December 14th, 2022
When one thinks of the holidays, thoughts might flow to twinkling lights or Christmas trees. It is often seen as a joyous time of the year, but for many, it’s not so glamorous. Some may be struggling with grief from the loss of a loved one or seasonal depression. This time of year is even more challenging for those who are recovering from substance use. Staying sober can be a challenging feat, to begin with, especially during the holidays.
Cravings can often heighten when you’re eating Christmas dinner or one of your favorite holiday meals. It’s important to make sure that you’re prepared if you do begin to have difficulties managing your cravings so you have a sober holiday. Designate a person whom you can go to at an event if you’re struggling. If possible, drive separately to an event so that you don’t feel trapped. If you must ride with others to an event, create a word that you can use to let another person you rode with know you are having a difficult time and may need to leave soon.
There are a ton of other people also struggling to stay sober during the holidays — you’re not alone. If you know you’re going to get overstimulated, schedule time to attend a 12-step meeting over Zoom. You also can call a friend or sponsor who’s also in recovery for accountability and support. Lean on your support system as you celebrate the new year. They are there to help you to be successful!
Bring an item with you that will make you feel calm or distract you. This could be a fragrance that helps you relax, or perhaps a cup of tea in your favorite mug. It could be as easy as downloading a game on your phone that you enjoy. Be sure to have something prepared and on hand if you begin to get overwhelmed during this festive season.
Recognizing your triggers ahead of time is important. For many, triggers may be holiday specific. This could include difficult family members, traveling, time constraints, or large gatherings. Knowing what prompts you ahead of time can help you plan for those triggers. It is also important to know what healthy coping mechanisms will work best for you. In the past during a stressful situation, you may have picked up a drink or used another substance to help you cope. Since this is no longer an option, make sure that you have healthy coping skills in place such as breathing techniques, listening to music, or going for a walk to deal with holiday chaos. It can be helpful to make a list of these ahead of time for easy access.
Perhaps you used to have a “go-to” drink during the holidays. Or maybe you’re going somewhere and you’re unaware of what alcohol-free beverages will be available. Play it safe and bring something that you know you can enjoy such as sweet tea or a soda of your choice. This also can minimize the risk from those who may not understand or be aware you’re in recovery from offering you a drink.
Setting firm boundaries with friends and family is critical and not having them can lead to relapse. It’s important to say no to activities that you’re not comfortable with. In many cultures, alcohol is a big part of the holidays. While it might seem unfair or harsh to say no, it’s necessary. Establish boundaries ahead of time so that you’re not scrambling at the last minute to determine what you are and are not comfortable with. Maybe your family typically takes a shot of bourbon on Christmas morning and they’re pressuring you to participate because it’s “tradition.” Maybe your aunt is begging you to stay one more hour at an event. Remember — that extra hour is not worth it if it’s going to risk your sobriety.
Standing family traditions can make holidays tough for those in recovery. You may feel obligated to go to multiple events in one day, making it a long and tiring day. Stress is the most common trigger for relapse. Don’t stress yourself out trying to get to four different places on Christmas or spending half of your day driving! Put yourself first. It’s OK to make new traditions like staying in bed and watching cheesy Christmas films and drinking hot chocolate. If this isn’t an option, try not to overbook on the holidays and prioritize going to the events that will bring you the most happiness.
Whether you are the one trying to stay abstinent this holiday season or you are the friend or loved one of someone trying to do so, use these tips for guidance while you are spending time together. The gift of sobriety is one that keeps on giving.
Written by: Katherine Cunningham, LPC
At Clarity Clinic, we have highly trained staff who specialize in therapy and psychiatry services. To learn more about how we can support your mental health, call Clarity Clinic at (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.
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