A Thanksgiving Setback


It was the Monday morning after the long Thanksgiving weekend, and Britton was just easing back into the work week. Her phone rang, and she glanced at her caller ID and saw it was her client Kristi reaching out unexpectedly. Britton had been working with Kristi since March as part of a voluntary program for parents and children who become involved with Jefferson County as the result of child maltreatment related to a parent’s use of drugs or alcohol.

“I caved,” Kristi announced shortly after Britton answered.

Britton couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Kristi has been progressing steadily in the program, and this was a notable setback. Kristi picked up on Britton’s reaction and continued, “the holiday proved to be too much,” she said sheepishly.

Britton wasn’t surprised by this. Her experience had taught her that it’s common for substance using parents to struggle at the holidays – the frequency of parties, additional financial stress and the typically complex family relationships of her clients make this time of year particularly challenging. Britton also knew from experience that this was an opportunity for a significant step forward for Kristi.

Britton thanked Kristi for self-reporting the incident rather than hiding it and pointed this as a sign of progress. She told Kristi that she’d need to report this to her full Family Integrated Treatment (FIT) Court team – a group of county caseworkers and attorneys assigned to her case to ensure her recovery progress and the safety of her children.

The FIT team determined to implement full supervision of Kristi anytime she was with her daughter to ensure the child’s safety. This aggravated Kristi “Why do you have to do this? It’s just one setback, and now I can’t be trusted around my own children?!”

Britton shifted the conversation from the decision to what needed to be done to remove the restriction. Kristi’s initial reaction faded, and Britton began discussing with her ways to prevent another relapse with the Christmas and New Year’s Holiday coming up. Kristi decided to attend an additional AA or group meeting until after the holidays to lean on her sober supports. Britton helped her identify transportation to ensure Kristi could meet the goal she set for herself. Kristi also began thinking about how to avoid triggering situations during the holiday season.

Though Thanksgiving holiday had brought a setback, Britton was encouraged by Kristi’s reaction. “A lot of times we see roadblocks or obstacles, and they start backsliding. But when they utilize the coping skills they’ve learned or lean on the comradery in the support groups, then these setbacks become real opportunities for growth.”

By the next summer, Britton’s assessment proved to be correct. Kristi had made it past the holidays and the next six months without another setback. Britton, and the FIT Court team had gathered for Kristi’s graduation from the program. She hadn’t relapsed since Thanksgiving, and she overcame many triggers that were dangerous to her sobriety by leaning on her coping skills and peers. During her graduation, Kristi reflected on her journey of more than 400 days that reunited her with her children, taught her to be a better parent and gave her back her sobriety. When she thanked Britton for her work, Britton was quick to remind her “you did all the work.”

Adam Becker-Hafnor