There is definitely an inherent value in actually starting the new year already sober.
Real talk: No one necessarily ever wants to go to treatment for drugs and/or alcohol, especially not during a time of year that’s associated with exciting gifts and hearty family dinners. But is going to rehab on the biggest family day of the year actually the greatest gift someone could ever give themselves and their loved ones? Considering the fact that active alcoholism and drug addiction aren’t exactly the ideal ingredients for gingerbread houses and roasting chestnuts on an open fire, we say absolutely.
A Little Too Much Christmas Cheer
Chances are, if someone’s at the point of needing professional help for substance abuse, they’ve already experienced their fair share of holiday indulging. “If you are actively in your addiction, you’re typically causing some chaos in the family and that dream or wish that you’ll be home for Christmas and everything will be wonderful…many times you don’t even show up,” says Lorinda Strang, co-founder and Executive Director of Orchard Recovery Center, which is located just outside Vancouver, BC. This is why Strang strongly encourages people to seek treatment during the most wonderful time of year.
Because here’s the thing: over-indulgences around the holidays can make for just the sort of indelible memories you don’t want to make. “You may do something at an office Christmas party that you’ll regret, or at your family dinner,” says Strang. “Also things can just happen, and when those things happen at a this time of year—it’s Christmas, so people don’t forget as easily.” Ah, yes, that time Aunt Meg had one too many eggnogs and face planted in the winter wonderland? It’s sort of impossible to un-see the visuals created by a relative who’s heavily under the influence, under the mistletoe.
Ultimately, it would probably serve anyone struggling with substance abuse to get away from the “I can’t be away for Christmas, I’ll get sober for my New Year’s resolution” mentality. There is definitely an inherent value in actually starting the new year already sober. The holidays are a time of year when substance abuse can be at its highest so being in the safe, supportive environment of a recovery center is a great way to practice sober living and developing the tools for surviving future celebrations, Christmas and beyond.
The Case for a Holiday Away from Home
Smile if you want but places like Orchard Recovery Center might just be the perfect winter getaway. Depending on how long someone’s been a resident, there are opportunities for overnight passes during peak holiday times (namely Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), so clients may go home for the family soiree and then return to treatment. “Sometimes we have people get approved for a day-pass or an overnight-pass, then they come back and say, ‘I’m so glad I’m back here,’” says Barb Metcalfe, the Director of Family Programs at Orchard. “You wouldn’t think that at first. Many clients come in afraid to deal with the holidays, but they end up forming such strong camaraderie with their peers and having a really positive experience.”
Former Orchard client Mary M. can attest to that. “I had a wonderful sober Christmas for the first time in many years and I was grateful—it was a gift, a miracle and magical,” she recalls. “If it wasn’t for the Christmas I spent at the Orchard, I doubt I would be sober today. I was where I was supposed to be that Christmas.” And to be clear, Christmas at Orchard isn’t a non-stop 12-step meeting with some sad stockings taped to the wall. It’s a big, cheerful holiday spread—and if it’s appropriate, the resident’s family can join in. “Christmas at the Orchard was one of those things that I’ll never forget,” says Orchard alumni member Jordan. “It was the first time I spent Christmas with my mother since I was 21… I don’t think that I had felt that kind of love in any of my memories at that time.”
The idea of family coming to rehab for a visit at first might seem stressful or triggering but residents can take comfort knowing their loved ones aren’t crashing some sterile, sober holiday party. Rehab Christmas sounds kind of awesome, actually. “No matter what day Christmas falls on, that day becomes a Sunday for us, which is a visiting day,” Strang explains. “Your family can fly in and have a beautiful brunch by a roaring fire with a Christmas tree.” After brunch, the families leave and the clients have their own celebration together. All clients receive gifts and tasty snacks are available all day, because what’s a holiday without around-the-clock, mindless munching of various chocolate concoctions and flavored popcorn?
Most facilities find a way to incorporate the reason for the season if clients are getting clean during the holidays. At Orchard, the Spiritual Director comes to visit; residents take nature walks, possibly visit a labyrinth, and even have the option of attending a religious service off site if they choose. Board games, karaoke and gratitude lists are also on the agenda. No matter their faith (and all are welcome, it’s totally a Higher Power of your own understanding), people can definitely count on enjoying a family-like atmosphere and the stunning beauty of Bowen Island.
The Gift of Gratitude
Perhaps Strang says it best when she explains why rehab could be the most ideal holiday destination. “Everybody’s first thought [when they get sober] is, ‘My life is over, I’m never going to have fun anymore,’” she says. “Then they get that moment when they’re warm and glowing and feeling connection, when they actually experience it within themselves and a serious light goes on. ‘I can do this,’ they think. ‘This is actually going to be okay.’”
And what better Christmas present is there than that?