The holidays are here again. The Halloween costumes are stashed away, and many people have started planning for the upcoming family get-togethers.
For people in recovery, the holidays can be times of tension, sadness, and depression warns The Recovery Book: “They are also a time when temptations to jump off the wagon seem to multiply.” Holiday stress can cause individuals struggling with alcohol and drug addiction to resume or intensify their substance use. It can also spark an alcohol or drug problem aided by the heightened prevalence of alcohol and drugs during holiday celebrations.
If you are in recovery, this is a good time to reacquaint yourself with your favorite anti-craving strategies. Practice your coping skills before you go to that Thanksgiving dinner or the office holiday party. Know and rehearse exactly what you will say if someone asks, “Would you like a drink?” In some cases, consider whether you need to be there at all. Maybe, you can celebrate with local AA or NA friends instead.
Make plans for dealing with cravings. Write down a list of things that work for you. This could include calling someone, reading recovery literature, working out at the gym, meditating, or praying. Remember what has worked for you in the past, and make sure you are ready when you run into trouble. Remind yourself every single day how good it feels to be sober and that you want to continue enjoying that feeling for many days to come.
Bring a sober friend whenever you can. If you’re part of a support group, make time to attend a few extra meetings during the holidays. If you visit family, find a meeting nearby before the trip, so you know where to go when the urges hit. Have the phone numbers for people in your support network handy.
Be determined that there’s no way that you will drink alcohol or use drugs at the holiday party or any other event. If you can, bring your own non-alcoholic drink, so you don’t even have to go near the bar. If you don’t want to bring your own, go to the liquid refreshments right away when you arrive and help yourself to a safe option. Keep your healthy beverage in your hand for the rest of the time at the party. That way you won’t have to turn down offers of alcoholic drinks.
Don’t forget to ask for help from your Higher Power, because you will probably need it.
Have an exit strategy—for example, a fake excuse—if you get too uncomfortable. Rehearse your responses. You may want to tell people about your recovery. These days, addiction carries a lot less stigma. Nearly everyone knows someone who is in recovery, and you can choose to be open about it. If you’re not ready to share that you are in recovery, find a discreet way to turn down alcoholic drinks or other substances.
Limit the amount of time you spend with relatives who drive you crazy. If you are back in your old hometown for the holidays, take time to see old friends you enjoy but avoid those with whom you used to drink or do drugs. Plan how you will spend your time while visiting, so you won’t find yourself with time to kill and spontaneous ideas of visiting people who are still drinking or using.
This is a time of celebration, so celebrate your sobriety! Take it easy. Get plenty of rest, watch what you eat, get your usual exercise, and take time for meditation and prayer. Maintain your recovery routine as much as possible.
Most important of all: be proud of your recovery and determined to stay sober. Keep giving the gift of sobriety—to yourself and your loved ones.
This is Tony’s story. Portions of the content may be triggering for some readers. Let me talk you back...
Grief comes in many forms and is often misunderstood. In some cultures, grief is embraced and freely expressed. In...