The Holidays are here, and with it they bring a whole new level of stress. It doesn’t matter whether you are new in recovery, (though the first Christmas is a little overwhelming for many), or you have been sober a while. Traveling, presents, money, expectations (regularly unrealistic), and even the ghost of Christmas past can trigger people into a relapse.
It can feel like there is an intense pressure for everything to be perfect; and for us to always be jolly. When the reality is frequently far from it. Families can be dysfunctional, at the best of times. Add in being stuck in a house, with the extended version, for days at a time, and a crate load of booze. And the whole experience quickly becomes excruciating. Which can then make the idea of a drink seem like a good idea… “you know, just to take the edge off”. It’s not! Think how hard you worked to get where you are.
Whether you are struggling with family commitments, not really in the festive spirit, missing familiar routines and faces, or worried about picking up; here are some tips to help you protect your sobriety this Christmas, and throughout the holiday season.
At this time of year, or during any stressful period, it is imperative that you stay close to the fellowship or other peer-support network. Keep on top of your recovery program, keep up with your routine, and use your safety net.
Staying in touch with your therapist, sponsor, and other fellowship friends, keeps you connected and accountable. Stick with familiar habits, your daily readings, phone calls and journal entries, this will keep you grounded. If you are travelling, check out what meetings are available ahead of time. If you stay at home, keep up with your regular meetings, or find an online zoom group you can attend from wherever you are.
We all want Christmas to be like a Hallmark movie, when in fact it is often frustrating, exhausting, and expensive. It is always better if we don’t have too high expectations of anything. Remember we can’t control anyone else, we can only manage our own actions, and reactions.
Yes, it is a jolly time of year, but that doesn’t mean we have to be happy 100% of the time. It is okay to feel a little low at times, but often it passes, especially if we follow tried and practised suggestions, like speaking with a recovery buddy. Yes, the family do all come together to celebrate, but that doesn’t mean there will be no arguments or bickering, even in the closest, happiest of families, being closeted together often leads tempers to fray.
Set boundaries. Whether it is on your time, how much you are spending on gifts, or who you want to spend it with, decide what is best for you, and stick to it. The important people in your life will respect you and understand.
Where possible, avoid triggers. Limit your time around stressful situations and difficult people, and if in doubt don’t do it. One of the easiest ways to stay safe and to protect yourself from unwanted temptations and cravings, is to avoid the people, places and things that are dangerous for your sobriety.
It isn’t always possible, especially around the holidays when people haven’t seen each other for some time and alcohol is involved, so it’s best to limit your exposure. Stick with family and friends who are supportive of your recovery, and who will extricate you if things get too much.
Another tip is to be useful, find jobs you can assist with – keeping yourself occupied keeps your mind off cravings, and stops you reliving past festive disasters. It also gives you a good excuse to escape to another room if people start asking awkward questions.
Learning how to say no is a huge part of addiction recovery, especially for those of us who are chronic people pleasers. But at this time of year, it could just save your life. No office party or family commitment is worth risking a relapse over. If you think that it could be dangerous to your sobriety, (for instance it is usually a boozy affair, or there will be drugs), then don’t go. The friends and family members that really care about you will understand.
Maybe it is simply that you don’t want to go, the amazing thing about sobriety is you have choices, and if you really don’t want to attend that event, you don’t have to. This also rings true for over committing yourself, don’t say yes to everything and then run like a headless chicken from one engagement to the next, not really getting a moment to enjoy any of them. Choose what you want to do, have a plan, and stick to it.
And remember just saying “no” is enough. You don’t have to provide an explanation, or an excuse. Just politely decline any invitations you don’t want to keep, and relish in your freedom.
Self-care is doing anything that enriches your life, doesn’t diminish your energy but gives you a boost – either physically or emotionally. It is anything that you purposefully do (or refrain from doing) with your own well-being in mind.
This means making sure you take time for yourself. In addition to looking after your body’s basic needs, food, water, sleep, and a little gentle exercise. If your body is physically well-nourished then it is much easier to ward off, not only the inevitable seasonal cold and flu bugs, but also mental triggers, and it helps keep the black cloud of doom from descending.
Make sure you eat and hydrate regularly. Feelings of hunger can cloud judgement and cause you to make irrational choices, and in very early recovery being thirsty can often be mistaken as a craving for alcohol. Dehydration can cause real damage to the body at any time or age, so drink lots of non-alcoholic fluids. (Though it is best to limit the caffeine as this can interfere with sleep.)
Sleep, we need somewhere between 6 and 9 hours of good sleep per night. This enables our bodies to recharge and restore, for cells to regenerate, and to give our bodies and brains time to recover from whatever they have been put through. Exercise is another important factor; it keeps our hearts healthy and can help if we have trouble sleeping. Something as simple as a one hour walk in the fresh air, is a great way to unwind, clear the mind, get some peace and quiet, and it is completely free.
Which brings us onto nourishing the spirit, just as important as the body. Our minds and souls need to be nurtured and to have time and space to recharge. It is vital to take time out to relax and give yourself the same kindness, consideration, and care that you would give to a loved one or friend.
Take the time to do something you enjoy, and which benefits you. Give yourself the space to have some quiet time, try a walk with the dog, listen to some music, enjoy a soothing bath, watch the tv or read a favourite book. For some intense relaxation try a guided meditation or mindfulness exercise.
It is not just the massive spike in alcohol and drug use during this period. Mental health disorders don’t take a seasonal break, depression is often at its worst during the cold, dark, winter months, and anxiety can be through the roof when having to deal with everything that the season entails, or simply at the idea of it.
If you need help, think about getting it during the holidays. For some people it may be the safest way to spend the season; and it could be the best gift you give both yourself and your family. When the reality of the idyllic picture-perfect Christmas is more likely to mean drunkenness, arguments, and upset; or loneliness, isolation, and suicidal thoughts, then getting away from it all, and getting yourself help, might prove to be the best option.
Here at our luxury residential rehab centre, located on the beautiful island of Ibiza we can help. We treat a variety of mental health conditions including alcoholism, drug addiction, prescription medication dependency, process addictions (eating disorders, gambling, and codependency), anxiety, and depression.