The holidays can be a very joyous time for many people. However, for some, the holidays can be very difficult. Whether it be due to grief, financial stress or familial issues, many people struggle during this time. If you are in recovery from addiction or alcoholism this will be a time to give yourself extra TLC. Alcohol is usually served at many holiday parties and family gatherings and the holidays can trigger unpleasant feelings that may make you want to use drugs or alcohol to cope. It is important to have a plan in place so that you are not caught off guard when these situations arise and risk your hard work in staying sober.
Tips to Staying Sober During the Holidays:
Know your Triggers
Through the hard work you did in treatment you should have a healthy understanding of what your using patterns were and what situations or feelings were occurring prior to the drug or alcohol use. A lot of times addicts and alcoholics have learned to use drugs or alcohol to mask pain or unpleasant feelings. The holidays can be a very sad and difficult time for many and you will need to reference the work you did in treatment to help you get through it sober and healthy. If you are unsure of what situations, thoughts or feelings led you to wanting to use, this may be a time to consult with your team of professionals to better understand and recognize as you go into the holiday season.
If you know that certain functions will be serving alcohol or you will have access to drugs you will want to think about how to handle these situations ahead of time. If you do not feel ready to be around alcohol you should communicate with your friends and family and politely decline those invitations if they are unwilling to refrain from serving it. Know who plans to be where. If there will be old using or drinking friends around and they haven’t gotten help they need, you may want to avoid these situations until you are more comfortable. If you can’t avoid, you should have an exit strategy or plan in case you are presented with an opportunity to use drugs or drink alcohol.
What can you do instead when you feel the urge to use drugs or alcohol? This is the time that you will want to lean on your sponsor or other sober friends heavily. If you feel tempted, talk therapy is a successful tool to assist you in working through those tempting times. Pick up the phone and call your sponsor or friends when you feel urges coming on. Often when we vocalize our feelings and concerns it frees us of those unpleasant thoughts and we feel lighter and stronger just by “getting it off our chest.” Do not be afraid to ask for help or call on your circle.
It is also helpful to turn to a healthier alternative such as exercise or meditation when you feel urges. The more you replace a bad habit with a good one, the easier it will become. The holidays are a great time to practice this. Keep your therapy appointments and attend meetings regularly — the holidays are not a time to loosen up on therapy or meeting attendance. It is imperative to keep up with these practices so that you can get through the holidays sober. If you have to deal with difficult relatives or face tough emotions you will want to work through that with your therapist and other sober folks who know what you are going through. Your therapy appointments and meetings provide the perfect opportunities for these discussions.
Tend to Yourself
Even if the holidays do not bring grief and sadness to you, they can be busy, fast paced and stressful. Continue to care for yourself during this time through exercise, meditation, and dedicated time for healthy fun and relaxation. Make caring for yourself a priority because it can be easy to put yourself on the back burner as your schedule and responsibilities increase. Exercise, eat right, sleep well and continue taking your vitamins and prescribed medications as this will help you to sail through the holidays with the extra energy needed to tackle it all.
More important is to have fun and enjoy fellowship with co-workers, friends and family. For many sober people, they have lost important time and moments due to their addiction and this is a time to replace those memories with new and better ones. We are never guaranteed another day and we should all make the most of every opportunity to be with friends and family. The holidays are a time to spend with those we love the most. If you feel lonely, call a friend or get out of the house. You can attend a meeting or visit with family to keep you from feeling alone.
This is a time not to focus on what we lost or don’t have but to focus on what we have gained and what we do have. Often when we flip our perspective we can feel joy and happiness internally. Practicing being grateful is a great tool to help you stay sober during the holidays. If you stop and think about how lucky you are to be alive and sober and really hone in on what that feels like to you, you will cherish that and want to protect that feeling and keep it safe. It will encourage you to continue to work hard and to reap the benefits of a happy and sober life even during stressful situations.
Be Proud of Yourself
You have done a lot of work to get here and the holidays can be a great time to reflect on all you have been through and done to make a change in your life. Give yourself a pat on the back and be proud. You deserve the life you want and are working towards. If you tap into this feeling it can help encourage you to continue making good choices during the holidays where there can be triggers and temptations. Staying sober through the holidays is the best gift you can give yourself during this time.
Remember This Gets Easier
As time wanes on and you become more skilled at recognizing triggers, tempting situations and dealing with them in a healthy manner, the easier it will become. There is light at the end of the tunnel. While you may never be able to fully let your guard down, you will learn to trust yourself and not every situation will pose the risk it once did. Over time you will prove to yourself that you can make good choices even in less than ideal situations. Just like quitting nicotine, eventually your body stops craving it the way it once did. You will begin to notice your mind doesn’t turn to wanting to use drugs or alcohol at first sign of trouble. Keep fighting the good fight and remember it won’t always be this hard. The more work you put in now the less you will have to later once you have established that trust with yourself.
While the holidays can be stressful, they don’t have to be. We can’t control everything but we can control ourselves and how we respond to things. The serenity prayer taught in the twelve step program will be important to remember during this time. Reference it when needed and practice it in real life. This will help you to make the best of what can be very joyous times even when stress can be present.
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.