The Holidays in Recovery
For most people, the holiday season is a time to eat, drink, and be merry. Unless, of course, you’re in recovery.
The frivolity that dominates the winter season can be extremely stressful for those attempting to embrace sobriety. With plenty of occasions to celebrate, many of which are spent surrounded by friends and family members drinking the night away, it’s easy to feel isolated, bitter, angry, or alone. And, subsequently, the likelihood of relapse increases immensely.
Staying sober during the holidays is no easy feat, especially if this is your first holiday season in recovery. However, with a little awareness and a lot of preparation, it’s possible to stay strong from November through to January, no matter how many parties you have on the calendar.
Relapse in the Holiday Season
With the significant pressures that occur during the holiday season, from social to financial, it’s not surprising that relapse rates peak during this time of the year.
Studies intimate that drinking spikes markedly around Thanksgiving, notably around Christmas, and most significantly surrounding New Years, indicating that the holiday season can certainly be a driver for those seeking relief from illicit substances. Furthermore, the holiday season can be very stressful, from forced family events with undesirable individuals to reminders of substance use during parties and celebrations. Stress can increase chances of relapse by 2.5 times, indicating that holiday anxiety can assuredly play a role as well.
Staying Sober Throughout the Holidays
Despite the rise in temptations throughout the holidays, relapse isn’t a foregone conclusion. These tips can help you in staying sober throughout even the most overwhelming of occasions.
Make a Plan for Every Day
The holiday season kicks off in November with Thanksgiving but doesn’t usually ramp up until the end of December. Instead of letting the acceleration of parties and special events stand in your way, keep your eye on the prize by creating a plan for every single day. This way, you’ll have commitments that can prevent you from attending drug-fueled parties, meeting dealers, or otherwise feeding your cravings.
Stay on Top of Meeting Schedules
Around the holidays, it’s not uncommon for AA or NA meetings to change locations, dates, or times. To avoid missing a meeting when you’re feeling vulnerable, stay on top of the schedules in your area. Most groups understand the importance of staying sober during the holidays and will publish advance calendars accordingly. If you’re feeling the need to use, it’s okay to step up your attendance during this potentially-trying time.
Your family and friends are critical parts of your recovery all year long, so why should November and December be any different? Instead of trying to stay strong and silent throughout the holidays, speak up. Let your support system know that you’re struggling with this time of year and that you may need encouragement, love, and guidance to make it through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. Consider putting a game plan in place so that your closest relationships understand how to best assist you.
Good food and cold weather can inspire a sedentary period, keeping you cozy inside rather than outside or at the gym. However, healthy habits are a big part of positive mental health, so don’t let activity slide off your radar while you’re busy celebrating. Make sure there’s time in your schedule at least four times a week for a run, cardio at the gym, or even a winter hike with friends. Regular exercise can increases endorphin like dopamine in the brain, decreasing the likelihood of depressive symptoms and keeping you feeling your best.
Plan a Way Out
Some parties and gatherings, especially those in high-stress situations or that involve members of an abusive community, can be especially tempting. Being around former dealers and co-users or attending events in locations that played a role in your prior life can be intensely triggering, and some recovering addicts may not have the strength to stand strong against temptation. Instead of allowing cravings to take over, have an escape plan. Appoint a friend who can excuse you from an obligation or keep a family member on speed dial who can help you exit a bad situation, ensuring you always have an out.
Mitigate Negative Feelings
The acronym H.A.L.T. is well-known in the field of recovery. Short for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired, this phrase indicates the most common drivers behind relapse for the average person. During the holidays, when your schedule changes from the norm, it’s often easy to let these kinds of feelings take over. During this time, it’s important to attend to H.A.L.T. symptoms as soon as possible. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re tired, sleep. If you’re lonely, call your support system.
Take Things One Day at a Time
Recovery is a long, slow process and the holiday season doesn’t change this. Like always, it’s important to remember that every day is a journey and you can’t rush the results. Each day throughout the holiday season is another chance to stay sober, so keep your mindset positive and celebrate your successes one day at a time.
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