When our family of origin is a dysfunctional alcoholic family (and let’s face it that is usually the case) spending time with our family as recovering alcoholics can be a scary proposition.  The family of origin issues can be some of the most difficult we have had to deal with in our own recovery and returning to the family — especially if you are the only member in recovery — can create extreme anxiety.  We love our families and it is natural to want to spend time with them, but if it is going to have a negative impact on our own recovery then it may be best to not show up especially if you are in early sobriety. I remember being at a family wedding 5 months sober and being asked if I was joking when I asked for a soda.  I was terrified — I thought they would put alcohol in my drink.  I survived but it was a difficult experience.  However, if you have some time and have worked through your resentments through the 4th and 5th step then you can show up for family events and even have a good time.  I have found that there are certain steps I must take to ensure I protect my sobriety.

12 Step survival guide to family events:

  1. A few months before my trip I check in with my sponsor on any resentment I may have towards any family members and ensure I work through them using the 10th step.
  2. I then pray every day for the people I have the most difficulty with not so they can be better by the time I get there but to soften my heart and help remind me that they are sick people and I am called to show compassion by my program.
  3. I read a lot of the literature and go to a lot of meetings.
  4. I ask other AA members to pray that I can be present without getting sick and can show my family love and kindness no matter what.  I also share my fears and hear how they handle family events.
  5. The chapter in the Big Book “To Wives “ is a must read and if you replace the “wives” with family members it will remind you to show the same love and tolerance to your family we give to any other member of AA.
  6. It is also important to know where the local meetings are in advance of your trip. An online search will help you find the list. There is no point in getting to boiling point then trying to figure out where the meetings are forewarned is forearmed.
  7. Keep your cell phone charged and ensure you have other sober members to call in case you are not able to get to meetings.
  8. If you are overseas and have difficulty calling try staying in contact with your sponsor via e-mail.  It is pretty easy to get internet access almost everywhere now.
  9. I also find it essential to have a safe place to go to where I can be alone if I am triggered and there is drama and behavior that I find uncomfortable. I also need to have a place to go to detach when I have had enough.  It is no longer enjoyable to hang around people drinking until the small hours. I gave all that up when I quit drinking.  I book a local hotel or rent accommodation. It is worth the extra money to keep yourself safe.
  10. Do not gloat the next day when you are the only one without a hangover.  Other people’s drinking is none of your business.
  11. Saying the serenity prayer over and over also helps the most important issue being that I have no control over others.
  12. Always be willing to share your experience strength and hope if invited but do not preach.  It may be useful to read chapter 12 “Working with Others” and be prepared to carry the message if the opportunity arises.

I have been to several family reunions of one kind or another and had to go into therapy when I returned.  This has not happened for a while as I take care to ensure I am prepared and when the arrows start flying and the alcoholic drinking starts I know what to do    My higher power is always with me and is an endless source of peace in any situation. There is no need to shun your family in sobriety although in some cases the situation may be so toxic you risk your sobriety by participating in family events.  Take counsel with your sponsor or therapist in these situations.  I have known fellow AA’s who were willing to miss weddings and funerals to protect their sobriety.  This is as it should be with Sobriety being the #1 priority without it we have nothing else.

One of the hardest things I had to deal with in early sobriety was being treated like an outsider. I could not understand it I thought they would be proud of me.  What I did not understand then was if they accepted my alcoholism they might have to look at themselves and I had stepped outside the circle and was not longer an “insider”.  This was hard to accept at first but today after many many 24 hours of sobriety I am very happy to be an outsider and I can and do love my family dearly.  I just know that I am always just one drink away from a relapse and that is not an option.  These steps I take help me prepare for all possibilities and ensure I stay happy, joyous and free no matter what.