While most folks may enjoy the holiday season, for those in recovery this celebratory time of the year can pose certain challenges. Protecting one’s sobriety will require special vigilance during the upcoming weeks, but it is still very possible to enjoy the sober holidays and keep recovery firmly intact.
A little strategic planning goes a long way when facing down the potential threats the holiday season may toss one’s way. Taking some time to consider situations or interactions that might trigger the urge to drink or use drugs will pay off in spades. This requires some introspection, such as recalling those holiday events that featured heavy partying in the past. These are the first to be red tagged as no-go events as a sober individual committed to one’s recovery.
But rollicking parties are not the only landmines out there to trip up the sober person. The holiday season can stoke feelings of loneliness and depression, both which can put recovery at risk. Feelings of nostalgia for the good old days can lead to romancing the substance, which can lead to the mistaken belief that one can handle “just one drink.” Other triggers to navigate are stress overload, lack of sleep, and unhealthy eating habits during the holiday season.
Tips for Safeguarding Sobriety During the Holidays
Prior to embarking on the festivities, it is wise to chart out a solid strategy. No one is in charge of one’s sobriety except the individual in recovery. It is solely their responsibility to protect it as the precious gift it is. It may seem like the only answer to the holiday season is to just stay home and wait it out, but that is not necessarily true. Just having some foresight and a good holiday relapse prevention plan it is possible to celebrate sober holidays this year and for years to come.
- Practice mindfulness. Approach each holiday event with a sense of mindful purpose; that is to wish others a happy holiday, enjoy some snacks and music, and then depart with your recovery intact. Train the mind to remain focused on that game plan.
- Have a sober buddy. The collective energy that can emerge at an alcohol-fueled event may sweep you up into the fray. Be on the safe side and take a sober friend along. This provides a layer of accountability that also acts as an escape route when necessary.
- Rehearse some lines. There is likely to be people present who will want you to try this champagne or that holiday cocktail. Practice a couple of good responses ahead of time to deftly avert their intentions.
- Have a drink in hand. Knowing that an empty hand at a Christmas party beckons to be filled. Instead of someone putting an alcoholic drink in your hand, hold a glass of something non-alcoholic for the duration of the event.
- Learn to decline an invitation. Even if the party is one that you have traditionally attended, if it is a known risk to sobriety it is best to respectfully decline the invitation. Prioritizing recovery means being very selective during the holidays.
- Avoid the bar area. Instead of hanging out near the drink station, why not plant yourself a safe distance away. Try chatting with friends or colleagues near the buffet table instead.
- Have an escape plan. If you sense that you are not yet up to attending holiday events, arrive early, tell the host or boss that you have another commitment later and will possibly be leaving early. If you start feeling tempted to drink, you can smoothly exit the event.
- Change it up. Nothing is preventing you from simply choosing to do the holidays differently in sobriety. Despite the value of holiday traditions, if these will be presenting a risk for relapse then it is time to institute new traditions.
Recognizing the Relapse Warning Signs
No matter how conscientious an individual is at protecting his or her recovery, the holiday season may be too difficult to manage. This is especially true in the first year of recovery when one is more vulnerable to relapse.
There are warning signs that emerge when the relapse process, and it is a process, has begun. Be aware of these signs so you can be proactive in warding off a potential relapse:
- You continue to socialize with friends or associates who engage in substance abuse. Continuing to socialize with the people you regularly drank or used with will undermine recovery efforts.
- You are often bored. Too much down time can allow the mind to begin thinking about using drugs or alcohol to relieve boredom. Avoid the state of boredom and chose to be productive instead.
- You stop your healthy routines. After establishing healthy routines, including good dietary and sleep habits, and getting regular exercise, you begin to return to bad habits.
- You don’t manage stress. Rehab equips clients with many tools to help them manage stress and emotions. Choosing not to utilize these coping skills will allow life events and stress to overwhelm them, and then potentially result in a relapse.
