This message of #WeeklyWisdom is brought to you by Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County, a proud partner of the Community Coalition for Healthy Youth.
The holidays are a cheerful, exciting time for many. However, for people struggling with substance use disorder, or those in recovery, this season can be more challenging than anything else. Pressures like unrealistic expectations, over-commitment, unhealthy eating, financial strain, travel complications, and fatigue can fray emotions. Additionally, you might be spending your holidays away from your recovery support system and sober routines, which can make you more vulnerable to relapse. Holiday customs, childhood memories and annual gatherings that are closely associated with drug or alcohol use can also tug at your emotions and put your recovery at risk. If you are in recovery and are concerned about maintaining your sobriety during the holiday season, check out these tips from Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.
- Have sober strategies in place:
Develop a plan ahead of any holiday event or activity that could potentially trigger relapse to substance abuse. This may mean talking to your counselor or sponsor before or after the event, attending the festivities with your sponsor or a sober friend, or making sure you can leave the gathering at any time and are not dependent on someone else for transportation. Your plan could also include “bookending” the event with before-and-after telephone calls to someone in recovery. Understand that it is okay to limit your time in stressful situations or around difficult people, and always be prepared with an escape plan. Much of relapse prevention is having an awareness of the people, places or things that could trigger trouble and planning strategies for staying sober given those inevitable situations.
- Address your attitude and expectations:
Talk with your counselor, sponsor, or a friend who understands addiction recovery about the emotions and expectations you have wrapped up in the holidays. Remember that your loved ones, coworkers and friends are probably feeling tired and stressed during the holidays, too. This realization alone will help you adjust your attitude, lower your expectations, and be forgiving of yourself and others.
- Be of Service
The holiday season offers wonderful opportunities for growth by sharing your gratitude and joy with others. Connecting with others in this way can be a new experience that takes courage-but you’ve already demonstrated the capacity for tremendous courage and change in your addiction journey. Continue strengthening your recovery by looking for ways to be of service to others: serve a meal at a homeless shelter; deliver meals through a Meals on Wheels service; donate gifts to Toys for Tots or Salvation Army. There are so many different (and COVID-safe) ways to give back, pay it forward and be of service.
- Be Mindful of What You’re Drinking and Thinking
If you attend a holiday event or social gathering, it might be helpful to always have a beverage in hand so people aren’t constantly offering you a drink. If you ask someone to get a beverage for you, keep in mind that they may not know your situation or might forget your request and bring you an alcoholic drink. If you accidentally pick up the wrong drink and consume a bit of alcohol, this does NOT mean you will automatically relapse. However- keep an eye out for any rationalizations that could creep in. For example: “Hmm, I guess I can handle alcohol in social situations after all. Perhaps my period of abstinence taught me how to control my drinking.” Do not go down that road. Instead, tell someone who understands recovery from drug or alcohol addiction about your experience as soon as possible. A mistake is not a relapse—but it can lead to one if kept a secret.
- Avoid Known Risks
If you know certain relatives will pester you with questions about your recovery or try to get you to drink, avoid them or simply make a brief appearance. Being aware of triggers and known risks is an important part of recovery. Unfortunately, it is unrealistic to expect everyone in your life to be supportive of your recovery journey. However, you CAN choose to limit or avoid situations that are not helpful or productive for you.
- Practice Self-care
Celebrate the holiday season and joy of your recovery journey by taking time for yourself. Maintaining proper nutrition, gentle exercise, and restorative sleep can do wonders for your well-being. The better you feel physically, the stronger you will be mentally and emotionally. Make sure to nourish your spirit, too, through personal reflection and connection with those you love. Find some quiet time each day for relaxation and meditation, if only for a few minutes, no matter how busy you are.
The holiday season is meant to be a joyous occasion that brings family and friends together. But even in the midst of all the holiday excitement, there can be moments of stress and anxiety for everyone, not just those in recovery. Remember that you are strong, brave, and not alone.
Most importantly, if you are overwhelmed by your emotions this holiday season, never hesitate to contact a licensed counselor or therapist for help. If you are experiencing suicidal ideation or emotional crisis, these crisis lifelines are available 24/7:
-National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
-Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
– New York State Office of Addiction Services & Supports (OASAS) Hopeline: 1-877-8-HOPENY or
-Crisis Text Line: Text 741-741 with the message “START”
-LGBTQ National Youth Talk Line: 1-800-246-PRIDE (800-246-7743)
-Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860
-Crisis Call Center: 1-800-273-8255