It will soon be the season for family gatherings, work-related parties, and around the clock socializing. It’s also a season that poses unique challenges for people newly in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. The holidays also typically involve seeing old friends and family and engaging in rituals that may have involved drinking or using drugs.
Unfortunately, we might not get along with some of these “loved ones,” and there may be a history of trauma, resentment, embarrassment, and general unease. Emotional triggers, coupled with environmental ones (e.g., people drinking champagne or smoking marijuana), can be a threat to those who are not fully entrenched in recovery. Beware if you have yet to fine-tune the coping skills you need to deal with problems without resorting to the use of drugs or alcohol.
6 Tips for Holiday Sobriety
The following tips and advice can help those new to sobriety better navigate this time of year successfully and avoid relapse.
1. Reconsider Traditional Ideas Regarding Recovery
People in early recovery often refer to the need to “stay strong.” Unfortunately, an inability to do this presupposes that you are weak. Moreover, using language that stigmatizes addiction or implies judgment can be unhelpful and throw a negative element into your thinking.
Instead of promising to stay strong, for example, you could vow to remain in the present, and focus on each moment and day, one at a time. It’s common knowledge that in recovery, being committed to never using or drinking again is daunting for most people. What is helpful, however, is living in the present and not worrying about the past or the future. In other words, you can make it through New Year’s Eve without drinking and worrying about tomorrow.
Another way to go about this is to drop the word “relapse” and replace it with something that sounds less permanent, such as “recurrence.” The term relapse not only implies that there is a defect of character or moral failing, but also that a person has somehow fallen into a pit in which he or she must struggle to surmount. Looking at it another way can help you in the event you have a misstep. Know that having a recurrence of substance use, although not good, does not have to be the end of the world. Any setback, no matter how minor or major, can be overcome as long as you are still alive.
2. Stay Connected to People Who Support Your Recovery Endeavors
Many times, people who support you in sobriety are close friends and family, but not always. Sometimes, it might be a counselor or therapist, an AA sponsor, or even a coworker. In other words, showing up to a family gathering while everyone is getting their drink on might not be the most supportive environment for you. But by leaning on group support or professional help, you can still get the emotional buffering you need to get through the day.
Plan to engage with whatever support system you use during relatively normal times on the holidays as well. Stay connected to whoever is helping you and keeping you accountable, rather than falling back on those who might not be the best role models during this time.
Most children, although not all, have many fond memories of the holidays entrenched in their psyche long before drugs or alcohol came into the picture. Now may be the time to tap into those memories. For example, staying awake late trying to get a glimpse of Santa, or getting up early to open presents.
As adults, of course, our view of the holidays change a bit. But we can still look forward to getting and receiving gifts, cooking, eating, socializing, and engaging in activities that are fun or creative. You don’t have to be drunk to play cards with your cousin or watch “A Christmas Story” for the 50th time. You probably did these —and enjoyed them profoundly—before you became an alcoholic or addict, and you can again. You just have to try.
4. Reconsider Holiday Obligations
Unfortunately, the holidays are a time in which people feel obligated to participate by going to parties or family gatherings. You have to remember than you can opt out, and even do so for another purpose, such as attending AA meetings or volunteering.
If you decide to do this, you will also need to gauge the situation and figure out who needs an explanation and who doesn’t. Not showing up to an office party might not be a big deal, but not turning out at a family event might require some tactful, gentle explaining. Remember that this is your recovery, and it needs to be prioritized. If someone doesn’t understand or accept your explanation, that’s on them.
5. Pick Your Events Carefully, Plan Your Exit if Needed, and “Bookend” Triggering Situations With Support
Along with the potential for opting out, comes a little strategy and planning. Recovery occurs one moment at a time, and if you structure your time during the holidays, sobriety can feel a lot more manageable. Also, including support group meetings or conversations with sponsors that surround these events can help you stay focused and in the mindset that this is also your day, and it cannot be compromised for the sake of others.
For example, you might choose to go to a family gathering and stay for dinner—AA meeting, dinner, then talk to sponsor. Then you only have one or two hours at a time you need to manage. By the end of the day, it’s all over, and tomorrow, everything and everyone might be back to normal.
In terms of an exit plan, this may be as simple as telling the host your intention to leave by a certain time or devising an excuse to use beforehand in case you need it.
6. Plan Ahead to Manage Enablers
Almost every person in recovery will be offered drugs or alcohol at some point. The holidays may be particularly troublesome for this fact. People who occasionally have “one too many” or smoke pot to unwind a couple of times a week may not understand what addiction really is. They mistakenly believe that everyone can cut themselves off if they want to, and even if you politely decline, you might end up in a situation where you feel pressured—and therefore tempted—to imbibe.
For these reasons, when you attend a holiday gathering, you may have to be prepared to stand your ground. You can choose to be honest, saying “I can’t drink because I will drink too much,” or you can use another excuse, such as that you don’t engage in substance abuse for health reasons.
If you are struggling to remain sober in recovery or feel you need help with a substance abuse problem, effective treatment is available. Harmony Recovery Center offers individualized, comprehensive programs that feature clinically-proven therapies, activities, and educational services that are extremely beneficial for the recovery process, including cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Addiction is a chronic mental and physical disease that can last a lifetime, but you don’t have to overcome it alone. We urge you to call us today to discuss treatment options and discover how we can help you get on the road to recovery, one step at a time!