The holiday season is considered a time to celebrate and gather with friends and family. For those who are in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, however, the stress, anxiety, and pressure of “the most wonderful time of the year” can put a strain on your sobriety. What do you do when that Christmas or New Year’s Eve party you were invited to has an open bar or someone offers you a drink? What happens when those visits with friends and family trigger stress or bring up old feelings that tempt you to use? The risk of relapse is already high around the holidays, but it doesn’t have to be a reality for you. Acknowledging these issues and knowing what steps to take to address them will help you navigate the holiday season safely and soberly.
Prioritize your recovery
If you are in recovery, you have actively taken steps to improve your life and no holiday celebration is worth compromising the progress you have made. If you know attending a holiday gathering or visiting home will set you up for failure, don’t go. It’s a tough decision to make, and if you have missed holidays before, you probably want to make up for lost time, but sitting this one out if you are not ready is better than falling back into unhealthy patterns. While healing relationships that have been damaged during years of active addiction is something a person in recovery can work on with the help of their recovery support system, it should not be rushed!
If you do go to a holiday event, be sure to limit your time in situations in which you might become overstimulated or stressed and have a plan to leave if you begin to struggle. For this purpose, it is helpful to arrange your own transportation, whether that is driving yourself to an event or riding with a sober friend. If you are in a more intimate setting where your presence is more noticeable, have an excuse ready to go if you need to leave earlier than anticipated. Don’t try to power through an event if you become overwhelmed.
Avoid people and places you know are triggering, and don’t be afraid to set boundaries with your friends and family about discussing your sobriety with others or topics that might make you uncomfortable. Be open and honest with them about your concerns.
Remember, your recovery is more important than appeasing others for holiday appearances.
As the holidays approach, make a plan to be successful. Speak with your sponsor, a counselor, or another person involved in your recovery about concerns you have and work through them together. If you are feeling nervous, you are not alone! For many in recovery, the holidays bring up feelings of resentment or guilt because of past experiences or behaviors. If you used drugs and alcohol to cope with those feelings in your active addiction, this can be especially triggering. Discuss your concerns and expectations with someone you trust and identify your potential relapse triggers.
If you plan to attend an event where alcohol is present, practice what to say to others if they offer you a drink or ask about your sobriety. You may not feel comfortable explaining you are in recovery to every person who approaches you. A “No, thank you” or “I’m not drinking” should be enough of a deterrent. Carry a non-alcoholic drink with you during events, so others will be less tempted to offer you something. You may also choose to bring a sober friend with you who can help you in these situations, provide support and watch for signs of stress or potential triggers.
Expecting these encounters and knowing how to respond will help you handle the situation more effectively.
In addition to speaking with your sponsor or someone else about your concerns, consider attending a meeting or support group before you attend a holiday gathering. If you are traveling, research meetings in your area, or research recovery apps, contacts, and other addiction recovery services and resources you can go to in a pinch. There will always be someone available to help you if you need to talk or feel overwhelmed.
It may also help to keep a reminder of your recovery with you such as a sobriety chip, your favorite recovery book, a bracelet, or something else to remind you of the work you have put into your sobriety.
Self-care during the holidays is also crucial. Get plenty of rest, eat healthily, stick to your routines as best you can, and take care of yourself. Entering an overstimulating situation while in a poor mental or physical state will not set you up for success.
Change it up
If typical holiday celebrations are too much to handle right now, don’t be afraid to forgo tradition or start a new one. If you don’t want to attend a party where alcohol might be served, look for alternative celebrations designed for people in recovery or create your own. You may also choose to spend your time volunteering and giving back to the community. Work with a homeless shelter to serve meals, help organize a charity event, spend time at a nursing home or with the homebound, help someone else in recovery, or do other work that will keep you busy, allow you to connect with others, and improve your sense of well-being. You may find helping someone else to be a far more rewarding holiday experience.
Give the gift of recovery
While the holidays are perceived as a time when families should come together and not a time to send someone into treatment, it may be the most crucial time of all to focus on recovery. The risk of relapse and substance use in general increases greatly during the holidays because of the added anxiety, stress, and spectrum of emotions that come along with the season.
If you or a loved one needs addiction treatment, don’t hesitate or delay getting help because of the holidays. Sobriety is perhaps the greatest gift you can give yourself or your loved ones and it will far outweigh missing this year’s holiday celebration if it means to be present, happy, and sober for the next.
Isaiah House is here to help
At Isaiah House Treatment Center, a Christian rehab in Kentucky, we understand the importance of community and a sense of belonging and love – not just during the holidays but every day. While many of our clients are unable to visit home for the holidays, we set out to include them in celebrations, whether it is a Thanksgiving Day meal, a Christmas stocking, or themed activities to capture the spirit of the holiday without compromising their work toward sobriety.
Aside from celebrating with our clients, though, Isaiah House Treatment Center’s programs and services equip participants with the tools and support to conquer these situations when they do leave our centers. Our doors are always open to those needing help through the holidays.
Whether you are in recovery or active addiction, Isaiah House Treatment Center is here for you. Together, we will provide Real HOPE for Addiction and change lives.