Candle being held by two hands.

The holidays can be an emotional, stressful time for many. Striving to achieve the perfect holiday experience often leaves us with unrealistic expectations about the season.

But what truly matters are the meaningful memories we make with our loved ones. It is a time of year when we gather together, despite our differences and our wounds, to celebrate the promise of a new beginning.

Addiction stigma can impact how families and friends treat their loved ones in recovery during the holiday season. Too often, people living in their sobriety are pitied during the “most wonderful time of the year” by a stigma that assumes they are not able to live the spirit of the season in equal measure.

However, holiday cheer is just as accessible to our loved ones in recovery. And we have a role to play in fostering authentic, positive, joyful experiences that empower our family and friends in recovery during the holidays and beyond.

Check this list twice to spread holiday merriment successfully:

holiday-family-680x449

Keep it simple.

Every family has their own unique holiday traditions. Focusing on the smaller, intimate family customs and skipping the more extravagant activities can help generate more meaningful experiences that help loved ones reconnect and renew.

Be flexible.

Understand with grace that some holiday events may be unappealing for your loved one in recovery. Be considerate of your loved one’s schedule, such as their AA meetings or recovery group events and plan your family gatherings accordingly.

Be authentic.

Don’t make overtly “special arrangements.” Even the best intentions can reinforce stigma. Be authentic and intentional with your holiday planning, and keep your loved ones in recovery in the loop. Value their feedback.

Foster peace.

At some point during the holidays, most of us wish for a little quiet time. Stress levels may rise, emotions can get out of hand, old arguments might flare up. Set the tone for your holiday season by embracing peace. Take necessary steps to create a lighter, peaceful environment that will benefit everyone and foster a happy, healthy experience.

Offer space.

Offer a quiet, private space for loved ones to retreat to when needed. Whether someone needs to check in with a sponsor, meditate or exit early to attend a meeting, having a safe place to conduct their self-care is important.

istock_000076524695_medium-680x453

Respect boundaries.

Your loved one may want to skip the big family dinner or leave when Aunt Sally starts drinking too much. Accept and respect the decisions your loved one makes to practice self-care during the holidays, even if it breaks with or disrupts tradition.

Get educated.

Seek out information on the stigma of addiction and how it can disrupt recovery. Explore more best practices on how families can support loved ones throughout the year in a respectful, healthy way. And learn more about how you can protect yourself during what can be a joyful, sometimes difficult, holiday season.

Practice Self Care.

A big part of relieving holiday-induced stress comes from self-care. Take care of yourself by eating healthy (maybe the most difficult task), getting enough rest and staying active or exercising daily. Meditation, a good book or power naps can also help alleviate the stress and worry in a significant way.

Be creative.

Get creative with your holiday planning. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Challenge the family to set gift giving at a reasonable budget or even donate their gifts to a family in need. This can relieve the budgetary stress that most of us incur during and after the season with the added benefit of truly living in the spirit of the season. You can also offer creative non-alcohol drink options – skip the ginger ale, offer a Martha Stewart alcohol free concoction. Introduce some new games and experiences that engage your loved ones and generate fresh, fun memories of being together.