How Am I Supposed to Get Through the Holidays Sober?

Your Ultimate Holiday Guide to Triggers and Relapse Prevention

The holidays are coming up, and for many, it’s a time of gathering and celebration. We spend time with friends and family, recollecting precious memories and feelings of gratitude as we emphasize just how thankful we are for having had yet another year of memories in the making. We sit at the dinner table, open gifts, laugh, drink, and eat. In the United States, this depiction is seen in movies, television shows, billboards, commercials and more. This notion of being surrounded by loved ones and having a wonderful time places pressure on many people to recreate this romanticized version of the holidays, and that alone can add stress.

Triggers for Those in Recovery

In addition to the pressure of “keeping up” with blissful holiday celebrations, those in recovery have added concerns to worry about:

“Are people going to be drinking?”

“What if someone asks me to have a drink?”

“Am I going to have to leave early, because I don’t feel comfortable?”

The anxiety list can go on and on, and these concerns are valid. The holidays are stressful for many people, and those in recovery have extra precautions they need to take. When you add in mental health concerns like depression to the mix, the holidays can feel even more difficult to get through than before.

Nick Williams, a resident of Florida and a person who battled alcoholism and drug addiction for 10 years, told WPTV, “The holidays were a big part of my downfall as continuous as it was. When the holidays would roll around, it was a much deeper depression that would set in because I knew everybody is in good spirits and buying each other’s gifts surrounded by love and happiness. And I was never happy.” 

Feelings of sadness, hopeless, and depression can certainly trigger relapse around this time of the year, along with:

·    Memories of using

·    Being reminded of family members or friends who are no longer in your life

·    Grieving over the past and what is no longer in our lives

·    Feeling sad or lonely if you are spending the holidays alone this year

·    Seeing others drinking or using substances

·    Experiencing a lot of stress due to having high expectations for yourself or for others this holiday season

A study titled “Beacon of Hope: Inoculating Against Relapse” conducted by a researcher from the University of Kentucky found that many people in recovery are afraid of the unknown; they’re afraid of vulnerability, of not being able to resist temptation, of failing, of being around others who are using, and of being pressured. These triggers are something that those in recovery have to be prepared to combat. If you’re feeling triggered this holiday season, how can you combat it?

Tools for Relapse Prevention

A number of strategies can be used to prevent relapse, and it all starts with perception. The way you perceive yourself, the importance you place on your thoughts, and the view you hold of others can have a significant effect on the triggers you experience. The study aforementioned lists a number of effective intervention strategies, such as calling your AA sponsor, acknowledging the effect the trigger is having on you, recognizing that you are capable of maintaining long-term recovery, and leaning on those who support your recovery.

Evaluating each situation as low, medium, or high-risk could also be beneficial in gauging what type of plan you need to prepare. For example, a high-risk situation – such as attending a party that has an open bar – may require that you plan an exit strategy, where as a low-risk situation – such as attending a class for a new hobby – may require less assessment. If you can determine what type of situation may trigger you the most, you’ll already be prepared for it.

Keep your stress under control by practicing self-care consistently. A 2017 study published in the journal Issues in Mental Health Nursing sought to explore how parents recovering from substance use disorders (SUDs) practice self-care. Nineteen mothers and fathers were interviewed, and researchers from the University of South Carolina identified several self-care activities practiced often:

·    Meaningful connection with recovery and their children

·    Taking care of physical health

·    Maintaining spirituality

·    Healthy eating

·    Exercise

·    Journaling

·    Continuing education

·    Staying busy

·    Sponsorship

·    Establishing boundaries

·    Self-monitoring

·    Dealing with destructive emotions

If you’re able to take great care of yourself, you’ll be in a much better place to think critically when a situation arises that could trigger cravings to use. These self-care activities should be ongoing, but the holidays are a special consideration to take into account in terms of self-care.

Simplifying the Holidays: It’s Just Another Day

Rather than placing so much pressure on ourselves to think, act, or feel a certain way, let’s accept the holidays for what they really are: days. Sure, some people may prefer to place strong emphasis on these days, but there are many people around the world who don’t – and there are just as many people who also spend the holidays alone. Treat yourself with kindness this holiday season and remember that you’re working hard to overcome what’s been holding you back; that in and of itself is something to be proud of.

The mission of The Beach House is to provide success in the recovery process and elevate the standard of comprehensive addiction treatment. Located right on the coast of Malibu, California, expert clinical care and a holistic view of the recovery process is provided to ensure Best-in-Class treatment tailored to the needs of each client. If you’re ready to start your recovery journey today, call us at 310-924-0780.

Saving Lives; Healing Families.

Kimberly James

I am the founder and owner of The Beach House Treatment Center, The White House, Indigo Ranch, Sweetwater Mesa and Beach House Center for Wellness, all in Malibu, California.