People in recovery (especially early recovery) generally appreciate being reminded that when challenges arise during the holidays, you can draw from a substantial toolbox of recovery practices and principles. This will help you address issues and enjoy the holidays while remaining clean/sober. Let’s take a brief review of some time-tested, helpful suggestions. As you can see, it’s important to learn how to handle the holidays.
Stress and Anxiety
Effectively managing stress at any time of year is a vital component of recovery. Yet when the holiday season rolls around, the importance of dealing well with stressors grows exponentially.
Many of the most common “triggers” for those in treatment or in early recovery come about when one finds oneself facing the longstanding dynamics typically found at family gatherings or work-related holiday parties. When the alcohol starts flowing and any sort of unresolved past “issues” arise in conversation. Here are a few tips for handling them in a recovery-oriented manner. Therefore, you can prevent this or that situation from setting in motion a relapse:
Being well-prepared for attending a holiday gathering contributes greatly. This is your ability to adapt to whatever stressor or anxiety-producing situation may arise. Before leaving for the event, check in with yourself, doing whatever is necessary to beef up the quality of your spiritual condition, be it prayer, meditation or making a call to your sponsor or someone in your recovery support group. Ensure that you’re ready to interact with people who may challenge or trigger you in unexpected ways – know you have options to addressing whatever comes your way (see next bullet-point).
Preparation to Learn How to Handle the Holidays
Recognize the holiday season and the gathering you’re attending is in itself a reason to bring your attention to spirituality and spiritual principles. Therefore, drawing forward your sense of acceptance, tolerance, compassion or forgiveness can go a long way toward minimizing or dissipating any conflicts, bitterness or unresolved matters that may emerge in conversation. Certainly, your remaining open to releasing any resentments lingering within you can also produce good will quicker than can barely be imagined.
Along those lines (of the previous bullet-point), focusing your attention on gratitude or kindness can, again, disarm conflict, dissolve stress and generate amazing results, if done so with earnestness and conviction. As well, so can keeping a good sense of humor! They say, “Laughter is the best medicine”… so remember to allow yourself the freedom to laugh openly and often, whenever it feels natural to do so.
In other words, you, like all others in recovery, have a choice in what you say and do. Moreover, how well you prepare yourself prior to any given holiday event. You can take measures to ensure the likelihood of your staying clean/sober and not relapsing due to stress of any kind.
Emotional Highs & Lows
Experiencing feelings is one of the gifts of recovery. (As opposed to walking/stumbling through life “numbing” ourselves from our true emotions with alcohol or drug use). However, the holiday season can bring with it a wide variety of situations. These situations can elicit sadness, joy, anxiety, surprise, loneliness or guilt. In fact, this an happen sometimes all within minutes!
Those who’ve successfully dealt with the holiday emotional roller-coaster ride – instead of relapsing — have done so by planning ahead.
If you sense your holiday excursions may lead you to feelings of melancholy or sadness (e.g., being separated from loved ones), grief or guilt (e.g., from unpleasant memories), or excessive happiness (e.g., being reunited with those who you’d previously distanced with your alcohol/drug use), it would be wise to adhere to a plan that includes extra-large helpings of:
Support and Self-Care
Self-care – Plan on maintaining your recovery routine wherever you are during the holidays. Set aside time—no matter what adjustments you need to make or convey to those with whom you’re staying or celebrating. For daily prayer, meditation and reading/writing, meeting attendance and talking with those in your recovery network. (See next point for details)
Support from others in recovery is important. This doesn’t always mean people who’re in recovery where you are during the holidays. Make sure you plan to “check in” on a regular basis at least once a day. More, if possible, and certainly when you’re feeling the holiday-related sadness, anxiety or any other challenging emotions.
Phone calls to those who care about your staying clean/sober, including your support group, sponsor, therapist and other treatment staff, can provide you with a powerful lifeline. This helps restore your emotional balance and serenity when you feel overwhelmed.
So, to beat the “holiday blues” (or any sense of overwhelm you might encounter), map out a strategy in advance. One that incorporates enhancing your self-care and increasing your recovery support.
The “Tradition” of Celebrating with Alcohol (or Other Drugs)
Clearly, during the winter holiday season, the general public (specifically, your family and friends who’re not in recovery) tend to amp up their drinking significantly, whether it be at holiday parties, family get-togethers or any other festive gatherings. A recent study indicates alcohol consumption during the last two weeks of December is about 70% higher than at any other time of the year. With this in mind, it’s wise for people in recovery to go in “with eyes wide open.” In fact, this is most important in events where alcohol will be flowing freely.
Prepare to talk openly about your commitment to abstinence from alcohol and drugs. Family, friends or co-workers may ask why you’re not drinking or using with them.
Also, don’t spend time around the wine-and-cheese table, keg or open bar. Choose to plant yourself away from such triggers. Moreover, purposely surround yourself with family members, friends or work associates. These are people who care about and support your sobriety/staying clean. They’ll responsibly steer you and any conversation away from alcohol- or drug-related subjects.
Choose to be pro-active in contacting those in your recovery network. Do this before, during, and after any holiday gathering involving alcohol and/or drugs. This is for support, encouragement, and accountability.
The choices you make will largely determine how well-balanced, happy, healthy and clean/sober you remain while you celebrate the holidays with family, friends and co-workers. By dipping deeply into your recovery toolbox, you’ll dramatically increase the likelihood of having yourself a truly joyful holiday season!