Although the holidays can be full of joy for many, it can be a challenging time for addicts in recovery for many reasons.
Holiday parties almost always include alcohol, and, depending on your coworkers, friends, and family, other drug use.
That’s if you have parties and friends left to celebrate with – some addicts have so severely damaged their relationships with the people in their life, they are alone on the holidays, which can present its own set of challenges.
There can be increased stress about finances at this time of year as well.
And the tricky part is, even if you successfully abstain from using drugs and alcohol with all the triggers going off around you, there are other less obvious and more socially acceptable addictive behaviors that can creep in, especially during the holidays.
Rest assured, you can get through the holidays clean and sober and refrain from other compulsive behaviors as well. Read on, and we’ll tell you how!
If the smell, sight, or sound of alcohol or drugs is something you already know you can’t handle, then you must remain vigilant in avoiding activities and parties where you know they will be present.
If the in-laws are coming to visit and they are usually triggering to you in one way or another, perhaps you can arrange to put them up in a nice hotel or Airbnb, so they’re not with you 24/7.
High stress can be a big trigger for many recovering addicts and is usually very present around the holidays.
Financial pressures, busy schedules, extra to-do list items, parties, gift buying, traveling, and the like can all trigger a relapse, especially when one or more are present.
Pacing yourself and letting go of the things that you might like to do but really can’t get to can help tremendously as well.
Some triggers can also become a behavioral addiction as a response to fill the void left by abstaining from drugs and alcohol, such as holiday espresso drinks, foods with high sugar, fat, and carbohydrate content or shopping.
Behaviors such as compulsive overeating, shopping, debiting, smoking, gaming, sex, overworking, gambling, binge-watching movies and TV, chronic use of social media, and the like can steal your sobriety and serenity in the blink of an eye.
More importantly, these can be “gateway” addictions to resuming drug and alcohol abuse, and it is critical to becoming highly aware of them and whether or not they are affecting your daily life.
Shopping and food are the most common behavioral addictions (food is often considered a substance addiction), that plague most people and particularly recovering substance abusers during the holidays.
To avoid compulsively shopping and getting into debt, the best course of action is to create a realistic spending plan ahead of time and stick to it.
Be sure to include all extra holiday expenses such as gifts for family and friends, parties and entertaining, work-related gift exchanges or employee gifts, holiday decorating, travel, special food/meals, and holiday cards and postage.
Plan to do your shopping early as last-minute shopping almost always ends up being extraordinarily stressful and costing you more money.
Avoid using credit and debit cards for purchases by creating cash envelopes for each one of these categories. You can move money around between envelopes if one group ends up being more expensive than another, but when the money is gone, it’s gone.
Avoid dipping into credit cards or savings accounts to continue spending. Some people put their credit cards sealed in a zip lock bag in a container of water in the freezer, and they have to unfreeze it to use it. This practice gives them time to consider the purchase instead of purchasing on impulse.
It is also recommended to delete credit card numbers from any phone apps that allow you to use them to make purchases using your phone in stores.
To avoid compulsively overeating or other food-related holiday hazards, awareness and also having a plan is a big help.
Food can be a significant impediment to being clean and sober. Eating foods with high sugar, fat, and carbohydrate content can create a euphoric high and then a crash very much like drinking and drug use.
There are also beverages with extremely high caffeine, sugar, and fat content that can mimic meth or cocaine-type highs such as energy drinks, fancy triple shot espresso lattes, and the like.
For a recovering substance abuser, choosing to completely avoid certain types of foods and beverages can mean the difference between being truly clean or not.
And for those who are alone this holiday season, eating healthy and cutting back on sugar, fat, and gluten-based carbs can make all the difference to avoiding or successfully managing depression.
Having a plan and sticking to it will help to keep stress down, helping you to maintain serenity and ultimately sobriety!
This may seem like an obvious one, but with all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it is so common and easy for people to cut corners in their recovery programs.
Skipping meetings, recovery work, therapy, prayer, and meditation, or other relaxation and stress relieving practices to get holiday activities done is a common hazard in addiction recovery.
This is the time of year when it is critical to stay fully immersed in recovery! Double down on all the tools of your recovery and do extra recovery work as needed.
It is essential to remain vigilant in ALWAYS putting your recovery first before family, friends, work, and most definitely the holidays.
Without clean time and sobriety, everything else becomes meaningless, and you can risk losing everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve and regain in recovery.
Use support groups and 12 step meetings as a tool to help you avoid triggering events such as parties where there will be alcohol or drugs, difficult family situations, and more. It is a contrary action for most addicts and an ultimate act of self-care.
