The holiday season can be a tough time for people in recovery. Often people relapse during or immediately before the holidays—so it’s important to be extra cautious and mindful of triggers that may lead to relapse.
The recovery community appreciates and offers additional support during the holidays. Recovery Ways is a pivotal part of that support network. The team at Recovery Ways is currently offering a seven-week course of community outreach and support groups via Zoom with specialized expert Recovery Ways facilitators. The third meeting, facilitated by clinical therapist Julia Murphy, CMHC CASUDC, focused on recognizing and coping with triggers.
According to addiction expert Terence T. Gorski, the relapse process includes eleven distinct steps beginning with “unhealthy emotions” in step one. Gorski describes “triggers” (step four) as, “Something happens, usually involving other people, places, or situations that remind us to use drugs. But because now we have unhealthy emotions, denial, and compulsive behaviors, this trigger has more weight than when we were not in turmoil.”
“That is what makes triggers kind of weird,” said Julia Murphy. “What can be a dangerous trigger on one day, may not cause much of a reaction under different circumstances. And it always begins with unhealthy emotions.”
Murphy, who is in recovery from alcohol use disorder, listed five major triggers in recovery: stress, fear, anger, people, and places. “There is certainly plenty of stress for everybody at the moment with the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, financial uncertainty, and fundamental changes to family and social traditions.” Recovery from addiction was already hard work even before these compounded stressors.
“An acronym well worth remembering is ‘HALT’,” explained Murphy. “It stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. Unhealthy emotions are much more easily unleashed if you experience any of these—or worse still: combinations of the four.”
Checking for HALT “symptoms” is a good way to keep potential triggers in check. If you’re hungry, eat some healthy food. If you’re angry, use exercises in your recovery toolbox to calm yourself before acting out. If you’re lonely, reach out to somebody—remember, the opposite of addiction is connection. If you’re tired, get some rest.
Awareness is key. Take a moment each day to check-in with yourself. Ask, “Am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?” Honestly assess how you feel. It won’t take long, but doing so will make the everyday stress of life easier to deal with and help you stay sober.
“Triggers are not always caused by deprivation, though. Celebrations that are supposed to be happy occasions can be triggers, too,” warned Murphy. Avoid events that may trigger you. “Always put your recovery first,” Murphy reminded the participants of the online Recovery Ways meeting. “We don’t have to do what our families want us to do, we don’t have to toast the bride and groom with champagne.”
If a holiday event is likely to cause stress, fear, or anger, or present people and places triggers, it’s definitely worth considering not to go—especially during a pandemic. In many cases, such events can bring back memories of using drugs and alcohol on such occasions—a potentially strong trigger in early recovery.
We hope you are able to stay healthy during this holiday season and beyond. There is still time to join our online series. Here is the remaining schedule.
If you, a family member, or a friend are struggling with addiction and/or mental health issues, Recovery Ways wants to help. We are dually licensed to treat mental health disorders and addiction. Don’t delay seeking treatment because of the holidays. Our admissions coordinators can recommend a plan of action, suggest an interventionist, or speak with your loved one. For more information, please call us at (888) 988-5217.