Christmas Time for Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs

As the holiday season approaches, we share our heartfelt support and guidance to every family member across Scotland who is dealing with challenging circumstances this year. The constant stream of festive cheer everywhere we go, coupled with the pressure to have a traditional celebration can make this season particularly difficult for those of us struggling. Remember, it’s okay to prioritise self-care and set boundaries for your own well-being. Connect with trusted friends, family, or support groups, and don’t hesitate to reach out to us if needed. The team wishes you resilience, strength, and moments of peace through this holiday season.

We have some tips for navigating the festive season when you are dealing with someone else’s alcohol or drug use.

Plan Ahead

We can’t say this enough – planning ahead is vital. Often, family members say they’re waiting to see what happens. They’ll wait for this or that with regards to their loved one, but we encourage you to make plans that suit you and only you. Don’t wait to see what your loved one is or isn’t doing. If you are doing this, the stress will build and you will create these expectations of ‘maybe they can get it together for that one day and it’ll be lovely’ but the reality is probably going to be quite different and quite difficult.

Make plans that prioritise your own wellbeing and stress levels. Whether that’s having a traditional meal, a relaxed day in your pyjamas, or something entirely different. Choose what suits you and your family without waiting for your loved one’s behaviour to shape the day. This helps you get into a space where you can look at this day of the year as not being something that you just have to get through, but something you can actually find a bit of enjoyment in.

Look After You

We know self-care is a buzzword and is thrown around a lot, but it is a vital tool for you. It’s about recognising what makes you feel better and helps you with your mental health. Self-care can be as simple as a hot bath, going a walk on a cold winter day, watching your favourite film (doesn’t have to be Christmas-related) or spending time with a friend.

The key is to prioritise your needs because that is so important. Self-care is not selfish.

Thoughtful Gift-Giving

When it comes to gift-giving, consider practicality with the plans you are making about buying gifts for a loved one who might be using alcohol or drugs. Christmas is a time where we often feel that we have to be over-generous and let our guard down, but if you are giving a gift to someone who is not in a good place in terms of their substance use, an extravagant gift might be something they see as a way to access more alcohol or drugs by selling it on or using it in a way you hadn’t intended for.

Instead, plan ahead and think about practical gifts. They could be gifts related to essential needs like food or shopping. Sometimes we feel under more pressure to give money as gifts, and that’s never a good idea when someone’s in a state of mind that they might want to spend that on something that’s harmful to them.

So think about how you can avoid doing that or avoid being put in the position where you feel like you’ve got to do that.

It’s crucial to set budget boundaries you’re comfortable with to avoid disappointment if the gift is misused.

Including Your Loved One

While it’s wonderful to include your loved one in celebrations, be prepared for the possibility that their substance use may lead to lapses or relapses during the festive season. We encourage you to be realistic and plan. Think in your mind that this is quite likely to happen, so how do I deal with that? What tools do I have in place now? This proactive approach, combined with self-care, can help manage expectations and reduce stress.

Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries is essential, especially when it comes to communication. We suggest being realistic about when you’re available and not allowing your phone to dictate your peace of mind. Set boundaries that are manageable for you and help reduce stress.

You should not feel that it’s your responsibility to have the ‘perfect Christmas’. If it doesn’t go to plan, it’s nothing that you have done or should have done. It is what it is. And it’s about how to pick yourself back up again from that disappointment and try to still make the best of the situation.

Advice from a Family Member

We asked a family member to share bits of advice and information about their Christmas: ‘I love Christmas and I always have and have always tried to make it special. As I’ve got older though, I’ve started to put less pressure on myself to focus on one day, where I usually end up exhausted and missing everything because I’m in the kitchen half the day. Last year wasn’t easy with my son, and he was out for a big part of the day and then the police were involved on Boxing Day. So this year we’ve decided to do something different, take the pressure off ourselves so that if things don’t go as planned it won’t really matter.’

Some Things to Consider

Simplify the Celebration: Consider breaking away from tradition by ordering takeout or simplifying the meal. The focus should be on enjoying the day and reducing the pressure of preparing an elaborate feast.

Invite Supportive Guests: If you’re worried about judgement or negative interactions, invite family members who understand your situation and can provide emotional support during the day.

Flexible Timing: Prepare meals in advance, allowing you to eat whenever you want, freeing up time for activities you enjoy.

Christmas is a time for joy and celebration, but it can also be challenging for families affected by alcohol and drugs. The key to navigating this season is planning ahead, practicing self-care, and setting realistic expectations.

Remember that support is available through Scottish Families, and you’re not alone in facing these challenges. You survived every hard day up to this point, so you can do it. With the right tools and support, you can make Christmas more manageable and less stressful.

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