Whether it’s your first holiday in recovery or you’re struggling with facing the season through COVID-19, being in recovery while sober can be difficult. Most of us have been raised to see Christmas and New Year’s as special times, in which we get to have fun, enjoy ourselves to the fullest, and experience the warm glow of friends and family. If you’re in recovery, you might be dreading the holidays. After all, you’re probably accustomed to going through them drinking as much as possible. This year is different, for more reasons than one.
Staying clean and sober over the holidays can seem daunting. Especially if your family is stressful, you’re largely on your own, or you’re accustomed to using them as an excuse to drink and use. On the other hand, the holidays don’t mean you have to relapse. If you go into them expecting to have some extra trouble, you can prepare and have everything you need to maintain your recovery.
Whether you’re on your own and feeling lonely, with family and pressured by family stress and busywork, or surrounded by people getting drunk or high, you will experience cravings. The holidays are difficult for recovering addicts because there are very few places you can go to escape that. Family can be warm and supportive; they might not be. Chances are, there will be too many things to do, too many people in the home, or extra stress because of COVID-19. Plan for it. If you’re spending time alone, you’re likely going to feel lonely and sad. That’s another trigger.
Finally, many of your friends and family will drink or use. While you can ask them not to drink around you, that’s a big ask in a lot of families. You will likely be around alcohol and you may even be offered alcohol. This is especially true if you’re heading to work parties or to very large family gatherings.
- Take 15 minutes when you experience cravings. Most are short-lived at best. Do something with your hands, like washing the dishes, preparing food, or cleaning something. If you’re at work, go to the bathroom and sit by yourself.
- Remind yourself why you’re clean or sober. Consider making a list and putting it in your pocket
- Think about what you’re working towards and why.
- Call a sober buddy or supportive friend
Cravings are unavoidable. Make sure you expect them and have planned how to cope with them.
Talk to Your Friends and Family
Sometimes people won’t respect that you’ve quit drinking or using. Other times, they just aren’t aware of the fact that offering you a drink might be harmful. Talking to your friends and family about your addiction can be difficult. It can feel shameful. The important thing is that you’ve moved past it, you are moving past it, and you can’t do it alone.
Many of your friends and family should already be aware of the fact that you’ve had problems with drugs or alcohol. If not, plan to sit down and have the talk. Alerting them of this fact beforehand means that they shouldn’t offer you drug or alcohol, that they will be more cautious drinking in your presence, and that you might have non-alcoholic drinks available if you go to someone else’s party.
While your approach should depend on the people, how well you know them, and how much they need to know, it’s important to be honest. Simple phrases like:
- “I’m recovering from addiction and I’d like to avoid drugs and alcohol over the holidays, please don’t offer me alcohol”
- “I have a substance use disorder and I need your help to make sure I don’t drink or use this Christmas/New Year’s”
- “I have something to tell you. I’ve been struggling with a substance addiction for X years. I went into recovery and went to rehab on (date). However, I still have cravings and sometimes I still need help. I’d like to ask you to avoid alcohol around me and to offer support when other people offer me substances”.
Importantly, if you might lose your job for breaching code of conduct or contract, you can always lie. Tell your colleagues that you’re taking antibiotics and you shouldn’t drink because things will go badly. However, that won’t help you with cravings, it just gives you a reason not to drink without revealing your history of abuse.
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Keep Up Routines
If you’ve gone to rehab or recovery, you learned the importance of keeping up routines. Self-discipline, good habits, and taking care of yourself are key to staying in recovery. That’s important to maintain over the holidays. This is especially true if you’re going to parties, going to stay with family, or otherwise dramatically changing your daily routine for the period.
- Have a healthy breakfast
- Take time to exercise every day. If you can’t go to the gym or run, go for walks or hikes with family
- Go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day and get enough sleep for your recovery
- Spend time taking care of your environment
Importantly, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to manage 100%. But, like many things, following the 80/20 rule (80% success) is more than good enough. Plus, taking time to have at least one healthy meal a day and getting in exercise will ensure you continue to feel good, even if you’re stressed or having a lot of otherwise unhealthy food. And, getting 30-60 minutes or more of light to moderate exercise will help your brain produce the serotonin and dopamine you need to fight cravings and stay clean and sober.
Make Time for Support Groups
Whether you’re going to a 12-Step group like AA or NA, or an alternative like SMART Recovery, make time to go to your group. With many groups moved online this year, that should be easier than ever. However, you can also find and join groups in a new area to ensure you still get to go in person.
Groups can offer support, can show you that others are going through many of the same things you are, and give you accountability. If you have to check in and tell your peers how you’re doing every few days, you’re much less likely to see a casual drink “just once” as an option.
Remember to Have Fun
No matter how much effort and planning you have to put into your holidays, remember that you should also make time to enjoy yourself. Make plans that you actually enjoy. Whether that’s staying home with family or loved ones and watching movies, going outdoors and hiking, going dancing, or attending sober events at your local church or AA is up to you. Do things that make you happy. Quite often, that means spending time around people you care about.
Why? You need to relax, to enjoy yourself, and to enjoy life. Plus, doing so will actively make you feel better, more relaxed, and less likely to want to drink and use. Because, whether we’re trying to escape stress, ourselves, boredom, or anything else, drinking and drugs are often a form of self-medication. Invest in making your life enjoyable, and you’ll need drugs and alcohol less and less.
No matter how long you’ve been clean and sober, moving through the holidays can be difficult. Make sure you have a plan, someone to call, and people to talk to. If your friends and family know you’re struggling, they likely will help. If they understand what you’re going through, most will be willing to help as much as they can. At the same time, it’s also important to remember your own motivations, to hold yourself accountable, and to remind yourself of why you’re trying to stay clean and sober when you do experience cravings.
Happy Holidays from Truvida Recovery, and don’t pick up that first drink or drug!