The Holiday Season is fast approaching. And while this time of year is usually perceived as a period of happiness and community, for those in recovery or in active addiction these few months can often be triggering and anxiety-inducing. Thanksgiving Day get-togethers, Christmas parties at work, the change in season and weather, spending more time with family, reliving memories of the past or a lost loved one. These are all events or situations that can occur during the holidays that can affect our spiritual condition and lead to relapse.
Why do people relapse during the holidays?
Addiction is a progressive and chronic disease of the brain and behavior. And while there is no cure for addiction and alcoholism, people can and do recover from it by actively participating in recovery. Recovery is an active program of changes in behavior and thinking that a person participates in on a daily basis. Unfortunately relapse happens, just like in other chronic diseases like hypertension and asthma. And just like those other diseases, if people stop participating in their medical treatment plan, they are likely to relapse.
The holidays can dispute our routine. We may have more family or social commitments that interfere with our recovery schedule. We may find ourselves in in closer proximity to people who use recreational or drink to celebrate. We may find ourselves envious of their ability to to use without the types of consequences we suffered.
Avoiding Relapse During the Winter Holidays
In anticipation of the stressors and temptations of the upcoming season, here are some tips to engage your recovery and avoid relapse during the holiday season. Following these techniques will help you to not only “survive” the holidays, but to enjoy them as well!
- Keep Doing Recovery in the Holiday Season
This one should be obvious but we’ll go over it because it is so important. The holiday season can become chaotic and super busy so sometimes people will slack off on their recovery efforts to make room for the extra business. That could lead to trouble. It is exactly because of the chaotic and busy nature the holidays can have that it is super important to continue and increase your recovery efforts. Continue to attend sober support group meetings. Pray and meditate. Talk to and meet up with your sponsor. Hang out with clean and sober people. Read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Work with other alcoholics and addicts.
This is the prescription for sobriety and a vital part of recovery. Letting up on any or all of these activities could lead to relapse.
- Plan Ahead for a Sober Holiday
Successful recovery is built on routine. Waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day. Attending meetings regularly. Having and keeping a job. Praying and meditating throughout the day. Disciplining your mind and body. Yet with all the extra obligations that can come during the holidays, it can be difficult to keep the same routine. Knowing this, it is important to plan ahead and prepare.
Keep a calendar and keep track of what is coming up. Thanksgiving dinner at Mom’s house followed by Black Friday shopping? How are you going to prepare for that mentally and spiritually? If you know a whole day with extended family and then a late night shopping will be stressful and anxiety-inducing; prepare for it. Be ready for it. Have strategies in place for when you are feeling overwhelmed or angry. Ask your sponsor or another person in recovery to be “on call” to talk if need be. Pack in meetings and working with others beforehand. Get extra spiritual in anticipation.
Knowing what’s ahead and planning for it will make it easier to adjust your routine to meet circumstances instead of completely breaking it.
- Practice Self Care during the Holiday Season
Learn to say “No thank you.” This is important for those of us who tend to overextend ourselves during this time of year by attending every party or get-together we’re invited to. Being mindful of our mental and spiritual condition will help keep us from exhausting ourselves. Declining an invitation to an event where the focus will be drinking or drugs is a way to practice self-care.
Many Christmas parties at places of employment can be dangerous for people in recovery when everyone is drinking and you might feel pressured to join in. If you absolutely have to be at an event where people are drinking, saying “no thank you” when offered a drink at a party should be enough of a polite refusal. (PRO TIP: when at gatherings with alcohol being served, always have a glass of your favorite non-alcoholic drink in hand. People will be less apt to offer you alcohol that way.)
Learn to say “Yes please.” While some view this season as a fun, hectic, chaotic, or stressful time spent with lots of friends and family, there are those of us who feel the opposite. For some people the holidays are a time of loneliness, isolation, and bad memories. Maybe you have no family or know your family situation is not the healthiest for your recovery. Maybe the people you used to spend the holidays with are all your old drinking or using buddies. In that case you may feel alone or isolated from the celebrations. In these situations look for opportunities to say “yes please.” Attend or lead a 12 Step meeting for others in your situation. Accept the invitation from your sober acquaintance to their get-together. Invite your sponsee out for dinner. Isolation and depression are the enemies of recovery.
- Develop Empathy
Working with other addicts and alcoholics can help insure immunity to drinking. This helps where other activities fail. Developing empathy for others is vital in recovery and can have lasting impacts on someone’s life, especially during the holiday season. Showing kindness and care to an alcoholic and their family could provide the hope they need in a very dark time in their lives. Also acknowledging that most people are perhaps spiritually sick even if they are not alcoholics and addicts will help develop empathy and patience during this time of year.
Avoiding Relapse is Simple, but not Necessarily Easy
These are just a few strategies to avoid a relapse over the holiday season. Active recovery is a set of techniques and actions that, when applied one day at a time, can change the deeply rooted thinking and behaviors of an alcoholic or addict. When practiced over this time of year the holidays can be not only endured, but truly enjoyed.
If you feel you or your loved one needs help with an addiction, this might be the perfect time to seek help in a safe and loving environment. Attending rehab during the holidays might not sound appealing but it may just be the perfect time, and the perfect gift, for yourself or someone you love.