‘Tis the season for family and friend get-togethers to celebrate the holidays. As exciting as this time of year can be for many people, for others this time of year can bring with it a myriad of challenges and difficulties. In particular, when someone is in recovery for drug/alcohol addiction, this time of year can bring up fears about possibly relapsing, especially if one is newly sober. As such, it is essential that one in recovery take the preventative measures necessary in order to maintain sobriety during this season. Furthermore, fully preparing oneself for the possible challenges ahead can help to not only successfully maintain sobriety but can also provide an opportunity for an enjoyable holiday season.
How to stay sober during the holiday season: Alcohol prevention strategies
Getting together with friends and family can no doubtably trigger childhood memories that can tug on emotional pain, possibly causing you to want to cope with drugs/alcohol to avoid feeling any intense or overwhelming emotions that may arise. It is also possible that you have family members that have an untreated substance abuse disorder and being around them can put your recovery at risk (especially if sobriety is fairly new for you). In order to maintain sobriety through this possibly trying time, it is essential that you prepare in advance for any potential triggers you may face. By recognizing your potential triggers, you can take time before entering a situation to discern whether what you will be facing will be worth jeopardizing your emotional/mental well-being. As such, eliminating anything that may cause more stress than comfort and joy can keep you in a peaceful state of mind, minimizing your chances of relapse. Remember, even if some people don’t agree with your plans in recovery, sobriety comes first and should be treated as such. This means, you need to do what’s best for you and your well-being. Some tips on how to prevent a relapse may include:
- Prepare yourself before going to a holiday event: This may entail going to a 12-step program meeting before and after a holiday event and attending events that you know people will be sober (a sponsor-led event, events with sober friends, etc.). If attending an event where you’re unsure if there will be drinking, it would be beneficial to bring your own form of transportation so that you aren’t dependent on someone else driving you back within their timeframe. This will allow you to leave the event if you start to feel uncomfortable. Being aware of your comfort zone in your sobriety is essential in order to maintain long-term sobriety. Do not worry about how others may feel about you leaving an event. They will be grateful for your sobriety in the long-run.
- Talk with someone: Talk to your sponsor or a professional counselor that specializes in addiction about how to prepare for possible “emotional triggers” that may occur during holiday events. Being aware of how childhood memories, resentments, and emotional pain impact you can greatly benefit you when you feel emotions arise inside of yourself while interacting with family members. A sponsor or counselor can help you to rationalize your emotional pain, release resentments, and lower expectations that you have for family members to act a certain way. Plus, they can help you to find new, healthier ways of coping with emotional distress instead of seeking comfort with drugs or alcohol for temporary relief. Furthermore, it would be of great benefit to you if you reached out to process the things that came up for you with a sponsor or counselor after the holiday events. Sometimes relapse is most prevalent after the holidays if you are faced with overwhelming emotional pain during the holidays but try to ignore it during the holiday event. Remember, harboring resentments can cause a relapse (speak to a sponsor or attend 12-step program meetings to understand more about this). Therefore, it is essential that emotions from a holiday get-together are processed out with a healthy, holistic approach.
- Help others: If you are currently working a 12-step program, or have worked the 12-steps in the past, you are most likely aware of how serving others/the community is key when trying to maintain life-long sobriety. The holidays are a great time to give back to others and the community, as there are plenty of volunteer opportunities available during this season. Helping others helps you to see all you can be grateful for. It’s also proven that helping others makes you feel better about yourself.
- Avoid situations that feel unmanageable: It may be best to just avoid situations all together that you know will be too overwhelming to manage, especially if you are in the early stages of your sobriety journey. Or, if you know of particular family members that may make you feel uncomfortable about your recovery, it may be best to try to avoid having long conversations with them. Remember, your sobriety comes first. Most likely, those around you will end up learning to respect that about you.
- Take care of yourself: This is a great time of year to practice self-care. It would be in your best interest to ensure that you eat healthy meals, exercise, and get enough sleep. The better you take care of yourself, the easier it will be to handle anything emotionally that may come up. With that being said, and as previously mentioned, thoroughly working a 12-step program, especially during this time of year, can help give you more emotional/mental stability when faced with a difficult situation.
Should you tell people you’re in recovery for alcohol addiction? How to tell others that you are sober
Deciding whether or not to tell friends or family members that you are in recovery is completely up to you and what you feel comfortable with. However, typically people respond with understanding and compassion when they know someone is in recovery. This knowledge can better help them to support you, especially during this season. There are cases, however, that you may feel that telling people will be more harmful than good. Here are some tips on how to respond if people offer you a drink but you choose to not tell them you are in recovery:
- “I’m on medication”: medication and drinking don’t typically go well together, so this can easily deter someone from pressuring you to drink.
- “I’m the designated driver”: self-explanatory but most people don’t like drunk drivers on the road.
- The simple “no thanks”: sometimes this is all you have to say!
- “I’m allergic” or “I don’t like it”: mostly useful when the person offering a drink doesn’t know you’ve drank in the past.
- “I can’t for medical reasons”: not the same as being on medication (e.g., being pregnant is a medical reason that doesn’t have to do with being on medication). Remember, you do not have to disclose what the medical condition is, and if asked you can say you would rather not share the details or feel uncomfortable with disclosing the details.
There are many other ways to turn down a drink, but the most important thing to remember is that simplicity is key. Do not feel the need to elaborate or figure out a detailed story on why you aren’t drinking. Usually people won’t pressure for more information. If they know you well enough they may assume that you are trying to stay sober and if they don’t know you well enough they usually won’t ask any further questions.
Consider going to a drug/alcohol rehab during the holiday season for relapse prevention
Sometimes even in our best efforts to maintain sobriety, we may need some extra help in recovery. Relapse can happen so if you feel a relapse coming, or have already relapsed, it may be best to look at going to an inpatient/intensive outpatient drug/alcohol rehab for the remainder of the holiday season and onward. Although the holiday season may not appear to be the best time to go to a drug/alcohol treatment center, remember that sobriety is more important than missing holiday get-togethers. In fact, addiction recovery is the best gift you can give yourself or your family can give to you. You will have plenty of holidays to enjoy in the future; in fact, holidays will most likely be more enjoyable once you have a solid foundation of sobriety under your belt. Investing in yourself during this time can set you up for a lifetime of well-being and memorable future holiday events.
When considering where to go for treatment, it is important that you go to a treatment center that specializes in a holistic approach to addiction recovery. As such, this rehab center will incorporate healing on the spirit, mind, and body through modalities such as counseling, a 12-step program, and trauma-releasing yoga and exercise. Incorporating all three aspects will ensure the greatest likelihood of success with life-long sobriety outside of treatment.
Remember, the holidays do not have to be a time of distress and discomfort around possibly relapsing. You deserve to have a solid foundation of addiction recovery under your belt in order to enjoy everything that life has in store for you. Put the time and effort into your well-being. You deserve it.