The holiday season is stressful for many people. It can be especially stressful for someone recovering from addiction. In addition to the stress of travel, buying presents, and dealing with family, there are often holiday parties and gatherings with lots of alcohol. The holiday season is full of triggers for someone trying to stay sober. However, with the right mindset and a little planning, these triggers can be used to strengthen your recovery and help you start the new year right.
One major challenge people in recovery face during the holidays is having to go to parties where there is alcohol. These may be family parties or work parties that you feel obligated to attend and with all the drinks floating around it’s easy to think that one eggnog couldn’t hurt. There are several ways to protect against this temptation. The first is to bring a sober friend so you can keep each other accountable. Also be willing to be the sober friend for other people facing holiday obligations. Next, have your excuse ready. If someone offers you a drink, “I have to drive,” “I have an early day tomorrow,” or even a simple “No, thank you” is usually enough. Think about your response before hand so you don’t have to come up with something on the spot. And if you already have a non-alcoholic drink in your hand, most people won’t offer you something. Finally, have an exit plan. You don’t want to be stuck at a party where you’re feeling intense cravings.
Holiday travel can be extremely stressful. Streets and airports are crowded, there are delays from the weather, and there’s always an airport bar near your gate. Give yourself plenty of time so the inevitable delays won’t stress you out. Leave a little time between connecting flights and get on the road a little earlier. In airports, bring something to read to keep you busy and travel with a companion if you can. If you attend mutual aid meetings, see if there’s one in the area you’re traveling to so you will have a little extra moral support away from home. Also, try to stick to your recovery routine as much as possible. Journaling, prayer, and meditation are common elements of recovery routines and they’re easy to maintain while traveling.
Everyone expects gifts during the holidays and travel can be expensive. On top of that, you may not have much money from missing work due to holiday hours or travel. Try to get ahead of this stress by budgeting for gifts and travel. Assume you’ll go over budget and aim to spend about half as much as you think you can afford. When choosing presents, think about what will be meaningful rather than extravagant. Choose gifts that let people know you care about them and the time you’ve spent together, maybe a framed picture together or something related to an inside joke. This not only reduces financial stress but it also strengthens your relationships. Expressing gratitude for the people you care about instead of just spending money strengthens your recovery, makes you happier, and is more in the spirit of the holidays.
In addition to the other stresses of the holiday season, the days keep getting shorter until the last week of December. Even if you don’t suffer from full seasonal affective disorder, you might get some winter blues that compound the other stresses of the season. To combat this, consider taking a vitamin D supplement to make up for the lack of sunlight. You might want to get an alarm clock with a full spectrum light to help keep your circadian rhythm on track. Try to get a little exercise every day, outside during the day, if possible. Keeping the pie and cookies to a minimum will also help your mood by reducing sugar spikes and crashes that can make you irritable and lethargic.
Family gatherings are the biggest source of stress for many people. Addiction is often called a family disease. There is a large genetic component to addiction and substance use is often driven by dysfunctional family dynamics. This can make family gatherings a major trigger for people in recovery. However, just because family interactions have been stressful in the past doesn’t mean they will always be that way. If families participate in therapy during treatment or after, they can learn to communicate better and respect each others’ boundaries. They can better understand how to support your recovery. If they haven’t participated in therapy, discuss the situation with your therapist ahead of time. Come up with strategies to help you avoid the old pitfalls. For example, if a sibling likes to bait you, maybe you can take a few deep breaths instead of reflexively responding as you would have when you were kids. If you’re family is not supportive at all, the better move might be to skip the family get together and spend the holidays with friends instead. The holidays are like the midterm exam for everything you’ve learned so far in recovery. You have financial stress, travel stress, family stress, as well as temptation in the form of sweets and alcohol. You have to use a number of different strategies to manage these challenges, but you have an opportunity to start the new year with more confidence in your recovery.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.