Staying Clean and Sober Through the Holiday Season

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The holiday season is intended to be a happy time–one of revelrous get-togethers, jovial festivities, and social gatherings. It often brings about happy feelings among family, friends, and co-workers. Unfortunately, that is not true for everyone. For people who struggle with alcohol and drug abuse and addiction, this season can spark memories of a time of overindulgence, among other things, and it can bring on the “holiday blues.”

For some, the holiday season means they’ll deal with feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, and hopelessness, which can be a recipe for disaster or the “perfect storm” for relapse. But raising awareness about the dangers associated with the holiday season can help one to adequately plan for situations that could be possible triggers. And, once those possible triggers are identified, one can create a contingency plan. While this contingency plan is not a surefire defense against relapse, it certainly helps to have a well-thought-out plan beforehand.

Holiday Stressors

The holiday season is a hectic time of year for us all. The holidays can be an especially trying season for those of us in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Family gatherings, office parties, and other miscellaneous social occasions can pose a real threat to our sobriety. Some family gatherings and most parties typically revolve around alcohol consumption, but this is especially true during the holiday season.

Traveling can be stressful. Also, being around family members can be stress-inducing. Families each carry their own unique dynamics, and complexities, which can become very apparent during the holidays. Often, this happens because family members who may not have seen each other in a while are together. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous claims that resentments are the “No. 1 offender” for relapse. Resentments that run deep with family members may crop up during the holiday season, even if you have worked the steps.

Also, the holidays can impose a significant amount of stress on someone. Financial troubles are one reason the holidays can be stressful. For example, if you have a family of five and have three weeks sober time, are just starting back going to work after treatment, or are out of a job, Christmas or Hanukkah can be a huge trigger. If you can’t buy gifts for your family or are trying to scrounge up change to buy gifts, feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy could lead to a relapse.

The holiday season can also magnify any significant losses you may have experienced as the result of death, divorce, or a severing of ties. Seeing others sharing this time with their families and loved ones can be very difficult if you don’t have a family or are missing loved ones. Loneliness is a huge trigger for relapse.

There are a variety of reasons why the holiday season can be a difficult time of year. Being aware of these stressors and being prepared to handle them is essential to staying sober through the holidays. Staying proactive in your recovery is a huge part of maintaining long-term sobriety.

How to Handle the Stress and Prevent Relapse

Preparing for the holidays is the best way to prevent a relapse. Some things may happen that we simply cannot plan for, but planning for what we know will be difficult is key.

Increasing your support during the holidays is crucial. You may want to ramp up your 12-Step meeting attendance and make sure that any holiday plans you have will not conflict with the meetings you plan to attend. Also, stay in touch with your support group, whether that is sober friends, supportive friends and family members, a therapist, or your sponsor. The more you stay in touch with your supports, the better.

If your holiday plans take you out of town, you need to have your meeting schedule lined up for wherever you are going. You can locate Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings on both of their websites: AA.org and NA.org. Also, there are different smartphone apps designed to help you stay sober and locate meetings in out-of-town areas.

Being self-aware is a large part of maintaining sobriety. Meditation and other self-care techniques will help you to be aware of whether or not you need to HALT. H.A.L.T. means hungry, angry, lonely, tired. Any of the above can make you susceptible to relapse.

Make sure that you get plenty of rest and get all of the nutrients you need. If you are getting all the nutrients and sleep your body needs, its chemicals, like your neurotransmitters, are more stable, which keeps you more stable. Also, be careful not to overindulge on sugary or high-fat foods, nicotine or caffeine, during the holidays. All of these substances can be detrimental to your recovery if consumed in large quantities.

There are a few ways to avoid relapse in holiday party situations. First, make sure you bring your own vehicle or mode of transportation so that if you start to feel uncomfortable, you can easily remove yourself from the situation. Second, only go to a party where alcohol is served if you absolutely have to, especially if you feel stressed out from other situations before the party. Make sure you don’t put too much on your plate at one time.

Next, if you do attend a party, keep a non-alcoholic beverage in your hand so that people are less likely to offer you an alcoholic beverage. Another way to engage in holiday festivities or a dinner party without feeling pressured is skipping the “cocktail hour” before the event itself. Taking a sober friend or companion can be helpful, also.

Being of service is a great way to stay sober, year around, but also, during the holidays. The holiday season presents unique service opportunities, like serving in a soup kitchen on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, or shopping for homeless children or those less-fortunate than yourself. Even if you can’t spend money on someone during the holidays, there are plenty of ways to be of service that are totally free.

Also, finding new ways to celebrate the season is a key component in maintaining sobriety. So, create new traditions, like going to a 12-Step holiday function, and mainly, make sure you avoid isolation.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol and drug addiction during the holidays, contact us at The Palm Beach Institute, today. We can help you to achieve sobriety during the season and year-round. Reach out to us anytime.

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