Holidays are notoriously tricky times for those in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD). The days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years run the gamut of emotional highs and lows, good and bad. And it’s not just the newcomer who struggles during the holidays. Every addict and alcoholic, regardless of how long they’ve been sober, is susceptible to the ravages of the season. But staying clean and sober during the holidays doesn’t have to be horrible.
If you have been in recovery from SUD for some time, you know that your greatest joy and freedom have come from your sobriety. Protecting yourself from relapse during the holidays, where the alcohol, emotions, and excitement flow more freely than usual, is imperative.
If you are new to the recovery world, there is hope. You can be confident that your best life awaits you. There are programs available, including 12-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, that offer a design for living clean and sober, one day at a time. Other people, such as counselors, recovery coaches, and Personal Recovery Assistants, can help you achieve a life beyond your wildest dreams.
Regardless of whether you’re fresh out of rehab or celebrating several 24-hour cycles, there are things you can do to safeguard that most cherished possession, your recovery, while still enjoying the spirit of the season.
Celebrate the season of light by giving yourself the gift of time. You cannot be at your best if you’re feeling empty. Nurture your body, mind, and spirit. Make space in your day for meditation, the prayer of your choice, fellowship, yoga, something that is just for you. Be sure to eat well and get some exercise. Consider planning a renewal retreat after the turmoil of the season to rejuvenate your spirit.
Whenever possible, drive yourself to holiday events to control where you go and when you leave. It would be helpful, too, if you also took a sober friend or companion with you for support. Keep a close eye on the relapse warnings H.A.L.T.: Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired. While you don’t have to view parties as something to be gotten through or a chore, you can enjoy yourself without staying from start to finish.
Every family has its version of Aunt Harriet, who is going to study your life choices and find them inadequate, or Uncle Henry, who will declare that you must have his world-renowned Thanksgiving hard cider (that no one has ever heard of). Additionally, there are always the longstanding strained relationships, many of which have been seething for years. These stressors can easily let us rationalize our entitlement to a drink, to “take the edge off.” Know who to avoid, and stick with supportive family members. Family events like this are another instance where a sober companion will be of help.
The changeable nature of the season can be overwhelming. As you plan your days in November and December, begin with recovery support, whatever that looks like for you, as your priority. Those in a 12-Step program might commit to attending a meeting (or two) every day and asking a friend to come with you. Bookending a holiday celebration with phone calls to someone in your support group before and after could also be something you would want to do. If you don’t already have one, consider adding a Personal Recovery Assistant to your support group for that extra holiday assistance. If you’re traveling, gather information about meetings at your destination city. And don’t forget about Zoom and other online meetings (thank you, COVID-19).
Nobody knows why, but people love to push cocktails on other people. So when you arrive at an event, grab a non-alcoholic drink and keep it in your hand. People will be less inclined to offer you a drink if you already have one, and really, no one pays attention to what’s actually in your glass.
When you contemplate holiday events, consider them as ways to form new friendships and, perhaps, strengthen old bonds. Rather than having food or drink as the focus of the event, make it about people and relationship-building; enter each occasion intending to establish genuine connections.
Remember that adage, “It is better to give than to receive”? Well, it’s true, particularly when you’re trying to stay clean and sober. When you can focus on helping others, you not only stop thinking about your problems, you find more gratitude and delight in your life. Look for opportunities to be of service. You might make a special supper for friends, donate time at a homeless shelter or food pantry, or spend an afternoon running errands for a housebound acquaintance. View it as a gift of being clean and sober: having a clear mind and a body capable of helping others.
There is joy in the knowledge that you are reestablishing your own life. That is something to celebrate. So, as you affirm your brand-new, clean, and sober self during this festive season, what better way than to create new holiday traditions? These traditions could involve entertaining friends in recovery at a festive gathering in your home. Another unique custom could be volunteering at a local 12-Step holiday event, such as a share-a-thon.
The most common reason people relapse during and right after the holidays is the constant struggle for perfection. Regardless of whether you are in recovery or not, this is one of the most taxing times of the year when it comes to emotions. Everyone becomes frustrated and anxious because their “normal routine” is gone; there are increased demands from family members, which strain your recovery. These things may lead to guilt, shame, anger, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression. Year after year, we try for a perfect holiday, and, year after year, we fail to hit the mark. Here’s a secret: there’s no such thing as an ideal holiday. As far as your recovery is concerned, a perfect holiday is when you did not drink or use drugs. Remember that saying yes when you should say no is the best way to wind up with resentments. Saying “no” is perfectly okay, and it will protect you from becoming overwhelmed.
The holidays may bring about feelings of anxiety or fear for those recovering from substance use disorder. Regardless of how long you have been in recovery, you can stay clean and sober during the holidays. Focusing on the true spirit of the season – giving and gratitude – leaves little space for resentment, disappointment, self-loathing, anger, and worry. Whether you are new to sobriety or have been around for years, everyone needs extra support at this time of year. You deserve to enjoy the beauty of the season, not get bogged down in the emotional overload. You got sober to live life, not hide from it, and celebrating holidays with friends and loved ones can be one of life’s greatest joys when done with proper planning and preparation. If you find yourself needing extra support, call Hired Power at (714) 559-3919. Their Personal Recovery Assistants can provide that extra encouragement you need to celebrate the holidays to their fullest, without worrying about being overwhelmed.
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