by Emma Johnson, LMFTC
For many, the holiday season is filled with peace, joy, and family, but for many others, it is a time of increased stress, overwhelm, and sometimes loneliness. The holiday season can be particularly difficult for those in recovery from alcohol or drugs due to the constant holiday expectations and the overwhelming presence of these substances, particularly alcohol, at family gatherings. The holiday season can rupture the routine you have built to maintain sobriety, and thus alcohol and drug use and the possibility of relapse escalate around the holidays. Below are six tips to help you protect your sobriety this holiday season.
Alcohol is typically present and oftentimes heavily consumed at holiday gatherings. While some people may be aware of your recovery, others may not be and might give pushback when you object their offer of a drink. Prepping yourself for triggering situations and uncomfortable conversations is key to preparing yourself for the moment it actually happens.
Some tips to ensure you are fully prepared to enter a potentially triggering environment include:
- Attending a meeting or get together with someone from your support system before the gathering
- Inviting a sober party as your plus one
- Bringing your own non-alcoholic beverage
- Knowing the location of the closest group meeting
- Arranging your own transportation so you can leave when you want or need to
- Limiting time spent in stressful situations or around difficult people
- Preparing to politely refuse alcohol
- Having an escape plan if things become too overwhelming
Remember Some Triggers & Traps are Optional
Actively avoiding triggers is difficult because we don’t always know what is going to be a trigger. However, in other instances, we are very aware of our triggers. If there are certain people or scenarios that you expect to be triggering, reduce your presence and time spent with these people or at these places. This may mean you spend less time with certain people or have to skip certain events, however, it also means there is a greater likelihood of you maintaining your sobriety.
As difficult as it is to break traditions or reduce time spent with certain people, distancing yourself from the situation or person as much as possible is protecting your sobriety. This is one of the more difficult tactics to adopt around the holiday season because of the expectations to socialize and attend, however, if you know that a particular person or event is oftentimes paired with alcohol and or drugs, the best choice for your recovery is to sit out this year.
Stay busy and Helpful
We all know that distractions and staying busy are one of the more adaptive coping mechanisms used to achieve and maintain sobriety. This does not change around the holidays! Being involved and preoccupied removes the opportunity to ruminate on the triggering environment and difficult people you are surrounded by. Giving back and being helpful through your distractions is also particularly helpful around the holiday season as it removes negative emotions that may contribute to the desire to consume alcohol.
Self-care is already a very important piece of recovery, and similar to keeping busy, this does not change around the holidays! Despite the theme of giving around the holidays, it is ok, and actually necessary, to focus on yourself at this time of year. Prioritizing yourself and what your mind and body need is necessary to maintain sobriety. Attempt to keep up the routines you have put in place as best you can. If you have a home group meeting and are traveling for the holidays, see if you can attend your home meeting virtually, or find one close to where you will be. Continue to take care of yourself by getting proper nutrition, exercise, taking medications as prescribed, and maintaining your sleep regimen.
Rewrite your holiday experience
Everybody has their own holiday story. This story follows a plot established when you were a child. There is an image in your head that populates when people mention the holidays and when you already have this image crafted and memorized, it is difficult to rewrite the narrative and expectations. Challenge yourself to create a new holiday experience this year. One where the focus is not alcohol or drugs, self-pity, resentment, or grief, but one focused on your strength, growth, and success thus far.
Tackling the holiday season when in recovery is an undeniably difficult task. To protect your sobriety during this challenging time, prioritizing yourself and your recovery by employing some or all of the above tactics is essential.