Christmas for families and friends can be a stressful and lonely time.

Families and friends can feel lonely around Christmas, even in a room full of people they love and who love them. The stigma of alcohol and other drug use keeps them isolated because they do not want to risk their loved one falling victim to extended family stigma and judgment, or themselves being judged. They feel lonely because they often cannot share their experiences, and watching family participate in the joyous occasion can be a solemn reminder of how different their life is. Families and friends often talk about not wanting to “burden” people with their experiences, and at Christmas, that loneliness is felt more deeply because they might be putting on a brave face and not wanting to “bring the mood down.” They put the needs of those they love before their own.

Christmas is already unnecessarily stressful; full of expectations to put on a good show, a good meal, a festive experience, and a happy environment. Families and friends can feel the stress and anxiety at an even higher level. They feel the need to protect their loved one from being subjected to judgment from other family members or friends and to remain hypervigilant to be ready to respond and intervene should a situation require it. They feel anxious because alcohol and drug use (particularly alcohol) is so ingrained in Australia’s culture, which can create a pressure cooker environment for themselves and their loved one’s recovery. Families and friends often become Switzerland – being the peacekeeper between family members where there is animosity. The expectation to be holding it all together, to be coping with everything is a heavy burden they carry, and often Christmas is a time of dread. Families and friends know that services that might be supporting their loved ones shut down over Christmas, meaning their role increases and the support for them shut down as well.

Christmas is a time when families and friends come together, reminisce on the good times, celebrate the accomplishments of the year, and excitement about what the new year might bring. For families and friends, Christmas can raise feelings of grief; grief over the life they thought they would have, and grief over the life they hoped for their loved one. They can feel sadness about what their year has been, and maybe what the upcoming year will bring for them and their loved ones, already exhausted before the year has even begun. They might not be in contact with the person they support for whatever reason and may be grieving over not having them there.

For some families and friends, Christmas is a positive experience, but their loved one dislikes Christmas. Often, they have to hide their joy in respect of their loved one’s feelings and not want to cause any conflict.

Families and friends need compassion, gentleness, and kindness when shouldering all that comes with Christmas as well as their invaluable but also paralysing support role. If you know someone who has been supporting a loved one living with alcohol or other drug dependency, let them know that it is okay to feel their emotions, that they are not a burden or a “Debby downer” if Christmas just is not bringing them joy the way it is for others. Give them the space to vent, to grieve, and to problem-solve in a safe space. Provide practical support where appropriate.

Here are some ways to help you cope with Christmas:

  1. Feel your feelings. Provide yourself a safe space and time to feel whatever you might be feeling and not bottle it up.
  2. Plan your Christmas break. Plan ahead with your loved one on how you all will cope with the loss of the external supports that they might have been accessing. Make sure you are not putting too much in one day, and make sure you plan at least one day of your break to look after yourself. Communicate with your loved ones that this day is for you, and unless it is an emergency, you are unavailable.
  3. Be kind to yourself. This is easy to say, but what does it mean? Kindness looks different to everyone, think about what it means to you, how you like kindness to be shown to you, and provide it to yourself.
  4. Practice self-compassion. Our 100% looks different every day. You are doing the best you can with the time and resources you have.
  5. Put in boundaries of what you are capable of responding to. Put in strategies for when things might be said or done that stir strong emotions for you. Excuse yourself to the bathroom to find a quiet place to practice some breathing and mindfulness. Remember, it is okay to choose your battles. Say no to plans that cause you too much anxiety. It is okay to say no, and no is a full sentence. You do not have to explain your no.
  6. Try and keep your routine as much as possible.
  7. Remember perfection and normal is a myth. Do not compare yourself to other people, especially on social media because we only share the good parts, we do not know what might be happening away from the screen.
  8. If you do love Christmas, allow yourself to enjoy it. You are not responsible for how other people feel about something, and hope and joy are what get us through the hard times. Go out and get beautiful Christmas decorations (you can get wonderful finds from op shops), dress your tree, and hang lights. You are allowed to enjoy things.
  9. If Christmas is a time of grief for you, or you feel isolated because you feel unseen and unheard, light a candle and honour your loved one, yourself, and your situation.

Reach out for support:

  • Access Mental Health Helpline provides a 24/7 free support, information, and referral line – 1800 332 388
  • The Salvation Army provides food and gift support during Christmas and put on a Christmas meal
  • Hobart City Mission provides a Christmas Assistance Program for food, supermarket vouchers, toiletries, and toys for children aged 16 and under. Unfortunately, applications have closed for 2023.
  • Colony 47 hold a Christmas lunch every year. This year it is being held at The Hanging Garden.
  • Family Drug Support provides a 24/7 free and confidential support line for families and friends supporting someone with an alcohol or drug dependency – 1300 368 186.
  • Beyond Blue provides a 24/7 free and confidential support line – 1300 224 636
  • eheadspace provides a 9am -1am free and confidential support line – 1800 650 890.
  • FriendsLine provides a 24/7 free support for those feeling lonely and needs to reconnect and chat – 1800 424 287
  • Kids Helpline provides a 24/7 free support line for those 5-25 years of age – 1800 551 800
  • Lifeline provides 24-hour crisis counselling – 131 114
  • MensLine Australia provides a 24/7 free and confidential support line for Australian men – 1300 789 978
  • Open Arms provides 24/7 free and confidential counselling to anyone who has served at least one day in the ADF, their partners and families – 1800 011 046
  • 1800RESPECT provides a free and confidential support line for those experience domestic and family violence – 1800 737 732

Lastly, the Peacock Centre’s Safe Haven is a place for consumers and families and friends to go for immediate support if you or your loved one are in distress. The Peacock Centre will be open every day, including Christmas day, from 9am – 10pm.

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