The holiday season is a point in time when most people take time off, go to parties, and drink a great deal. That’s significantly hard to deal with if you’re in recovery, both because everyone else is doing it and fear of missing out. In fact, for many of us, the holiday season sends us into downward spirals where we remember the “good old days” of drinking and having fun. But, the good old days definitely weren’t good, or you wouldn’t have gone into recovery.
Putting a plan into place to manage addiction triggers during the holidays will help – whether your triggers are seeing family, stress, watching other people drink, or just the time of year. But, if you expect those triggers, you can manage them. Most importantly, you can ensure you have the support and social network in place to help you through even the worst of them.
No matter how long you’ve been clean and sober, you have some idea of what your triggers are. However, you might not have a full idea of it. You might not even realize you’re being triggered. So, it’s important to keep a diary and to write down when you feel like drinking or using and what came before it. Some of the most common triggers include:
You can easily imagine how those might crop up during the holidays. Especially if you go home to see family and stay with them for a few weeks. People have differing opinions, people often cram too much to do into a vacation, and people drink and party a lot. Avoiding that can be difficult, so you want to decide how to manage it instead.
For most people, the holidays are a time to go see family, to sleep in, and perhaps to spend a few weeks doing absolutely nothing. Your family might expect you to do little but veg out in front of the TV, play a few rounds of football, and go to holiday parties. But, as a recovering addict, you can’t afford that. You have to maintain your habits because your habits contribute to staying clean or sober. If you went to rehab and treatment you already know that. But it’s important that you maintain those habits even now, when you’re “supposed” to be having fun.
Exercise – Maintain your daily exercise habits if you can. If you can’t, try to involve family in hiking, skating and other active hobbies. It’s great if you can spend 30-60 minutes by yourself working out, doing yoga, biking, running, or whatever else you like to do. But, family can be pressing. Make sure you take time to exercise, even if it’s with family.
Take Time to Yourself – It’s equally important to make time for yourself to help you calm down, to destress, and to relax from the day. Your best option is to spend 30 or more minutes meditating or doing a breathing exercise before bed. If you don’t do that already, try picking up something like the free trial of the app Headspace to help you get started.
Stay Involved – Actively participating in family and social life can be great fun. But it’s important that you do so in an active and helpful way. For example, help with cooking dinner. If you hate to cook, clean up. Help with hanging lights. Shovel the walk or do so for your neighbors. There are plenty of ways to stay active, be involved, and to do things with your hands. That act of helping will also help your body to produce the serotonin and dopamine it needs to help you avoid cravings. Just remember not to overdo it, because feeling tired, lonely, and sad are very much triggers for substance use disorders.
Your friends and family usually want what’s best for you, even if it means sacrificing things themselves. If you’re in early recovery, they might be receptive to leaving alcohol completely out of the festivities. If they’re very set on drinking, you can refuse to go. Or, you can offer to drop by for a day in which there will be no alcohol.
You’ll also want to ask your friends and family for support. It’s okay to admit vulnerability. It’s okay to tell them that staying clean and sober is hard. And, they’ll likely be receptive to you asking for help and support as you move through the holidays. That support can be reminders that you’re doing good and to keep it up. It can be affirmations that you’re on the right path. It can be reminders that you want to say no. It can be abstaining from alcohol. It can be allowing you to call if you start to experience cravings. But, your family should know that you’re struggling so they can be there if you need them.
Self-help groups like AA, SMART Recovery, LifeRing, and others can offer considerable support in staying clean and sober over the holidays. Even if you don’t normally attend, you can join as a guest and sit in on meetings over the holidays. These can help you to see other perspectives, give you a group to remain accountable to, and will give you somewhere to share how you’re feeling and why.
Of course, you can also seek out a therapist, attend outpatient therapy over the holidays, or otherwise talk to a counselor for the period. The point is that you have an outlet from a group that can help and that understands what you’re going through.
After all, most of us don’t get sober on our own. Instead, we have help from friends, family, clinicians, and therapists, who contribute to offering the support and tools we need. While you don’t likely want to spend your holidays in rehab, that might be the best call if you haven’t been, if you’re struggling, or you really can’t spend time at home with family. Or, you can join sober parties, visit a sober home for the period, or otherwise make sure you have support around you.
Getting clean and sober is a massive step. And it’s one that will take years of dedication and preparation. The holidays can be especially difficult, even if you have support. Hopefully, these tips will help you to stay clean and sober and to manage triggers.