- You are withdrawing socially. Isolation can be a way of distancing yourself from people to whom you are accountable. Isolation can lead to loneliness, a common trigger for relapse. Isolating behavior may be a sign that relapse is impending.
- You are neglecting physical and emotional health. Someone in recovery who stops taking care of and neglects hygiene and personal appearance may be displaying signs of giving up on recovery or contemplating relapse.
- You stop attending meetings. Recovery meetings provide not only peer support and a social network, but also act as a deterrent to relapse, as people are less apt to relapse when they feel accountable to others.
- You romance the substance. After awhile in recovery it is common to romance the days in active addiction. Memories of being high while forgetting all the negative consequences can lead someone to fool themselves into believing they can enjoy just one drink.
Preventing Relapse and Enjoying Sober Holidays
By putting your recovery first, during the holidays or at any time of the year, it is possible to sidestep the risks that threaten sobriety. Recovery is safeguarded through making the necessary fundamental changes in one’s lifestyle, and then carrying those through the holidays and beyond. Practicing the following additional actions can increase the chances of sailing through the holidays unscathed:
- Go to extra meetings. Recovery meetings are not a guarantee to sustained sobriety, but they have been shown to provide a protective factor against relapse. Prior to and during the holiday season it is helpful to increase the number of meetings you attend. There you will receive ongoing peer support as well as accountability.
- Volunteer. The holidays offer many opportunities to get involved with social organizations. Why not give back this season by volunteering at a local charity or food pantry? Being of service to others can be edifying, giving you a sense of purpose and increasing self-esteem while helping those less fortunate.
- Revisit your sober strategies. Refine and update the relapse prevention plan you designed in rehab. Take note of newly discovered triggers and create a proactive plan for managing those and all known triggers.
- Set new goals. The holidays are a signal that the year is about to wrap up and a new year awaits. This is an excellent time to look forward and define some new achievable goals for 2020. Having these in mind can help sidestep temptation to drink during the holidays.
- Practice self-care. Continue to embrace healthy habits that help restore physical and emotional wellness. This includes avoiding overindulging in rich holiday fare and sticking to a nutritious diet, keeping up with regular physical exercise, and getting at least 7 hours of solid sleep each night.
- Embrace relaxation techniques. The holidays can be unbearably stressful. There are many expectations shoved into a tiny timeline in which to accomplish them all. Keep a lid on stress by practicing yoga, mindfulness, deep-breathing, or therapeutic massage.
Check in With Your Mental Health, Too
The holiday season can spark anxiety and depression symptoms, which only increase the stress of trying to avoid a relapse. Being self-aware of one’s present mental state is an important aspect of relapse prevention. If you are struggling with a mood disorder or anxiety in recovery, it is critical to obtain psychological support.
A psychotherapist can be an excellent source of support if depression or anxiety ratchet upwards during the holidays. Through the use of cognitive behavioral therapy, the therapist can guide you toward identifying disordered thought patterns that are sabotaging mental health during the holidays. By taking note of these dysfunctional thoughts and then reshaping them toward positive affirmations and constructive actions, these new healthy thought-behavior patterns can become important coping skills in recovery during the holidays and beyond.
By accessing these tips it is absolutely possible to enjoy the sober holidays and begin the New Year with your recovery firmly intact.
Ken Seeley Communities and Rehab Providing Addiction Recovery in Palm Springs
Ken Seeley Communities is a full service rehabilitation complex located in Palm Springs, CA. Ken Seeley Communities provides all aspects of addiction treatment, covering the whole spectrum of services including interventions, outpatient rehab, residential rehab, dual diagnosis treatment, sober living housing, and continuing care. At Ken Seeley Communities, our focus is on early intervention and comprehensive treatment, all within the context of a compassionate and respectful treatment environment. For more details about our intervention services and sober living Palm Springs recovery programs, please contact Ken Seeley Communities today at (877) 744-0502.