The holidays can be 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 people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, it doesn’t take much for a cordial reunion to take an unsettling 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 by an unpleasant addiction relapse.
Acceptance And Self-Love
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
- taking a timeout when you become overstimulated
- finding a safe space for rest
- having a relapse prevention plan in place
- having a plan in place if you do relapse over Christmas
- calling a friend, family member, or sponsor to keep you accountable
- embracing themes of love and generosity during the Christmas season and reaching out for help when needed
- yoga, meditation, or tai chi
- journaling or speaking aloud your fears, hopes, and joys during the Christmas season
This can help you grow in self-love, too, which is based on the ability to appreciate the choices we’ve made that benefit our physical, mental, and spiritual health.
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.
Prepare For Addiction Triggers
As you make plans for the holidays, consider the possible triggers you may face that are unique to this time of year.
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 stressors that can trigger a relapse.
If you can identify these factors in advance, it’s possible that you may be able to avoid some of those triggers.
Common drug and alcohol addiction triggers to prepare for during the holiday season:
- being around alcohol
- seeing people use recreational drugs, such as marijuana
- emotional distress, such as an argument at the dinner table
- being in an environment associated with drug use
- financial stress
- grief, such as remembering the loss of a loved one during the Christmas season
- feelings of overwhelm
- guilt or shame
If your loved ones know what you’ve been through, it may be worth discussing the possibility of keeping the event drug-free.
And remember, while you may feel obligated to follow tradition and spend this time with family, 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.
The holidays are stressful for everyone and it’s impossible to evade each and every possible trigger.
Having a support system to turn to when faced with the allure of drugs or alcohol can help you subdue your cravings.
Here are a few ways you can build your support system this Christmas:
- Ask a loved one to be available to talk you through moments of cravings or emotional distress.
- Bring a friend or family member with you to a holiday gathering so you always have support and you’re not facing triggers alone.
- Reach out to a support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or a faith-based recovery group.
- Lean on the support system gained in addiction recovery.
- Spend time with people who know your recovery journey and want to support you in a drug- or alcohol-free holiday.
Having the love and support of someone who understands what you’re going through can discourage you from making choices you may later regret.
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.
Because substance abuse is often associated with stress, people in recovery from drug addiction or alcohol abuse 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 for 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 out 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 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.
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.
Try to predict some of the questions you may be asked and rehearse possible responses so you can proudly articulate your progress.
If you’re not ready to share about your recovery just yet, the following are responses you can draw on:
- I’m not drinking right now.
- I want to keep a sober mind so I can fully enjoy the day.
- I’m driving tonight.
- I like how I feel when I’m sober.
- I’ve got a drink already, thanks.
- I’m going sober for a while.
Laugh It Out
When all else fails, give “the best medicine” a try: laughter. It doesn’t even have to be spontaneous. Research shows that you can get the same benefits from voluntary laughter.
These benefits include stress and pain relief, a strengthened immune system, and an improved mood. Aim for at least 10 minutes to reap the most benefits.
Find Help For Addiction Recovery This Christmas
If you need more support to get through the holiday season sober, Recovering Champions is here to help.
Call our addiction recovery center in Falmouth, MA today to learn how we can help you to achieve a happy, sober life.