This brings us to our next tip for avoiding holiday hazards: self-care, self-care, self-care.
Did we say self-care? Just because everyone else is running themselves ragged, it doesn’t mean you have to. Recovery is all about living differently than most people in that we learn to take extra good care of ourselves to help us remain clean and sober.
Making sure to eat well, get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, and have a healthy balance of time alone and with others, can make a huge difference in our ability to avoid relapse.
Taking care of ourselves emotionally and spiritually on a daily basis is also an essential part of self-care.
It is important to be conscious of feeling and healthily processing our emotions instead of stuffing them down because we don’t have the time or want to deal with them.
This can be particularly problematic around the holidays when time seems more limited than ever.
The same goes for spiritual practices – prayer, meditation, reading spiritual texts, walking in nature, or other activities that connect you to a power greater than yourself – need more focus and attention this time of year, not less.
This is a big one, and we receive so many opportunities to practice acceptance during the holidays!
Learning to accept family, friends, and coworkers – or even the guy who cut you off on the freeway or the lady who “stole” your parking space at the mall – as they are can be challenging, we get it.
But we also know from experience that acceptance of any person, place, thing, or situation that may seem unbearable or overwhelming to you is the golden ticket to remaining clean and sober.
And it’s so much easier to tolerate challenging people or situations when we’ve been practicing good self-care as mentioned above.
That’s the main reason self-care is so critical. Because when we wallow in lack of acceptance of what is, we build expectations, resentments, and ultimately excuses to use or drink.
In addition to accepting other people and situations, you must practice acceptance of where you are in your recovery to make the healthiest choices for yourself during the holidays.
And if you do relapse, self-acceptance and self-compassion are needed. The quicker you can accept your disease and relapse, the faster you can get back on track with your recovery program and minimize any potential damage the relapse may cause.
Acceptance of others does not mean you need to tolerate bad or abusive behavior ever.
If you find yourself in the midst of a toxic or abusive person, you can choose to remove yourself from the situation.
You can go for a walk, call your sponsor, therapist, or a fellow in recovery, communicate that you would prefer to have an awkward conversation later after you’ve both had a chance to calm down, excuse yourself and hang up the phone, or stop answering text messages.
You always have a choice to walk away and maintain (or regain) serenity versus engaging in the crazy and risk a relapse.
No one is worth a risking relapse – not a boss, coworker, spouse, child, friend, or another family member.
If there are people in your life that you know are toxic to you, make a special effort to avoid them as much as possible, or entirely depending on who they are.
Just because you’ve been friends with someone for 25 years, doesn’t mean you need to continue the friendship when you discover it’s toxic, even during the holidays.
You don’t owe anyone anything that could jeopardize your clean time or sobriety! Start by creating healthy boundaries and then stick to them.
The people that want to be a part of your life and honestly care about you will adjust, and those that don’t will eventually fade into the ethers.
While you want to avoid toxic people, it’s important not to hide from people altogether.
Isolation can be a significant gateway into relapse and can be devastating during the holidays for those who may not have loved ones, friends, or another family with whom to celebrate.
Depression and anxiety can creep in or hit hard and can lead you right back into self-destructive behaviors.
Make a special effort during the holidays to connect with healthy people who are supportive of your recovery. Often this means attending additional support groups or 12 step meetings, making outreach calls to other fellows in recovery, and even making some holiday plans with them.
You can even organize a holiday potluck with recovery friends or a special potluck meeting for everyone who doesn’t have a safe place to celebrate.
If you don’t have anywhere to go, create one, you will be amazed at how many others don’t have a place to go either and are grateful for the safe space you create.
Mindset is so important in recovery. Instead of thinking of it as getting through the holidays, focus on enjoying them instead.
The great thing about holidays in recovery is that you now know you have choices in how you celebrate, with whom you spend your time, and where you want to expend your energy.
You are even learning what you like and don’t like and how to be happy and serene. You have developed a stronger stress tolerance and have a robust recovery program to help you manage stress.
Use the tips and tools we’ve provided as a way to put the focus on yourself, your clean time and sobriety, and ultimate health.
We know from experience that if practiced, you are bound for a successful and happy holiday season!
If you need help with your recovery, you can get in touch with the Hotline at our Recovery Center where trained and experienced professionals are available to assist you in every way.
The staff at Chateau Recovery is always available to help you with all of your questions regarding addiction recovery and treatment. Call anytime.
Clinical director of the Adams Recovery Center talks about addiction and recovery during the holiday season.
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