The holiday season is considered by all to be a time for everyone to eat, drink, and be merry. However, the most wonderful time of the year is often a bit of a challenge for recovering addicts. Staying sober is difficult enough the other nine months of the year; with so many seasonal gatherings, office parties, and temptations to navigate, those in recovery— especially early recovery— may be feeling a little nervous once the silver bells start ringing, and understandably so.
‘Tis the Season… for Relapse?
Addiction is a disease without a cure, and relapse is every recovering user’s worst fear. After all, recovery is not a one-and-done process as so many people believe; it’s a lifelong commitment that requires hard work, diligence, and discipline. And unfortunately, the holiday season is ripe with triggers that threaten the sobriety of those who have worked hard for it. Worse still, some in recovery feel that relapse during the holidays is inescapable. But this simply isn’t true. If you’re struggling to stay sober during the holidays, there are a few steps that you can take as a preemptive strike against relapse:
By understanding the complexity of the holiday season, you can prepare ahead of time for any potentially triggering festivities. Keep in contact with your sponsors, talk to your friends and family, be sure to get 8-9 hours of sleep, drink plenty of water, and eat a balanced diet— though the occasional sugar cookie never hurt anyone. Also, be sure to prepare a plan for yourself in the event of an onset relapse trigger. This can include anything from breathing exercises to bringing a sober buddy to the event. Staying alert will help you stand strong against relapse.
Recognize Your Triggers
Part of your success in recovery so far can be attributed to your acknowledgment of your triggers. After all, you need to know what people, things or situations might set you off in order to know how to manage them to avoid relapse. Make a mental checklist of your triggers and be sure to distance yourself from them at parties and family gatherings. Remember, you have to care of yourself, mentally and physically, in order to successfully ward off your relapse triggers.
Read more on Knowing Your Relapse Triggers.
Keep Track of Your Own Food and Beverages
One easy trick to avoiding triggers is keeping a cup of water or other non-alcoholic drink in your hand at all times. This is a visual indication to others that they do not need to offer you anything. Otherwise, keep a close eye on how your drinks are being made, who’s making them, and who might have access to your cup. Marking your drink is also helpful; this will lower your chances of accidentally picking up and consuming someone else’s drink.
Rehearse Your Responses Beforehand
If this is your first sober holiday season and you’re not ready to share that you’re in recovery, be sure to rehearse some sort of script before any social gatherings. It doesn’t matter if it’s for work, with family, or with friends. Build a strategy for politely declining offers to imbibe in things like alcohol. This will help keep you from rationalizing a voluntary relapse.
Avoid the “Cheat Day” Rationalization
During the holiday season, you’re likely going to hear the words “cheat day” a lot. The people who stay conscious of what they consume most of the time will use the “cheat day” excuse to indulge in anything from Christmas cookies to caloric cocktails. This might not mean much to anyone who isn’t in recovery, but for those who are actively combatting triggers, cravings and the urge to use, there is no such thing as a “cheat day.” It’s very tempting to think “I’m on a good track, so one little hiccup won’t hurt,” but slipping into this mindset is dangerous. Once you become comfortable with the idea of having a relapse, you’ve begun to glorify your addiction and will most likely fall off the wagon— hard.
Proactively Face Doubts from Friends and Family
One of the hardest parts of the holiday season for people in recovery is the possibility of facing feelings of guilt and shame brought on by others. No matter what stage of recovery you’re in, you might be forced into a position where you’ll have to face those feelings. If that happens, be sure to demonstrate that you have not only changed but made progress in your recovery. It will be frustrating, and you might feel sad or angry, but don’t give up just because certain people are having doubts about your sobriety. Just commit to your recovery. This too shall pass.
Read more about handling the shame in addiction.
Spend the Holiday Season with Those Who Support You
You should spend the holidays with people who support you and your health. If you already know that certain people will be hard on you about your recovery during family gatherings, you always have the option to simply not attend. It might feel uncomfortable at first to go against family holiday traditions, but putting yourself and your recovery first is crucial for maintaining your sobriety— especially if there’s even a glimmer of a chance that your addiction is triggered by familial un-pleasantries.
Remember To Take Care of Yourself
Spending time with others during the holiday season isn’t mandatory. Celebrating by taking time to yourself is perfectly acceptable, especially if the people you normally spend the holidays with will harm your recovery in some way. One of the most important parts of addiction recovery is self-care, so be sure to make time for yourself whether or not you spend time with others during the holidays.
Show Gratitude for the Progress You’ve Made
Showing gratitude in addiction recovery is one of the best ways to stay sober, especially during the holidays. By focusing on your progress and the things in your life to be thankful for, you’ll be able to overcome any negative thoughts or feelings that may be affecting your recovery. Practicing gratefulness invokes positive thinking, which improves both your mental and physical well-being. In the long-run, being mindful of the progress you’ve made in your recovery will help you stay on track— and stay sober.
Read more on achieving Emotional Sobriety.
Stay Sober This Holiday Season With Help from TTC
The holiday season can be a stressful time of year for those in recovery, but it doesn’t have to be a threat to the sobriety you’ve worked so hard to achieve. By taking these steps to take care of yourself, you’ll be better equipped to stave off temptations, cravings and the potential for relapse. If you have any questions or would like to learn more methods of relapse prevention for the holidays, please call The Treatment Center at (866) 295-6003.