It’s December, and the winter holiday season is well underway! Celebrations, gift giving, and volunteer work abound this time of year; we take this time to bring joy and show appreciation to the people we love.
However, stress, depression, and anxiety can also be triggered by the holidays. For some, the holidays bring old, unpleasant memories or regrets. Difficult family situations or a lack of close personal bonds can lead to loneliness and dark moods which opens the door to urges and temptations.
For others, the danger lies in the celebration. Getting swept away in the fun and happiness of the holidays can also lead to slip ups in the sober journey. For some recovering from substance abuse disorders, temptation comes from the desire to continue the pleasure of the party. Enjoying the atmosphere of happiness and cheer triggers the desire to hang on to that feeling as long as possible, which in turn can tempt some into relapse.
Though it is possible for the festive season to trigger some unexpected urges, it is also possible to stay sober through the holidays! Here’s how:
Be Vocal About Your Feelings!
This time of year can drudge up some difficult memories and expose emotions we would rather not recall, but it is important to face these things head on rather than allow them to fester and damage your recovery. Don’t be afraid of ‘ruining the mood’ or any other silly hindrances to speaking up: those who support your recovery and sobriety want you to be open to their help when you’re struggling.
If you find you can’t be vocal about your concerns with those around you, it may be time to reconsider their place in your life. Though it is difficult, especially with family members, placing your recovery as priority one in your life is essential to lasting success. Let them know exactly what it is you need from them to help you on your journey, but be prepared to walk away if they can’t or are unwilling to deliver.
On the alternative, if you find the difficulty in expressing your thoughts and feelings stems from within, working with a therapist or in a support group may help to work through the emotions and traumas. It’s okay if you need help to deal with these things; don’t allow them to negatively impact your journey.
Don’t Play With Fire- Avoid Known Triggers!
Throughout the recovery process, we learn to identify and avoid the triggers for our urges. “Be smart, not strong” is a lesson common among cognitive behavioral therapists; they teach that it is better to avoid temptation than to attempt to endure it. Most people who experience relapse in early recovery do so because they attempt to test the limits of their newfound sobriety. Rather than do this, it is important to be mindful of the people, places, and situations we come in contact with on our sober path.
During times of celebration, triggers for relapse may abound. Alcohol consumption is highest during the holiday season, with wine and beer available at family dinners, parties, restaurants, and nightclubs. Staying away from alcohol in certain places may be simple enough, but what about at the family functions? Is it wrong to ask family members and friends to remove alcohol from the menu?
No. In order to facilitate your recovery, you must stand fast in your needs and expectations of others. Make it known (without causing undue tension and trauma) that you are uncomfortable with alcohol being a part of the festivities. Explain why; most people don’t realize that even if alcohol is not your substance of choice, it can still trigger relapse. Also make it clear that if alcohol is present, you will not be. While the holidays are an important time of the year for many people around the world, your recovery from substance abuse is for a lifetime.
Keep it Sober- Keep it Fun!
Your support system- the family and friends intrusted with supporting you through your recovery- is a key component to ensuring the longevity of your sobriety, especially in the early stages. When it may become difficult to carry on, or recognize potentially troubling behavior, they help to keep you focused and on the right path- that doesn’t mean you can’t also have fun, too.
One common myth about sobriety is that once one commits to a life without drugs or alcohol they become stiff and unyielding. The truth is there’s an entire world of fun and entertainment beyond intoxication- things you could never enjoy when addiction stood in the way.
This holiday season, celebrate with these sober activities:
- Go ice skating or skiing!
- Go crazy with the decorations!
- Cook a festive meal as a family!
- Attend a holiday concert or parade!
- Drive around and enjoy the lights!
- Rent out a laser tag place for the whole family!
- Go camping!
- Give back to the community!
- Take a mini-vacation to the nearest theme park!
- Go caroling!
Alexandrea Holder is a South Florida native working toward double Master’s degrees in Psychology and English. She finds the psychological aspects of addiction and mental illness fascinating, as both are prevalent in her family’s history. Through her work with Harbor Village Rehabilitation in Miami, FL she has garnered valuable insight and experiences which she applies to her work and personal life. When not researching and spreading addiction awareness, Alexandrea enjoys sparring, artistic pursuits, and admiring puppies online.