For most, the holidays are a time to celebrate with family and reconnect with distant loved ones, a rare opportunity to share in laughter and joy around the same table. It’s normal to experience increased levels of stress in anticipation of the upcoming holiday, but for an active or recovering addict, it doesn’t take much for this cordial reunion to take a discomforting turn. Feelings of shame and failure may become overwhelming and lead to a state of sadness and depression. It’s important to understand that these feelings are normal.
The holiday season can also present other challenges, which may trigger the temptation to return to drugs or alcohol. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make sure the “happiest season of all” isn’t dampened with an unpleasant relapse.
By accepting that you may experience unpleasant thoughts and feelings during the holiday season, you can take proactive measures by deciding on a few healthy coping mechanisms to get you through tough times. Healthy strategies include deep breathing or relaxation exercises, or even taking a timeout when you become overstimulated. Prepare for, and expect, potential disruptions to your recovery in advance, but don’t put yourself in a position that may jeopardize your mental health or sobriety.
As you make plans for the holidays, consider the possible triggers you may face that are unique to this time of year. Are there specific people or activities that you associate with drugs or alcohol, or that may tempt you to use again? If you can identify these factors in advance, it’s possible that you may be able to easily avoid some of those triggers.
For example, maybe you have plans to attend a holiday party this season. Gatherings with friends and family can often be flooded with alcoholic beverages, and other bad influences. If your loved ones know what you’ve been through, it may be worth discussing the possibility of keeping the event drug-free. If the presence of drugs or alchol is non-negotiable, you may still be able to safely attend with a little help from some effective coping strategies.
Remember, while you may feel obligated to follow in tradition and spend this time with family but that decision is yours to make. Empower yourself to make a choice that is in the best interest of your health. You may feel like a bit of a grinch not attending your own family’s holiday feast, but there is no shame in choosing to surround yourself with a loving group of empathetic supporters. This could be members of your church body, a support group, or just a few close friends who will keep you on the right track. If you plan to spend the day alone, make plans to keep busy and have some contacts standing by in case you encounter temptation.
While avoidance is always recommended first, the holidays are stressful for everyone and it’s impossible to evade each and every possible trigger. Knowing what to do when faced with the allure of drugs or alcohol can help you subdue your cravings.
Remind yourself of why you gave up drugs and alcohol in the first place. How has that decision positively impacted you and your loved ones, and what are the possible repercussions of a relapse? Consider writing yourself a reminder card to keep with you in your wallet or pocket so it’s easily accessible at events or family functions.
Have a loved one ready on speed-dial to talk you through it, or bring them with you as you finish your holiday shopping and attend holiday gatherings. Having the love and support of someone who understands what you’re going through can discourage you from making choices you may later regret.
Distract yourself with an activity to keep your mind occupied. Your options may vary depending on your environment, but any increase in brain activity will help you move past the craving. If you’re with family, suggest a game or engage in thoughtful conversation to take your mind off of the craving.
Because substance abuse is often associated with stress, recovering addicts and alcoholics should make every effort to maintain low stress levels, especially during the hustle-and-bustle of the holiday season. It’s a busy time of year, and any moment of stress could be an opportunity of weakness and vulnerability. Managing your overall stress will help you to reduce cravings, improve your mood, and subsequently lower your chances of relapse.
While there are many ways to manage stress, one of the best methods to combat high stress levels is exercise. It probably doesn’t sound like much fun this time of year, but it doesn’t have to be a high-intensity workout. In fact, it doesn’t have to be a workout or formal exercise at all.
Take an evening stroll through a neighborhood decked with beautiful lights and festive decor or take the kids out to see some reindeer. Simply moving your body and staying active is a healthy mechanism for managing ongoing stress and improving your overall mood. Hop online and see what’s happening in your community, you’re sure to find something to get you out and about.
Leverage Your Support System
Depending on how long you’ve been sober, you may still be attending a support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, on a regular basis. If you’ve been out of touch with your support group for a while, or just don’t make it to every meeting, consider attending a few extra meetings this season to maximize your support and help you through the holidays. If you need some help finding a group, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offers a list of resources local to your area.
Leveraging your (sober) friends and family members may also be helpful in supporting you through this time of year. Make plans to spend time together in non-enabling environments that will keep your mind and body active.
Be Prepared for Questions
Maybe your family does support you with the love and encouragement you need. While you might feel safest with this group, remember that those who care most about you will have questions about your recovery. Your loved ones are not there to judge or belittle you; they want you to succeed as much as you do. Before festivities begin, spend some time reflecting on your journey and the obstacles you’ve overcome so you can share these achievements should the topic come up. Predict some of the questions you may be asked and rehearse possible responses so you can proudly articulate your progress.
Have a drink in your hand. Always. One aspect of recovery from any addiction is muscle memory. For an alcoholic, the motion of sipping a drink can be almost as addictive as the substance itself, so having a non-alcoholic beverage readily available at all times can help eliminate the reminder that you’re not drinking anything.
As the end of the year approaches, there’s no shortage of reasons to celebrate, and your sobriety should be no exception. Take some time to enjoy your friends, family, and the wonders of the season. But don’t forget to celebrate you, because your sobriety is the greatest gift that your loved ones could ask for.
Whether enjoying turkey-day with family, a support group, or quietly on your own, remember that you are fully in control. Make a plan and stick to it, surrounding yourself with the positive energy you need to move forward. Take some time to see that everyone is rooting for you and that there truly is so much to be thankful for.
Recovering Champions is here for you. Please give us a call if you need help this holiday season.