As the song says, "it's the most wonderful time of the year."
But for people dealing with addictions, it can also be the most challenging.
Andrew Galloway knows that well. He's been through his own struggles with alcohol and with cocaine. He's been in recovery 14 years and now works as certified counsellor national director at the Edgewood Health Network in Toronto.
There are more parties, which means more drinking. "The average person tends to drink a lot more," said Galloway. "It's all around us more."
But there are ways to make a person who doesn't drink feel more comfortable at a party, said Galloway. Here's a list of some small gestures to make your holiday party more inclusive:
- The more sobriety, the more comfortable: There's safety in numbers. So invite your sober friend to invite another a sober friend. And make it easy to not drink at your party by having a good supply and variety of non-alcoholic drinks on hand.
- Be mindful of space: Unsurprisingly, a person who doesn't drink may not want to be around drinks or people who drink a lot. So don't sit a sober friend beside the uncle who loves to pound the bottle, said Galloway. And don't offer a wine glass straight away. "Don't make them have them to say no," said Galloway.
- Don't take it personally: Don't be offended if your sober guest leaves your party. In fact, don't feel offended if he or she doesn't even show up. It's not a big deal to you, said Galloway, but it may be to him or her.
- Christmas dinner is not the time: Alcoholism is an elephant in the room at the best of times. During the holidays, especially boozy occasions, that elephant is even bigger. "You may want to have a discussion but Christmas dinner may not be the best time for it," said Galloway. If there is a person in recovery, or on the verge of recovery, let that person bring up the topic if they need to.
- Consider going dry: And if someone is struggling to get to the point where they go to recover, don't serve alcohol at all. Even if the person says it's fine.
Family stress can be a trigger
Some of the alcohol consumption around the holidays is due to the number of parties, but some of it can be due to stress. That's especially at reunions with family members.
"When we get around family, old feelings come up," said the counselor. "We have to develop coping skills."
When Galloway feels a trigger at the holidays, he takes five minutes to meditate. "I ask myself what's going on, and why am I having this reaction," he said.
He remembers his days in recovery when his mother would visit him. She would ask something like, "how are you?", but he would hear "are you high?", something harkening back to his youth.
"And I was 32 yrs old!" he said. "it's how all how we perceive things. When we go into reaction mode, we get defensive, then they get defensive. Then it escalates."
When things used to escalate, Galloway would grab a bottle of something.
One Christmas, he set out to buy his father a golf club for Christmas. He ended up drinking, and by the time Christmas morning came, he had not even shopped for the present. He ended up drawing a picture of it and putting the sketch under the tree instead.
"The stress of buying presents is tough," said Galloway. He does all his Christmas shopping in October now, he added.
Regardless of how you prepare, though, the holiday season can be difficult for people who struggle with addiction.