At this time of year, treatment centers such as Amethyst Recovery often find ourselves without too many empty beds. In fact, treatment centers aren’t the only institutions that struggle with this issue. Walk into any city jail between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and you’re sure to find a pretty crowded cell block. And if you ask most of the inmates how they got arrested, many will claim either a DUI or public intoxication charge. Many others will claim possession of a controlled substance. In short, it seems that people have a tendency to drink and abuse drugs over the holidays, often to the point that it gets them in trouble.
To non-addicts and non-alcoholics, this may seem strange. After all, the holidays are a time of year during which we’re supposed to be thankful. And between the amazing food, the gorgeous decorations and the promise of spending time with loved ones, the holidays give us a lot of great reasons to express our gratitude. But just because we have things for which to be grateful doesn’t mean we always feel that way. This holds especially true for those who went through the wringer as a result of their substance abuse. Family time might cause tension, and the beauty of snow-covered trees and multi-colored lights only reminds us of the dark clouds hanging over our heads.
On top of this, triggers abound during the holiday season. We may wind up at parties where alcohol flows freely. The stress of holiday shopping takes its toll. Drug dealers may even try to lure us in with lower prices. And if any of our friends don’t know about our recovery, they may attempt to present us with gifts of alcohol or drug paraphernalia. We’ve previously covered ways to stay sober during the holidays. But this time around, let’s take a broader approach. This time, we’d like to discuss how we can adjust our overall mindset to keep the holidays from bringing out the worst of our addictive personalities.
Know Which Triggers Might Affect You
The holidays might be stressful, but we can always rely upon one thing—we know when they’re about to arrive. As stores begin decorating, television channels begin running movie marathons and radio stations start airing songs about Santa Claus, we know that the holiday season is upon us. We also know that once the chestnuts are roasted and gifts are exchanged, New Year’s will be soon to follow. Knowing this, we can make time to prepare.
We’ve lived through the holidays before, so we should already know which stresses tend to push our buttons the most. We know that we may spend time around extended family on holidays such as Christmas or Hanukkah. If our family situation needs mending, then we also know that such holidays will cause tension. We also know that New Year’s Eve tends to involve great quantities of alcohol. This knowledge provides us with no excuse for facing our triggers without a plan. Fortunately, even the slightest time in recovery should give us the tools we need to remain safe from the threat of relapse.
First, we must plan to avoid situations that will cause us the most trouble. This means that we can’t go to New Year’s parties that feature alcohol. If possible, we should try to avoid friends or family members who cause us stress. Anything that constitutes a trigger warrants avoidance. Perhaps some addicts and alcoholics can enter these situations with impunity, but only with a great deal of sobriety under their belt. Newcomers should avoid triggers wherever possible. Make a list of other plans and stick to them, no matter how much your friends may pressure you to attend their holiday parties. You’ll know if you aren’t ready. And if you’re having doubts, then you already know the answer to that question.
Of course, some triggers may pop up without warning. In these cases, we must utilize our relapse prevention plan. Find an AA or NA meeting—even on holidays, most meetings should keep their doors open. Call your sponsor, or another member of your support network. Pray. Meditate. Read some recovery literature. You might even just spend some time with a trusted family member who knows about your recovery. Whatever you do, respond to your triggers in a healthy way. Because whether you feel like it or not, you already possess the necessary tools to stay sober. This realization should help you navigate the holidays with a much more positive attitude.
Try to Express Some Basic Gratitude
Staying positive during the holidays might present difficulties for some of us. Our family tensions, our financial struggles and our battles with anxiety or depression will all seem a bit heavier during a time of year often associated with mirth and merriment. The key to overcoming these negative influences may seem simple, but it works—simply focus on the positive instead.
This isn’t to say that we should just ignore our negative feelings altogether. But once we acknowledge them, we should remember where they’ll take us if we don’t right the ship immediately. Then, we must remember all of the reasons we have for expressing gratitude. First and foremost should be the fact that addiction hasn’t killed us. We went through the wringer and lived to tell the tale. And after working the 12 Steps for a time, we likely managed to gain back some of what we lost. Given our prior state of affairs, this should strike us as nothing short of miraculous.
We should also express gratitude for ourselves. This may sound arrogant, but really think about it. During active addiction, many of us missed holidays altogether. Perhaps we made plans with friends or family, yet cancelled because we found ourselves too intoxicated to show up. But if we can stay strong for 24 hours at a time, we no longer need to worry about letting down the people we love. We can show up for them this year, and bask in their company. Addiction often causes us to live in isolation, pitying ourselves for our loneliness when these feelings are actually of our own making. But recovery isn’t all about beating ourselves up for our character defects. We should also express gratitude for our strengths, and the ways in which we see ourselves growing. Others will see this, too. And their support will make our growth feel all the more spectacular.
Finally, remember the examples we listed at the beginning of this article. The food, the time with family, the music and the decorations. All of these things should provide us with sources of gratitude. The holidays can be a wonderful time of year—if only we allow ourselves to see them that way. We shouldn’t let them get us down. Instead, focus on the positive. Because the beauty of the holidays, like many things, will only last for so long. If we allow them to slip by, we’ll likely regret it.
Remember That Holidays Are Temporary
As cynical as it may sound, we must remember that holidays are simply days like any other. Yes, our routines change drastically. We may find ourselves with major travel plans, the likes of which may stoke excitement or stress—or even both. But as on any other day of the week, the sun will rise and set as always. And eventually, the holidays will end. Some may see this as unfortunate, wishing that they could forever bask in the joy of intimate time with family and friends. Others, however, may only feel gratitude when they are finally done with the whole ordeal.
Whether you feel more grateful for the memories of the holidays or for their eventual end, it’s important to remember that they won’t last forever. If you embrace the holidays, then it should be easy to make the most of them without resorting to drugs and alcohol. But if you’re one of those who dreads this time of year, you may need to convince yourself regularly that this too shall pass. Either way, a new year will soon begin. It will bring with it new memories, new joys, and new struggles. We must therefore try to remain strong throughout the holidays, so that we may begin our next cycle on the correct footing.
To prepare for this, you might consider starting your resolutions now. Begin by looking back over the previous year. What were your major struggles? If you suffered a relapse this year, you might consider what led up to it and how you can prevent this in the future. But even if you made it through the year without sacrificing your sobriety, you should spend some time considering your weaker moments. In this way, your resolutions will essentially become part of your relapse prevention plan.
With a bit of preparation and the proper mindset, you can begin the coming year on a positive note. There is simply no need to ruin our memories of these holidays by imbuing them with a sense of regret. As we make it through the holidays, one day at a time, we can choose to strengthen our recovery. We can choose to forge stronger bonds with those in our support network, taking solace in the fact that we are not alone. And when the new year rolls around, we can continue to lean on those who care about us.
How do you plan to stay sober over the holidays? What are your resolutions for the coming year? Feel free to share with us in the comments below.