For many people, the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s represent a bustling, cheerful time to look forward to. For those in recovery – whether newly sober or sober for years – the holidays may represent a different, more stressful experience. A person recovering from drug or alcohol addiction may encounter many relapse triggers during the holidays, but preparing to deal with these stressors can help ensure a healthy, safe, and sober holiday experience.
Parties are extremely common during the holiday season, and these gatherings often include beer, cocktails, and champagne. Just knowing you may encounter alcohol at these parties can be enough to raise stress levels and increase anxiety.
How to prepare: Find a sober holiday party buddy who is also in recovery or fully understands your commitment to remaining abstinent from drugs and/or alcohol. Having a friend by your side can lower your anxiety levels, and they’ll be able to provide support if or when you need it. Cranberry juice, sparkling cider, and ginger ale can all serve as lookalikes for alcoholic drinks if you’re afraid people might ask why you aren’t partaking.
Gifts, holiday parties, traveling…The expenses can add up quickly this time of year, adding to stress and anxiety. Avoid getting in over your head when it comes to holiday bills by purchasing expensive gifts or excessively using credit cards.
How to prepare: Find less expensive alternatives to expensive presents – sometimes homemade gifts are the most appreciated gestures of all. Building and sticking to a budget can also help prevent costs from spiraling out of control during the holiday season.
Often the holidays bring to mind the ideal of the “Norman Rockwell family,” gathered around a large table and cheerfully enjoying a meal together. That’s not the reality of many families, and that can especially be the case for families who have been affected by addiction.
How to prepare: Accept that feeling stressed out about spending time with family is normal and manageable. If possible, find an ally within your family who can be a shoulder to lean on when family gatherings get difficult. Prepare a polite excuse to leave ahead of time in case you feel uncomfortable or experience conflict.
Disruption in Schedule or Routine
One of the best ways to stay sober is by building a daily routine that allows for plenty of rest and self-care. During the holidays, that schedule may be disrupted, forcing you to adjust or miss out on your daily rituals.
How to prepare: Accept that you may have to say no, and even practice doing so, if necessary. If outside obligations begin to regularly impede on your ability to do things like exercise, attend meetings, or simply spend some much-needed time alone, it’s important to set boundaries by turning down invitations or letting the host know you’ll be arriving late or leaving early. Also, keep your priorities in mind by making a list in your journal or reminding yourself during a daily meditation session. Self-care and sobriety always come first.
Although the holidays can present many challenges for a person in recovery, it’s not necessary to miss out on all of the fun and cheer in order to stay sober. By accepting that you may face challenges that upset you or make you uncomfortable, you can prepare and learn to manage the feelings that arise.