The holidays, ideally, serve as a time for festivity, fun social gatherings, and thankfulness. But for many individuals in recovery, it’s a time wrought with cravings and triggers, encounters family dysfunction, stress, and pressure to meet exceptionally high expectations. And this year is unique due to COVID-19 and the many other necessary considerations that revolve around social event-planning and activities.
Many of these factors can make it difficult for anyone to stay sober over the season, but this may be far more challenging for anyone in recovery or struggling to overcome an addiction.
A Note on COVID-19: If you do choose to attend social events such as holiday parties or family gatherings, please do your part and wear a mask as much as possible, use hand sanitizer, practice social distancing, and follow guidelines put forth by state or federal government.
That said, the following includes several tips that can help individuals stay sober and safe and on the most stable path throughout the holidays.
Identify and Address Potential Stressors Associated with Social Gatherings in Advance
At some point during the holidays, most individuals must deal with family, which can cause a significant amount of anxiety and stress for several reasons. Family time may be associated with a history of abuse, neglect or trauma, bad memories, conflicting opinions, unfair judgments, and high expectations. Despite good intentions, many holiday family gatherings are rife with stress boiling under the surface, waiting to erupt.
Knowing what to expect before the holidays are upon us and how you plan to address issues that can arise may be vital to staying strong and avoiding triggers. Moreover, just because you’re sober doesn’t mean everything is going to be perfect. You will likely have to deal with many of the same stressful situations you always have, and this time, you have to be prepared to do it sober.
However, if the thought of having to stay sober during this time is daunting, remember there is nothing wrong with politely declining family events in place of other COVID-safe and sober activities. Your sobriety needs to be prioritized, and if loved ones don’t understand this, that’s on them.
Steer Clear of Work-Related Events
Given the recommended guidelines and restrictions the Centers of Control and Prevention has put forth in the size, locations, and details of gatherings, participation in the traditional work-related parties may be unlikely. However, if you have been thinking about attending such an event, please consider some of the following tips.
Holiday parties thrown by employers can be rife with temptations. Employees have to navigate the mingling process with coworkers and supervisors using an appropriate amount of friendliness while also respecting boundaries. Combine that with alcohol, which is served at many of these events, and results, at worst, could be disastrous.
While many employees feel obligated to attend these parties, skipping out might not be a significant problem in many cases, or it might be prudent to limit your time. Sometimes it’s appropriate to be completely honest with employers and coworkers, and other times it’s a good idea to keep substance abuse problems private or on a “need to know” basis.
In either case, it is essential to put sobriety first. To achieve this, you may need to avoid or limit time in an environment(s) where alcohol or drugs are readily accessible and consumed by many. If this is the case, you are best off to identify how to deal with this situation diplomatically beforehand without putting sobriety in harm’s way.
Prepare to Deal With Financial Issues
Whether it’s for gifts, gatherings, food, drinks, gas, or other travel costs, there are often many extra expenses that can be incurred during the holidays. If you are on a fixed budget, the added costs may be concerning and cause you stress.
To help with this, make a budget, and devise ways to cut corners regarding spending or earn a little extra, if possible. Also, keep in mind that this year you might not be spending as much money on drugs and alcohol and that in and of itself may release a bit of financial burden.
If cash flow continues to be a significant problem, find ways to create or obtain relatively inexpensive gifts for loved ones or coworkers, and be honest about your financial issues with others.
Find Solutions By Focusing on Support
Whether you are traveling (which with COVID-19 may be ill-advised) or staying relatively close to home, many need to commit to attending support meetings, even if these are online, such as AA. Moreover, if going to meetings aren’t possible for some reason, perhaps related to social distancing, give an AA sponsor or sober friend heads up for a phone call for more support.
Set Boundaries in Advance
If you have dangerous influences that you may have to deal with, it’s a good idea to be proactive and set your boundaries before stressful events unfold. Identify individuals whom you should avoid entirely or can only handle for a brief amount of time. It might also be helpful to come up with a semi-scripted conversation for establishing necessary boundaries with others.
Identify Alternative Activities
Participation in other healthy activities may be relevant for both family gatherings or staying alone regardless of the situation. Games, crafts, decorating, cooking, and watching movies/tv are among the many ways you can stay busy during events that would otherwise facilitate drug or alcohol use.
Binge-watching television shows marathons at home is an excellent way to have an enjoyable time and avoid unnecessary temptations. You can have a limited amount of other people over to watch (and possibly stream) your favorite film or television show with you throughout the season.
Don’t Neglect Self-Care and Mindfulness
Do not neglect healthy and mindful rituals that can help you stay busy and grounded, avoid relapse triggers, and deal with cravings as they arise throughout the day. It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or New Year’s Day—engaging in self-care is crucial to assuring that your recovery comes first.
Most people in recovery are already aware of what this involves. For many, it’s a combination of exercise, hobbies, healthy eating, meditation, yoga, and taking a daily inventory of why maintaining sobriety is not only vital but necessitated.
It is also critical to keep living in the present moment when sobriety occurs and is sustained. Staying busy and patiently waiting for cravings to wane or cope appropriately is key to every individual’s recovery experience. You can get through the holidays one step at a time rather than feeling dread about the upcoming days and weeks.
Getting Help for Addiction
There are many ways to endure the holidays while still curbing cravings, avoiding triggers, and keeping sobriety in check. But should you find yourself continuing to struggle, you shouldn’t blame yourself or feel ashamed—just know that professional help and support is available for you.
Addiction is a chronic and potentially devastating disease, but you don’t have to battle it alone. Just Believe Recovery offers comprehensive, state-of-the-art programs with a full spectrum of care, including detox, psychotherapy, counseling, group support, and much more.