Clinically Reviewed by Sarah Hogan, MA LPC
Sarah is a Licensed Professional Counselor with 13 years of experience in the behavioral health field as well as a certified provider of Cognitive Processing Therapy for Trauma. She has extensive experience in counseling and case management with local mental health authorities, emergency homeless shelters, leading high acuity response teams, and serving first responders/veterans.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? It certainly can be – with lots of friends and family members gathering to celebrate, sharing memories, ringing in the new year.
If you’re in recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction, it can be an especially challenging time, regardless of the length of your sobriety.
Unrealistic expectations, over-committing, and general fatigue can challenge our emotions any time of the year. When you throw in complicated travel itineraries and unpredictable social situations, this might not be the most wonderful time of the year, after all. However, there are three little words that help make this holiday season merry and bright for everyone … Have A Plan.
For many of us, the holidays are wrapped up in traditions and memories – some great, others not so great. Don’t lose sight that your recovery is a precious gift, not just for you, but for those who love you. To help you protect that gift, we’ve compiled a list of seven time-tested tips to help you avoid relapse and enjoy the season.
1) Plan Ahead
Benjamin Franklin has been credited with saying, “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Having a plan in place prior to attending a holiday event or family gathering can help ensure your sobriety remains intact.
Here are some ideas to include in your plan:
- Bring a sober friend. As the old saying goes, the more, the merrier! Bringing someone with you to a social gathering who understands just how precious your recovery is can be very helpful.
- Don’t rely on someone else for transportation. This allows you to arrive whenever you want and, more importantly, leave whenever you need to.
- Have an exit strategy. If things become uncomfortable, or you feel your sobriety is in jeopardy, an escape plan might be necessary. Rather than trying to come up with something to say to the host at the spur of the moment, plan your goodbye before you arrive. You don’t have to use it, but it’s there if you need it.
- Go to a meeting before the event. And, debrief with your sponsor after the event. Connecting with others in recovery can boost your commitment to your continued sobriety.
2) Self-care Isn’t Selfish
Taking care of yourself – both mentally and physically – is one of the most important things you can do to safeguard your sobriety. The Mayo Clinic recommends the following strategies for effective self-care:
- Get enough sleep. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Stick as close to your typical schedule as possible, even when traveling.
- Move your body. Regular physical activity and exercise can help reduce anxiety and improve mood.
- Eat healthy. Even with many temptations surrounding us, try to stick to a well-balanced diet. Indulge in moderation to avoid eating too much junk food and refined sugar. Limit caffeine as it can aggravate stress and anxiety.
- Reduce screen time. Turn off electronic devices for a set period of time each day, including 30 minutes before bedtime. Most smartphones can tell you your average screen time so you can set realistic goals to reduce it.
- Relax and recharge. Set aside time for yourself. Even a few minutes of quiet time can be refreshing and help to quiet your mind and reduce anxiety.
3) Connect With Others
One way to help protect your recovery is to do something kind for others. Find purpose in helping the people around you. For example, email, text, or call to check on your friends, family members and neighbors — especially those who are elderly. If you know someone who can’t leave the house, ask if there’s anything you can help with, such as groceries or a prescription pickup.
If a family member or friend needs to be isolated for health reasons, come up with ways to stay in contact. This could be through text or email, a phone call, or sending a note or holiday card to brighten their day.
Also, don’t forget about volunteer opportunities in your community. There are so many positive ways to keep busy while helping others!
4) Keep Yourself in Check
Not everyone is comfortable discussing their sobriety with people they don’t really know or rarely see – regardless of the length of their recovery. When attending social gatherings, pay attention to what you’re being offered to drink and how it’s made. If it’s appropriate for the setting, make something for yourself. Keep an eye on your beverage. In large gatherings, there is a chance of accidentally drinking something that belongs to someone else that might contain alcohol.
A simple mistake does not mean that you have relapsed. However, it’s important to keep yourself in check. Just because one accidental sip of alcohol might not immediately send you into instant relapse, it could lead to a slippery slope of rationalization and secret-keeping: “I handled that without any problems – maybe I can manage my drinking after all;” or “This was a simple mistake – I don’t need to talk to my sponsor about this.”
5) Manage Expectations
We all want this time of year to be as perfect as the Hallmark Channel makes it out to be. But the truth is, nothing is ever perfect. Understanding that your friends, family members, and coworkers are probably also dealing with stressors of their own will help manage your expectations. Be generous when giving grace – not only to others, but also to yourself. Take things one day at a time. Or, if you need to, one minute at a time. Talk with a professional counselor, your sponsor, or a friend who understands addiction and recovery. When you properly manage your expectations, you can expect a better outcome.
6) Don’t Risk Your Recovery
It’s always nice to be invited to social gatherings. But, if you know that a particular party or event is going to be filled with people who will put your sobriety in jeopardy, it’s okay not to go. What if your relationship with your mother is shaky, at best? Or, maybe your cousin was your drug connection? There’s nothing that says you must suck it up and just hope for the best. You can drop off gifts, say a quick hello, and make a quick exit. “Family” doesn’t have to mean your family of origin. Surround yourself with those who support you. Your well-earned recovery isn’t worth the risk of being in situations that don’t actively support it.
7) Recovery is a Gift
It might seem counterintuitive, but the holiday season is an ideal time to seek treatment.
Now is the perfect time to start your new life – a life free from dependence on drugs and alcohol. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, we’re here to help. Plum Creek Recovery Ranch offers comprehensive treatment options facilitated by our caring team of masters-level clinicians.
Addiction Treatment Facility near Austin, Texas
Click here to contact one of our caring Admissions Counselors for a free and confidential assessment. You can give yourself and your family the gift of recovery and start your new life now.