‘Tis the season to be jolly, but for some people in recovery that is easier said than done. Rather than joy, they feel tempted to relapse into old habits, whether it is a celebratory drink at a party or using drugs to escape from fractured family relationships that they have to deal with during holiday gatherings. The holidays can also be an extremely hectic time, with the stress of extra obligations and financial commitments, and some people may turn back to their addiction as a way to cope.
The holidays can be fraught with tension, and if steps aren’t taken to control and deal with the stress of the season, it can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, or isolation. That can put recovery at risk.
To prevent this from happening, it’s important for people in recovery to plan ahead on how they will maintain their sobriety during the holiday season. A rational course of action can help counteract the debilitating emotional issues some people face during the holidays. It is crucial for people to be honest with themselves about the issues that can trigger a potential relapse. That way, they can figure out the best ways to deal with or avoid those trigger situations.
Smart Holiday Coping Strategies
Once those triggers have been identified, people should make an appointment with their counselor or therapist before the holiday season begins. Perhaps their family members fall into dysfunctional behavior patterns every year when they are together, or maybe a parent feels increased pressure to provide a wealth of toys for their kids, but to do so would cause financial strain. People should really examine what hard feelings can be dredged up during the holidays. By talking with a therapist, coping strategies and positive behaviors can be developed to help get through any tough times.
That’s just one part of the social network that should be in place for anyone who worries about struggling with their sobriety during the holidays. Trusted sober friends are great party companions and “non-drinking” buddies. Group meetings may also be a valuable tool for some people. If needed, people can plan ahead for when they will attend a meeting, especially if it’s the same day as a stressful event such as a work party where alcohol will be served or a visit with a relative they don’t get along with. For people traveling out of town for the holidays, it is wise to find meeting times and locations at their destination so they have support wherever they go.
Another seasonal situation that can pose risks to a person’s sobriety is a holiday party. Many people take these occasions to cut loose, and often alcohol flows plentifully. The first thing to do when a party invitation comes someone’s way is to consider if attendance is really mandatory. If the party is at the house of an old friend and drinking partner, or if people will be there who enabled the addiction, it may be best to politely decline rather than be put in a tempting and problematic situation.
If the party is a must, be smart in how to approach it. If appropriate, the person in recovery can ask the host what kinds of beverages—alcoholic and nonalcoholic—will be provided. If there will be a full bar, people should go BYOB—and bring their own bottle of their favorite nonalcoholic beverage. It can also be a good idea to plan transportation ahead of time. A person can either drive on his own so he can leave if he feels uncomfortable or sign up for an app such as Lyft or Uber to guarantee a safe ride home whenever it’s needed.
Once they get to the party, recovering addicts should immediately get a nonalcoholic drink and stay as far away from the bar as possible. They shouldn’t let anyone else get the drink for them, in case it inadvertently contains alcohol, and it may be helpful to hold onto the drink and not put it down so there’s no chance of accidentally grabbing another person’s glass that looks like it contains your water but is actually someone else’s vodka.
Sometimes it’s easy for people to get wrapped up in their problems, and that may lead to wallowing in negative thoughts that could weaken their resolve. One way to solve that is by putting the focus on other people, and the holidays offer many opportunities to give back to others. Volunteer to serve a meal at a soup kitchen, spearhead a toy drive at the office for needy kids or spend some time with a lonely neighbor—doing good helps people feel good, and it can lead to an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the good things in life.
Devoting time to others means less time on social media, which can be helpful to some people in recovery. Seeing photos of other people’s wild parties or seemingly perfect family get-togethers can spur feelings of sadness or depression that may lead to relapsing. No one is perfect and there shouldn’t be any overly idealistic expectations for the holiday season that could lead to drinking or drug use to compensate for an unwarranted sense of inadequacy.
Finally, this is a season to show love to others, and people in recovery from addiction should remember to extend that love to themselves. Self-care can alleviate stress and create deep relaxation—it’s a healthy release valve for tension and stress. It can be a long, hot bath, watching a beloved holiday comedy or carving time out in a hectic schedule for a massage. Even daily workouts can help—and can burn off those extra holiday calories, too. The gift of self-care is terrific to give and receive, and it’s much healthier than having “just one drink.”
The disease of addiction is always there, even during the holidays. But with careful planning and self-awareness, people in recovery can still make these days merry and bright—and filled with the joy that can come with sobriety.