For many, the holidays conjure up feelings of warmth — images of father building the sukkah, a festive family meal with pot roast and singing, and grandparents sharing family stories. My friend at Retorno, Shoshana Schwartz, shared with me this letter about how recovering addicts may experience Rosh Hashanah and the whole holiday season differently.

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The holidays are meant to be a time of celebration, family bonding, and joy. In reality, however, the holidays can be one of the most stressful times of the year, which can result in family conflict, anxiety, and overindulgent behaviors.

The joy of a family reunion is often tainted by a previous history of old grudges, messy relationships, and painful memories. You may look across your family table and feel depressed, imagining friends or neighbors having the picture-perfect holiday and wondering why your family can’t get along.

For others, holidays can trigger feelings of loneliness. Watching everyone around you connect with loved ones while feeling disconnected yourself exacerbates feelings of isolation.

While the “holiday blues” is fairly common, for recovering addicts, this holiday period can be a period of increased stress and unstructured time that can threaten their hard-won sobriety, making them more vulnerable to relapse. (One recovering addict offers her note to God.)

Holidays affect recovering addicts. Staying sober during the holidays

Holidays affect recovering addicts. (Niels Smeets on Unsplash)

Addiction within the Jewish community

Drug abuse is a rampant and deadly problem in all segments of the Jewish community. Approximately 1 out of every 10 Americans over the age of 12 is addicted to drugs or alcohol. The Jewish community, regardless of the level of religious observance, is not immune to this tragedy. This past June, a 20-year-old Hasidic woman made headlines when she died of a heroin overdose, revealing that even the ultra-insular Orthodox community is losing people to drugs.

Today, the Jewish community is becoming increasingly aware of the drug plague and taking steps to prevent substance abuse. Various yeshivas and day schools are beginning to offer prevention and intervention programs. Informally, families have begun opening communication about drugs within the family and within the community. Children need to feel comfortable turning to their parents for support and questions. The Jewish community can deny substance abuse no longer.

For those actively struggling with an addiction, the Jewish community now provides resources and treatment facilities in an environment that is compatible with Jewish values. Retorno, the largest Jewish organization in the world for the prevention and treatment of addictions, treats every kind of addiction, including drugs, alcohol, sex and pornography, internet, food, codependency, and gambling addictions. Retorno provides the space to recover in an environment that supports a commitment to Judaism, channeling the strength and wisdom of the Torah to achieve recovery.

How to support a loved one in recovery — staying sober this New Year and beyond

During the holiday season, it is more important than ever to show your loved ones support and empathy. If your loved one is in recovery, follow these tips to help him or her have a happy and sober holiday season.

  1. Accept. Although your initial reaction may be to exclude the former addict from family celebrations, forbidding him or her from attending will only increase the shame, isolation, and pain he or she feels. Establish firm ground rules and behavioral expectations beforehand, then invite with open arms.
  2. Prepare. Make preparations beforehand. Help your loved one assemble a “recovery kit” that can include items such as the therapist’s or sponsor’s phone number, a journal, and other items to relieve stress.
  3. Design an escape plan. If a stressful situation or argument occurs, a recovering addict may be tempted to use. Help your loved one take action immediately to get out of a difficult situation. Help him or her come up with healthy ways to manage stress, while maintaining his or her sobriety.

Managing unrealistic expectations

Many families have unrealistic expectations of an ideal holiday season, complete with good food, well-behaved children, and perfect family harmony. These unrealistic expectations can result in disappointment and stress for a recovering addict and his family.

Loving family members may assume that those in recovery will feel joyful and at peace, when in reality they can be struggling to cope without drugs or alcohol for the first time.

One of the most important things you can do for a recovering addict is to demonstrate love, understanding, and support. Show your loved one you are there, while not being an enabler. Try not to accuse or judge, and recognize the potential the recovering addict has within.

Help your loved one have a happy, rejuvenating, and sober holiday season. Together you can enjoy a fresh, healthy start to the year ahead. If more help is needed getting a reset on building a life free of substance abuse, reach out for help.