This year has been hard on nearly everyone. People have struggled with pandemic-related issues like isolation, financial worry and overall stress since March. Political tensions and civil unrest have also played a role in the declining mental health of many Americans. Now, in addition to everything else, the stressful holiday season is upon us.
It can feel like a perfect storm, and people in recovery have another difficult layer added on top of all this stress — staying committed to sobriety. Fortunately, the holidays don’t have to be your breaking point. There are many ways to maintain your recovery during stressful times, but perhaps the best way to do so is to be prepared for what may come.
What Makes the Holidays Tough in Recovery
In this case, being prepared means understanding why the holidays can make sobriety tricky to navigate. If you are attending in-person gatherings, you may find yourself in situations where you commonly used substances, such as at a work party. People may ask why you’re refraining from substance use, and some may even try to pressure you into drinking or taking drugs. If you’re recovering from drug addiction, you may want to stay away from alcohol; it lowers inhibition and impairs decision-making, which can cause you to give in to pressure or cravings.
For many, the holidays can also bring negative feelings that may trigger a relapse. The stress of running errands, writing cards, visiting loved ones, buying the perfect gift and budgeting can easily become overwhelming. Some families are prone to arguments, so gatherings can be difficult. For others, the holidays can create bittersweet, nostalgic feelings — especially after a loved one has passed. In 2020 and perhaps beyond, there may also be feelings of isolation due to social distancing and other safety measures.
For newly sober individuals, accountability and support are often key for maintaining recovery. It can be difficult to cope with cravings and triggers while alone, especially when negative emotions are swirling. While it’s important to be prepared, it’s equally important to have strategies when these situations and feelings arise.
Ways To Get Through the Holidays Sober
Regardless of your plans for the holidays, some common approaches can help you through the tough moments. If you’re attending a gathering, here are some things you can do:
- Have an out: Before heading out to an event, it can help to think of a way to get out. If things become overwhelming — for instance, someone’s substance use is triggering you — you can use your plan to make a gracious exit. This is helpful for people who would rather not explain their true reason for leaving. Remember, you can share as much or as little as you want, but you never have to force yourself to stay.
- Have someone you trust: If you can, let someone at the event know about your situation. They can help you if you’re struggling; they might calm you down, go on a walk with you, drive you home or just talk. If there’s nobody like that at the event, you can also let someone in your support system know that you may reach out to them if things get overwhelming.
- Stand firm with your commitment: If someone’s goading you into having a drink or doing a drug, say no — don’t give in to peer pressure. If they ask why you’re abstaining, tell them whatever you’d like or tell them nothing at all. You owe no explanations.
- Stay home: Events can be full of triggers, and they may be difficult to navigate for people who are newly sober. If you think you may not be prepared to handle an event, you don’t need to force yourself to go.
Due to the pandemic, many are staying home for the holidays. This may cause people to feel like they’re missing out, and they may feel lonely, or like they’re overreacting. Being alone with thoughts like these can be risky, but there are a few things you can do to help stave off the feelings:
- Schedule virtual gatherings: Whether it’s through video chat or over the phone, you can still have fun and stay in touch with friends and family members virtually.
- Reach out for support: Make sure to fall back on your support system when things get tough. You may want to update your relapse prevention plan, increase your 12-step meeting attendance and take advantage of your rehab’s aftercare services.
- Keep yourself occupied: Boredom can be a trigger in itself. Fortunately, there’s an endless number of activities that can only be done around this time of year.
- Remember why you’re in recovery: You took this journey for a variety of reasons, and being healthy for your family and friends is likely one of them. Reflect on the progress you’ve made, and be proud of the person you’re working to become and the steps you’re actively taking each day. Though you may not see family and friends this season, you’re doing this to ensure you’ll be there for future holidays.
Giving Yourself the Gift of Treatment
If you or a loved one are struggling with substances or believe that your drug or alcohol use is becoming a problem, The Recovery Village Ridgefield can help. To increase people’s access to treatment, we offer telehealth services that connect you with licensed therapists from the comfort of your own home. Our caring representatives can also help you learn more about in-person treatment plans and programs that can work well for your needs. Contact us today to take the first step toward a healthier, happier, substance-free future.SOURCES:
- Panchal, Nirmita; et al. “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use.” Kaiser Family Foundation, August 21, 2020. Accessed December 10, 2020.
- Sloat, Sarah. “The 1 Step You Can Take To Protect Your Mental Health From Politics.” Inverse, October 25, 2020. Accessed December 10, 2020.
- Thompson, Dennis. “In a Pandemic-Stressed America, Protests Add to Mental Strain.” U.S. News & World Report, June 2, 2020. Accessed December 10, 2020.