The holiday season is intended to be a happy time– one of revelrous get-togethers, jovial festivities, and social gatherings; and, one that is meant to bring about happy feelings, which can be shared with family, friends, and co-workers. Unfortunately, that is not true for everyone. For alcoholics and addicts, this season can remind us of a time of overindulgence, among other things, and many of us have been known to have the “holiday blues.”
For some, the holidays can bring about feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, and hopelessness, which can be a recipe for disaster, or the “perfect storm” for a relapse. But, bringing awareness to the dangers associated with the holiday season allows one to adequately plan for situations which could be a possible “trigger.” And, once those possible triggers are identified, one can create a contingency plan. While this contingency plan is not a sure-fire defense against relapse, it certainly helps to have a well thought-out plan, in whatever case.
The holiday season is a hectic time of year– for us all. The holidays can be an especially difficult 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 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 “#1 offender” for relapse. Resentments that run deep with family members may crop up, even if you have worked the steps.
Also, the holidays can impose a significant amount of stress on someone. Financial troubles are one reason why the holidays can be stressful. For example, if you have a family of five, and have three weeks sober/clean 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 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 number of reasons why the holiday season can be a difficult time of year. Becoming aware of those stressors, and becoming aware of how to handle them is the key 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 essential.
Increasing support during the holidays is crucial. You should ramp up your 12-Step meeting attendance, and make sure that any holiday plans you may have will not conflict with the meetings you plan on attending. 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 located Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings on both of their websites: AA.org and NA.org. Also, there are different smart phone apps designed to help you stay sober and locate meetings in out-of-town areas.
Being self-aware is a large part of maintaing sobriety. Meditation and other self-care techniques will help you to be able 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 help you avoid relapse in holiday party situations. Firstly, make sure you bring your own vehicle or mode of transportation, so that if you start feeling uncomfortable, you can easily remove yourself from the situation. Secondly, only go to a party where alcohol is served if you absolutely have to, especially if you feel stressed out from other situations prior to 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” prior to the event, itself. Taking a sober friend or companion can be very 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 at a soup kitchen on Christmas Eve or 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 to maintaining sobriety. So, create new traditions, like going to a 12-Step holiday function, and mainly, make sure you avoid isolation.