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The holiday season is officially underway. The holidays symbolize time with family and community, celebrating connection, abundance, tradition, and faith (in all of its many interpretations). Many families come together for Thanksgiving and Christmas to be with family from near and far.
Young adults are often resistant to the idea of seeking treatment for addiction and mental health struggles around the holidays. If you are in that situation, I can’t blame you for not wanting to go to a treatment program. The holidays are your chance to be with family and friends, maybe even repair some damaged relationships while people are feeling generous and forgiving.
There are always reasons for not doing something that is scary and unfamiliar. Seeking support for substance use is no different. With Thanksgiving approaching, this feeling could be even stronger, and the arguments for maintaining the status quo feel more important than ever. Let’s look at some possible reasons why you shouldn’t start a treatment program now:
Those are valid reasons. Many young adults who are considering treatment have already been at the center of a lot of worry and conflict. Being with your family for Thanksgiving or Christmas is a great way to show your parent(s) how much you care. If you feel confident that you can have a connected time with your family, then this is probably a good time for you to be with them.
If, however, you are worried about spending the holidays with your folks, it might be worth considering some alternatives. There are several reasons why this might be precisely the time to seek out treatment.
Let’s take a closer look at what the holidays are actually like for most families. I have personally spent many holidays working with clients. I was recently in the desert for Thanksgiving working with a group of young adults in a wilderness therapy program. As the day approached, many of the clients expressed their frustration at being stuck in the wilderness, far away from family and friends. They wished they could be at home with their families and we all shared some of our holiday traditions back home.
Despite these frustrations, when Thanksgiving arrived, it was amazing how our group came together to celebrate this day together. We baked a turkey in a dutch oven nestled into a bed of hot coals. We made stuffing, mashed potatoes and more over the fire. Everyone in the group helped with the meal in some way, and when it was time to eat, we sat around and shared our gratitude for the simple luxuries that we had living in the woods. I missed my family, but I wouldn’t say that this Thanksgiving was inferior to past celebrations with family, just different. We had created our own family, one that revolved around a raw commitment to taking steps towards healing from past life experiences and choices.
When the clients reflected on our very different celebration, sitting in the dirt around a fire, surprising realizations emerged. More than one client admitted that it was their favorite Thanksgiving in recent memory. They said that while they always looked forward to the Thanksgiving feast, their experience rarely matched expectations.
For the clients I worked with, the holidays just brought out the ugliest family dynamics. Their positive experiences around Halloween were connected to wild parties, and Thanksgiving was a pressure cooker for blow-ups and let-downs since the expectation was that everything would be perfect (an impossible standard to achieve).
By contrast, our clients approached wilderness Thanksgiving with emotional caution. The feast was an exciting burst of flavor compared to the food we were used to eating. Feelings, positive and negatively charged ones, were expressed, acknowledged and held. Our little tribe in the woods was connected and comfortable with each other, knowing that each one of us felt pain and sadness, but that the heaviness didn’t need to dampen the joy and gratitude.
If your family experiences have any parallels to that of my clients in the wilderness, a treatment environment could be the right place for you these Holidays. If you are worried about burdening your family by going to treatment, chances are they are already spending a lot of energy worrying about you and how best to support you. Knowing that you have professional support will be a relief for your family. They know that you are safe and taking steps towards sobriety. You also get outside support when you feel triggered by your family. If all goes well, you can take the progress and sobriety and enter Christmas with positive momentum and a new arsenal of skills for managing family dynamics as they arise.
If you are ready to get sober but don’t want to spend the holidays in an inpatient treatment center, there is an alternative solution. Starting with a medical detox is an important first step to prepare yourself for successful long-term recovery. This makes the most sense when you have been drinking heavily, or are using benzos or opioids, all of which can be excruciating and sometimes dangerous to come off without medical and emotional support.
The Harmony Foundation is an excellent example of a treatment program that offers medical detox for clients looking to begin their recovery journey. Nestled against the wild beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado, the Harmony Foundation is one of Colorado’s oldest and most well-known inpatient facilities in Colorado. Detox at Harmony usually lasts 5-10 days and includes both medical and therapeutic support.
After medical detox, you can transition home to attend to a Day treatment (PHP) or Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) in Denver or Boulder. Our programs allow you to receive the necessary support to continue your recovery journey post medical detox, while also remaining at home with the flexibility to attend work and be with family. At Sandstone Care, we work closely with families on a weekly basis, which means we can guide you in your interactions with your family and help support your overall family system. You get a skilled referee to help mediate how to best support each other and how to address the ways that you drive each other crazy.
We also have sober living houses in Denver, Colorado and Boulder, Colorado. You can live with other young adults in early recovery looking to accomplish similar goals. Over the holidays, we encourage our sober living residents to invite their families to join the Thanksgiving feast. This can be an empowering experience for the young men and women living at Rally Point (what we call our sober living houses). Instead of the often overwhelming visit home, you get to host your parents, and they get to meet your sisters (or brothers) in recovery.
Starting a treatment program right before, or in the middle of the holiday season may not be intuitive or fun. It could, however, be the decision that changes your life and the best gift you can give yourself and your family. Having the handrail of treatment through this time of year can help you launch into the new year with resolve and confidence.