Tips to Maintain Your Recovery During the Holiday Season
Nov 17, 2022
With the holiday season upon us, you might be understandably worried about maintaining your sobriety or recovery. Even if you have some time in recovery, and feel relatively secure in it, the stressors and triggers of the holidays can feel unbearable. Memories of past pain or trauma, unresolved grievances or resentments, shame, guilt and regret, loneliness and isolation, or uncertainty about yourself and your place in your family system or workplace can combine in excruciating ways which test your recovery.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can manage your emotions and navigate the pressures of the holiday season, all while keeping your commitment to recovery. What’s more, getting through these difficult situations without falling back on drugs or alcohol will serve to fortify your recovery, as you continue to live an emotionally richer and stronger life free from the burdens of drugs and alcohol.
Here, then, are several time-tested strategies to help you protect and embolden yourself during the holiday season.
- It’s OK to say ‘no’. Your recovery comes first. If the burden of celebrating the holidays around your family, or attending your workplace holiday party, feels intolerable in a way that could threaten your recovery, it’s perfectly fine for you to politely decline. There are plenty of other options.
- If spending time with your family is off the table, you don’t have to be alone. Here are several options for meaningful social interaction:
- 12 Step meetings through Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, are held every night, including holidays
- Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) national helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) if you need someone to talk to in a mental health or substance use emergency
- Find out what people in and around your recovery community are doing, and perhaps join them
- Volunteer at homeless shelters or community centers, which would also qualify as service to those still in the grip of active addiction
- Recruit a recovery buddy to join you for support and maybe also return the favor at his/her uncomfortable holiday or workplace gathering
- If you do decide to go to a potentially problematic holiday event, formulate an escape plan in advance. Let people in your support group know your concerns about attending the holiday event ahead of it. Then have a plan in place to reach out to someone for support and have a convenient way to exit the scene—for example, “I have to make a meeting” or many other reasons for a graceful departure.
- In order to keep a balanced life day-to-day and develop effective coping mechanisms, it is also important to pump the breaks sometimes and practice self-care. Psychologists have identified several kinds of self-care, including:
- Sensory activities—savoring a scented candle, cuddling with a pet or relaxing in a soothing bath
- Emotional activities—journaling, experiencing emotions as they arise and engaging in self-compassion
- Physical activities—taking a walk, doing yoga or going to the gym
- Spiritual activities—meditation, prayer or religious services
- Social activities—spending time with friends, peers or a support group
- As hard as it might feel to do during difficult situations, it is for that very reason crucially important to remind yourself of the things you are grateful for in your life. Giving thanks isn’t reserved for Thanksgiving alone. Recognizing what you appreciate and value in your life, even writing it down in a gratitude list and sharing it with a confidante, can bring comfort and joy in trying times.
- Remember to take care of your basic needs. For many in recovery, a handy acronym A.L.T. (hungry, angry, lonely and tired) serves as a reminder to monitor some of the fundamental requirements of your mind, body and spirit, since their deprivation can leave you vulnerable to addictive behaviors to satisfy the lack.
- As your life in recovery involves replacing certain old destructive habits with new and healthy ones, you might consider exploring and establishing new holiday traditions. This could be as simple as switching drinks, to celebrating your life in recovery, to hosting holiday recovery events yourself or engaging in service to others.
- Plan ahead. Prior to the holidays, reflect on your worries over them, remind yourself why your recovery matters to you, what your life would be like without it, and then share these thoughts with a sponsor, therapist, friend, family member or any trusted person in your support group. If you combine this pre-planning with an action plan including items like those on this list, you will be well prepared to safeguard your sobriety or recovery into the new year and beyond.
- Don’t use no matter what. But if a relapse occurs, or the urge to use is overwhelming, don’t beat yourself up either. If you find yourself here, or on the verge of it, reach out for help through a drug and alcohol treatment facility that fits your needs.
Give the gift of hope this holiday season to yourself or your loved one who may be struggling with drugs or alcohol. Please call (833) 505-4673 to take the first step toward a life of recovery.