences between holidays in recovery and not in recovery are that I am not as disengaged in what’s going on. I try and stay helpful, like when cooking is involved, and be grateful that I even have a place to eat Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner. It can still be hectic as far as family dynamics go but I have tools now to cope with and maneuver through some of the harder issues that may manifest while I’m back home.
How does being home for the holidays affect your personal routines:
Natalia: I imagine that my recovery routine will change over the holiday because I won’t have nearly the same amount of alone time that I am used to, but I will have to exercise the right amount of love and compassion towards myself as I expect from others to have for them.
Josh: I get to meet friends from my home group. I’ll go to meetings closer to home. Also, I may do some service work at one of the treatment centers I went to.
Micaela: It won’t really change that much. Unfortunately, there are no meetings that I can go to when I go back home but I will only be home for a couple of days. I know that I have people I can always call if something comes up that is important to hash out with another person in recovery.
What advice would you share for another recovery student approaching their first holidays in recovery:
Natalia: I have been told to read my big book every day, practice principles in all my affairs, and to take the time to give myself the love that I need. I hope that I can call my sponsor whenever anything does come up and I need to brace myself more so than I have for the Christmas holiday because I have so primarily focused on school and wrapping up my semester without focusing too much on the future. I know that I can only control myself today with the care of my higher power and need to stay focused on just that.
Josh: You are not crazy for feeling down. I thought the holidays were supposed to look a certain way, but, spoiler alert, they ended up being a lot different. I had to face a lot of darker memories, my parents were still wondering if I was serious about sobriety, and I was really sad because I was expecting to be happy the couple weeks I was out of school. It turns out there are a lot of people who were dealing with very similar stuff so I had plenty of people to relate to. Just be open to whatever happens. It’s all part of the bigger picture.
Micaela: Ask if anyone needs your help around the house, like where cooking and cleaning is involved. Be attentive to people’s needs… use this time to be of service to your own family. Not all of us have this opportunity to go home and enjoy such an amazing time. Also, have people on call that you can contact if things do go bad, as far as problems with family goes and have an exit plan if you don’t feel comfortable around drinking or any other types of substance use. Most importantly, let someone in your family know that you are getting help and that you are actively pursuing a recovery lifestyle, if you are comfortable with it. Doing so may change another member of your family’s outlook on the subject and you may also gain another supportive person in your own recovery.
Many thanks from the Higher Education Center to Natalia, Josh, and Micaela for sharing about their family, their experiences, and their recovery.
To learn more about the collegiate recovery programs these students are a part of, please click on the below links:
If you are a college student interested in learning more about recovery, please visit our website page on student recovery.