The holiday season is upon us, and many of us may find ourselves dealing with family drama and dysfunction, financial stress, and temptations and opportunities to use or drink. For those who are new to recovery, this time of year can be especially challenging. Just like the Grinch that stole Christmas, the potential for relapse also threatens to steal the true spirit of the holidays and more. Relapse usually begins with victimizing and irrational thoughts and the holiday season has a tendency to surface and sensationalize them.
In order to prepare ourselves, it is important to know how to prevent relapse thinking and behavior during the holidays. Here are 5 tips on how to maintain both sanity and serenity and prevent the relapse Grinch from stealing your holiday spirit.
1. Stay connected.
Many people travel during the holidays, take time off work, spend days with family, leave the university for weeks at a time and become otherwise unavailable. As such, those who are struggling during the holidays often feel very alone.
Additionally, many holiday festivities involve social gatherings and parties stocked with alcohol. For those in early recovery, this can be especially challenging. Relapse thinking often kicks in at this time and tells us that “one drink to celebrate the holidays with family and friends won’t hurt.” Of course, this cannot be more wrong.
That is why it is especially important to stay connected to a recovery community, sponsor, and/or counselor during the holiday season. Creating events like Friendsgiving—a gathering for friends similar to the traditional November holiday of Thanksgiving—and other holiday-inspired, community-oriented festivities is one way to help you stay connected to sober friends. It can also keep the spirit of togetherness alive for those without or unable to be with family.
2. See the magic.
Most people will agree that children seem to truly enjoy the holiday season more than anyone. They simply see the magic in it all. This is a gift that, as adults, we seem to lose as we move along life’s journey. Issues with family, grief, and time spent in active addiction can all chip away at the magic. Of course, this is only if we allow it.
Magic is never gone from our lives. It’s always there, and the holiday season is the best time to attempt to reclaim it. Looking at children for the “how-to” is one of the best ways. Just observe them lining up to sit on Santa’s lap (or better yet, stand in line with them), watch classic children’s holiday movies, or attend a holiday storybook reading to see and feel the magic of the holidays and life itself.
3. Heal the past.
The holiday season has an uncanny way of surfacing unresolved issues, especially those that have to do with family. It could be that for some, there’s no better time than the holidays to start working on these issues. Whether with a counselor or through self-help books, attempting to heal the past rather than run from it can prevent the overwhelming desire to find unhealthy ways to escape the surfacing emotions and memories.
4. Be objective.
Though issues that occur with family members (or those that occur due to a lack of them) feel and often are very personal, it is best to try to be objective during the holidays in order to avoid relapse thinking and behavior.
This requires stepping back and simply observing the dynamic in which you exist, rather than engaging or giving in to self-sabotage. Use this as an exercise of mindfulness, and to prevent over-personalization and irrational responses by allowing you an opportunity to simply be an observer, rather than an active participant in the dysfunction.
5. Get help.
The holiday season can be extremely difficult for many, especially those who have no family or are unable to be with them. Though the aforementioned steps offer ways to get through the holidays, the pain is often still overwhelming. When this is the case, taking the steps on your own is sometimes not enough.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotion or a sense of loneliness, do not hesitate to reach out to a counselor, life or recovery coach, or even crisis hotlines, which are available any day of the year. No matter what steps you decide to take to keep the relapse Grinch from stealing your holiday spirit, remember there is so much for you to celebrate this year. You’re alive, you have a recovery community (even here, on this site) that cares about you and because you are sober, you have yourself. You’re definitely not alone, and the potential for a bright future remains yours to fulfill. For some of us, that simple reality is already quite the holiday miracle.