The holiday season is a time for high alert with regard to relapse, overdose, and suicide. Though it’s advertised as the “happiest time of the year,” we in the counseling and addictions fields know this can be a very lonely time for many. And, with regard to those of us in recovery, we are all too familiar with the unfortunate statistics surrounding the holiday season.
As such, it is important to know how to keep relapse thought patterns and behavior away over the holidays.
1. Stay connected to the recovery community.
Throughout the entire holiday season and the remaining days of the year, it is vital to stay connected to your recovery community. As stated, this is a significant part of the daily practice of recovery. However, it is never more important than during the holiday season, as this can be a trying time of year for everyone.
Keep phone numbers and social media information for those in your recovery community, so you can easily access someone within the community if you find yourself in need. But, don’t wait until you are in need to connect. It is truly necessary for your success in recovery to maintain connections with your recovery community at all times.
If you cannot attend regular recovery meetings in your local area throughout the holiday season as a result of travel, try to locate meetings or recovery communities in the areas you travel to. If that is impossible or too uncomfortable for you, arrange Skype or FaceTime meetings with your own recovery groups or individuals from your recovery community.
2. Reach out to professionals.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to individuals in your recovery community—Twelve-Step sponsors, recovery therapists, addiction specialists, counselors or other helping professionals. If you are struggling and in need of assistance through the holiday season, you are not alone. This is a difficult time for many. As such, you can be rest assured there are helping professionals willing, ready and happy to help.
We are all in this together – this thing called life and the process of recovery. We may be on our own individual journeys, but we all need help sometimes. And, if this is your time, reach out.
3. Take advantage of support systems available to you.
Nothing makes us feel better than to gather together with loved ones. If you don’t have family or are unable to be with them (due to travel, financial or family dynamics issues, etc.), plug yourself in with your recovery community.
Contact your local recovery group or reach out to the sober community. Find out what’s being offered by way of holiday gatherings for the recovery community. And, if you are unable to find something specifically for recovery groups, consider organizing a gathering. If nothing else, reach out to others within your community who might also be in need of company or request to spend time with them during the holiday.
Sober communities provide just that community. As such, take advantage and gather together with the recovery family.
4. Make sure you have a plan (and a plan B) in case things get tough.
Be sure to have a plan for the worst-case scenario. Of course, that is not to say you should predict disaster. However, with regard to relapse prevention, it is always best to hope for the best and plan for the worst.
As such, have a plan for any specific relapse triggers you might encounter, whether you plan to be with family or will be gathering together with friends. Certainly, have a plan for any situation that finds you alone on the holiday. Remember, though you are learning to love yourself and enjoy your own company over anyone else’s, it is necessary to have a plan in place in case the solitude becomes an unexpected trigger.
And, if you already have a plan, go ahead and make a plan B. It never hurts to have a backup when it comes to life or death situations like recovery versus relapse.
5. Designate an emergency contact.
Whether it’s a friend in your recovery community, a Twelve-Step sponsor, recovery coach or counselor, be sure to designate a 911 person to contact in the event of a recovery emergency. A recovery emergency includes but is not limited to intense cravings, desires to contact ex-dealers, rationalizing relapse thinking, isolation (voluntary or otherwise), anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts.
Basically, if you are struggling and finding it difficult to hold on, you need to contact someone who is qualified (via personal or professional experience) to assist and support you through it. Designating a 911 person in advance (before you need them) prepares that individual for the possibility of your call and allows them the opportunity to be sure they are on alert, in case you need them. Just knowing someone is there, whether you actually have to reach out or not, is often all the comfort you need.
Though the holidays typically bring about a lot of excitement and joy, it is often a bittersweet experience. And, for some, it’s not sweet at all. Regardless of the category you find yourself in, be sure to keep these steps and your plan in place to keep a relapse away this holiday season.