The holidays can be a stressful time for anyone, and for people new to recovery, they can be particularly daunting. Expectations are often high, and sometimes people who don’t have a lot of sober time under their belt struggle with the idea of spending time with friends and family, especially those who drink or use drugs.
But, much of the time, it’s not just the mere fact of being around others to use substances—it’s about family dysfunction, past trauma, and other emotional factors that can trigger a relapse. The following are six tips for remaining motivated and maintaining a stable recovery throughout the holiday.
Six Tips for Staying Sober During the Holiday
1. Remember, you can opt out if you have to.
In theory, a person who has developed good coping mechanisms and the ability to avoid succumbing to temptation should be able to navigate all this. However, those who haven’t been sober for very long may not have honed these skills to use in real life, and for this reason, it may be necessary to take a rain check on this year and not place yourself in a situation that may be stressful and scary.
That said, you shouldn’t have to be home alone and miserable and lonely, either. You still need support. You can attend one or more AA meetings, volunteer, or just hang out with another sober person. Many restaurants are open on Chrismas day, as well, and thinking outside the box may be the key to enjoying the holiday without the stress related to family gatherings.
And don’t forget, this is just one year. Next year you would likely be in a much better position to function well within a holiday family environment. Let the people you love know why you have to decline the invitation this year, and hopefully, it will be the last. They should understand.
2. Remember that you are not alone.
You should never have to be left alone with your thoughts and feelings. When a person gets sober, it’s easy for him or her to erroneously believe that they are somewhat “cured” and that now we just need to keep our emotions in balance and not inconvenience others with our problems. But the truth is that no one is ever really cured of this disease, and addiction can have lifelong effects.
Moreover, just because a person gets sober doesn’t mean he or she automatically knows how to keep they emotions stable and make the right decision under any circumstance. Even people who are sober are not perfect.
For the above reasons, it’s vital to share your feelings with loved ones and trusted others and to refuse to suffer in silence. Even if it simply means calling an AA sponsor, talking your feelings out and voicing your concerns and soliciting advice can help immensely and might be the move you need to make to effectively steer clear of relapse before it starts.
3. Remember that the holidays aren’t much different from every other day.
The holidays can be an enjoyable time, but they shouldn’t be placed on a pedestal. People can experience depressing or anxiety-laden problems on these days, even those who are not new to recovery. And yes, they are often different in the sense that people travel, cook large meals, and exchange gifts. But, ultimately, it’s just a day that frankly not everyone even chooses to celebrate.
On any given day, be it a random Wednesday or Christmas Day, we get up, take a shower, eat breakfast, etc. Those in recovery still have to engage in their own rituals, be it exercise, meditation, or whatever therapeutic method they use to cope with life in recovery. It’s important to accept that this day is not an excuse to neglect in self-care, and in 24 hours or less, the day will be over, and people will be back to their normal business.
4. Leave the past behind.
As mentioned, the holidays can take people back to times that you were engaging in drug or alcohol abuse, and may not be the happiest of memories. It’s not uncommon for people, even those without addictions, to drink heavily around Christmas or on New Year’s Eve. Also, most people in recovery can remember at least one time in the past when they got so intoxicated that they were later ashamed or embarrassed.
However, dwelling on the past serves little purpose except to remind ourselves of past mistakes. And this is okay, but avoiding others because of such things isn’t a great way to cope. It’s much better to move forward and show your loved ones and the rest of the world that you’ve got this.
Moreover, although we can utilize past experiences and memories to point out precisely why we got sober, it doesn’t do us any good to relive the pain of our past continually. Recovery is a perfect time to make new memories and to continue to correct your behavior and improve coping skills. It’s also a time to go easy on ourselves and realize we are not our past actions—indeed, we are not even our past selves. If you choose to participate, you should be open to enjoying this year’s holidays as new, sober experiences.
5. Set limitations if you need to.
Somewhere between being fully engaged in the holidays and opting out is to place limitations on the time you spend at certain events. You can let the important people at gathering know why you can’t stay as long as you’d like, and quietly excuse yourself. For example, you can plan on staying for dinner only, and then skip out and go to an AA meeting. Doing this can be a great way to structure your day, and feel like it’s less daunting overall and that you have more control.
6. Sobriety is still a priority.
All of these tips should be reemphasizing the critical fact that your sobriety still needs to be a priority and centered in your life. This attitude may sound selfish, but the truth is, your sobriety needs to come before everything that is not a major emergency. If you fail to do this, you lose the sense of accountability and cannot be the best version of yourself. For many, the holidays pose a unique threat to sobriety, and not taking this very seriously can be detrimental to it.
The holidays are rapidly approaching, but there is no reason to be anxious or fearful. You just have to keep sobriety at the top of your checklist and remember that you can get through each day—like you do every other day—just fine.
If you are struggling in recovery or feel you need help with a drug or alcohol abuse problem, effective treatment is available. Harmony Treatment and Wellness offers personalized, comprehensive programs that feature evidence-based therapies, activities, and services that are highly beneficial for the process of recovery.
Addiction is a chronic disease that can last a lifetime, but you don’t have to battle it alone. Contact us today to discuss treatment options and find out how we can help!