By Taz Decker
During the holidays it can be very easy to be distracted with all the festivities, events, functions, obligations and so on. This time of year seems to be difficult for those trying to navigate this time of year clean and sober. After all tis the season of glad tidings and good cheer, but for people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, the holidays can be an especially trying time to stay grounded, strong and sober. The important thing to remember is it possible! There are thousands of people in recovery enjoying sober holidays every year and so can you. Impractical expectations, finding ourselves over-committed, unhealthy eating habits can creep in, financial strain and overspending feeling like we must buy a gift for everyone and exhaustion can leave us emotionally drained. Travel problems and busy schedules can add to the stress, as well. You might be spending your holidays away from your addiction recovery support system and sober routines, which can make you more vulnerable to relapse. Holiday traditions, childhood memories and annual gatherings that are closely associated with drug or alcohol use can also tug at your emotions and put your recovery at risk. But there are ways you can prepare for this challenging season and safeguard the greatest gift you've ever given yourself and those you love, which is your recovery. Here are a few simple tips to help you avoid relapse and stay sober during the holidays and beyond.
Self-care is crucial
It is very important to take time for you during the holidays and self-care is the best way to stay centered. Self-care will allow you to delight in the holiday season and the abundance of your sober life by taking time for yourself. Appropriate nutrition, exercise and great sleep can do wonders for your well-being. The better you feel physically, the stronger you will be emotionally. Nurture your spirit as well through personal reflection and connection with those you love. Find some quiet time each day for relaxation and meditation—if only for a few minutes, no matter how busy you are. Let your spirit be your guide.
Have a sober game plan
Create a safety plan to protect your sobriety ahead of any holiday event and activity that could possibly trigger relapse to substance abuse. This may mean going to a Twelve Step meeting before or after the event, attending the parties with your sponsor or a sober friend, or making sure you can leave the event at any time and are not reliant on someone else for transportation. Your plan to stay sober could also include safety calls before-and-after telephone calls to someone in recovery. Feel encouraged to limit your time in stressful situations or around challenging people—and always have an escape plan. Much of relapse prevention is having an awareness of the people, places or things that could trigger trouble and planning strategies for staying sober given those predictable situations.
Helping others and serving
The holidays offer potent opportunities for spiritual growth by sharing your gratitude and joy with others. Bonding with others in this way can be a new experience that takes courage. But because you're in recovery from active addiction, you've already shown the ability for incredible courage and change. So, keep supporting your recovery. Look for ways to be of service to others. Serve a meal at a homeless shelter, reach out with generosity to a newcomer at a meeting, spend time with a neighbor or friend who is alone or struggling. There are many different ways to give back, pay it forward and be of service.
Manage your expectations and your mindset
Talk with your sponsor, a friend who understands addiction recovery, or a professional counselor about the feelings and hopes you have enveloped up in the holidays—especially if you find yourself repeating childhood experiences or memories during this time of year. Remember that your loved ones, coworkers and friends are probably feeling tired and stressed during the holidays, too. This awareness alone will help you adjust your attitude, lower your expectations and be forgiving of yourself and others. Instead of showing up at a holiday event feeling on edge or defensive, adjust your thinking to be open, accepting and optimistic. Ask yourself, what is the next right thing for me to do in this situation? It's also important to be aware that some people in addiction recovery are at risk to substance abuse relapse after the holidays. The increase of stress and anger that might come with the holidays can lead to justifications, denial and relapse. In other words, we can persuade ourselves that, taking into account what we've been through, we are entitled to drink or use. Sometimes, as alcoholics and addicts, we manage things better when we're in the middle of a crisis than afterwards. Remember, the disease of addiction is as powerful the day after a holiday as it is the day of and the day before. As we learn during addiction rehab and in the meeting rooms, recovery is a one-day-at-a-time endeavor, no matter the season.
Keep your wits about you, always know what you’re putting in your body
At social get-togethers, it might be helpful to always have a beverage in hand so people aren't constantly offering you a drink. When you order a beverage, pay attention to how it is being made. If you ask someone to get a beverage for you, he or she may not know your situation or might forget your request and bring you an alcoholic drink. If you by mistake pick up the wrong drink and swallow some alcohol, this doesn't mean you will automatically relapse. But watch for any justification that could creep in. Don’t trick yourself by thinking “I guess I can handle alcohol in social situations after all. Perhaps my period of abstinence taught me how to control my drinking." Do not go down that road. Instead, tell someone who understands recovery from drug or alcohol addiction about your experience as soon as possible. A mistake is not a relapse, but it can lead to one if kept a secret.
Stay away from situations that will threaten your sobriety
If you know a family member is going to grill you about rehab, and that conversation will make you uncomfortable then be prepared and have your response rehearsed and ready. If a “good friend” will try to mix you a stiff drink, stay away from them. If the New Year's party is really all about drinking or other drug use, make a short appearance or better yet don't attend. It is impractical in all of these scenarios to say, "I can tough it out and not use or drink." That's what Step One of the Twelve Steps teaches us, right? That we don't have the power. So, why put yourself in the situation of having to "tough it out" through obstacle course of relapse triggers? Staying sober and protecting your recovery must always come first.