Holidays can be chaotic, stressful, and overwhelming, especially if you’re in recovery. Relapse triggers can be everywhere, including; people, parties, and other events where alcohol is present, old traditions centered around alcohol, extra pressure to finish multiple tasks, exhaustion and multiple other stressors. But relapse is far from inevitable. With some pre-planning and commitment, you can enjoy the holidays and stay sober at the same time.
Carefully choose people, places, and events
If you’re in recovery, you’re well aware of your most dangerous relapse triggers. They probably revolve around certain people, events, locations, traditions and old habits that elicit strong emotions, are closely associated with drug or alcohol use or both. It’s best to avoid these situations, especially if you’re new to recovery.
However, don’t isolate yourself out of fear of relapse, as isolation is a danger in itself. Instead, plan to spend your holidays with friends and family members who understand and fully support your recovery. Surround yourself with people who love you, maintain a sober environment in support of you and who openly express their belief in you.
Stay strong against others attempting to impose “obligations” on you. Your most important obligation is to yourself and your recovery. Those who have your best interests at heart will understand.
If it’s not possible to enjoy a sober, supportive environment with certain friends or family members, it’s time to start new holiday traditions with new people. Your recovery is too important to risk old habits creeping back into your life.
You’re in the midst of the most important new beginning of your life: your recovery. Embarking on new holiday traditions and making new memories can both reinforce your sobriety and become an exciting new addition to your life. Some sober alternatives for the holidays include:
- Plan a sober party. Serve delicious non-alcoholic drinks such as specialty coffees alongside great food, then plan fun games or special activities. Consider making the event a potluck and award a prize for the best non-alcoholic drink and best food.
- Have a white elephant gift exchange.
- Instead of a party, plan a group trip to a Christmas concert or play, sporting event, holiday light tour, hayride, ice skating, toboggan run or other fun seasonal activity.
- Plan a sober holiday trip. Many companies offer sober excursions, including:
Have you heard of the acronym HALT? It stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired. Any of these are danger signs to those in recovery and can increase the risk of relapse.
Hunger pangs can trigger addictive behavior. Avoid this by eating several small nutritious meals or snacks throughout the day, and by drinking lots of water.
Negative feelings often intensify during the holidays. If you’re feeling angry or resentful, reach out to your sponsor, accountability buddy, support group, therapist or another trusted person. Don’t let these feelings isolate you—reach out for help instead.
Attend AA, NA, or other support group meetings. If you’re feeling especially vulnerable, attend one or more meetings a day for as long as you need. (some areas even have marathon meetings) Recognizing the holidays can pose special challenges to sobriety, most AA and NA meetings continue to meet during the holiday season. Check here for local AA meetings or local NA meetings.
Focus on self-care. Get plenty of sleep, stick to a nutritious diet, drink lots of water, stay physically and mentally active and practice stress management techniques like meditation, yoga and deep breathing. You are at your strongest when you’re well-rested, healthy, calm and centered.
Express gratitude by journaling about things you’re thankful for, meditating on thankfulness and repeating self-affirmations. Listen to positive and inspirational speakers and find ways to express your positivity. Express thankfulness for your recovery and for all who have supported your journey.
Being of service to others raises your self-esteem and makes you feel happier. Giving back to others reinforces all you’re thankful for in your life, and in turn, supports your own sobriety. Help out at a homeless shelter, spend time with a neighbor, visit seniors at a local nursing home or assisted living facility, express thanks to local firemen and police officers or support Toys for Tots or a local family in need. The benefits will be just as profound to you as they are to those you help.
Need further proof that giving back helps your recovery? A study by Sheffield Hallam University found, “Community-led peer support and volunteering can be more effective in maintaining recovery from drug or alcohol addiction than medical interventions.”
Pre-plan to avoid triggers
Regardless of how you plan to spend the holidays, prepare ahead of time with the tools and coping skills you need to stay sober throughout the season. Discuss your concerns ahead of time with trusted individuals and know exactly who you can call if you need help. Keep your recovery plan firmly in mind, frequently reminding yourself why you’re in recovery and all the ways your commitment to recovery has improved your life.
If you opt to attend a non-sober holiday event, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation gives some tips for avoiding relapse. These include:
- Attend 12-step meetings before or after the event (or both).
- Have your sponsor or another sober friend go with you.
- Make sure you have transportation available so you can leave whenever you choose.
- Always have a non-alcoholic beverage with you.
- If you need a refill, get your own drink, as someone else may inadvertently give you a drink containing alcohol.
- Never hesitate to contact your support system or leave if you feel uncomfortable.
- Download the free app SoberTool on your phone, for immediate, helpful messages to help you stay on track when you’re feeling vulnerable.
The gift of addiction treatment
If you’re not yet in recovery, seeking addiction treatment over the holidays is the perfect gift to give yourself and your loved ones.
Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Addiction, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987.