During the holidays, we are overwhelmed with time considerations, family traditions and the realization that almost everyone around us is just as stressed as we are. Additionally, we are surrounded by the societal expectations of “parties galore.” Office parties, family parties and New Year parties … many, if not all, full of alcohol. Even people without the disease of alcoholism/addiction can be stressed during this time of year, so it is no surprise that those in recovery are especially vulnerable to the anxiety of this season and to relapse.
Maintaining active recovery is vital at all times of the year, but putting recovery first should definately be a priority during the holidays. It is not rude or selfish to stop and take care of yourself—even if it means the tree isn’t trimmed and the presents haven’t been wrapped. To hold back personal truths, or compromise boundaries in an effort to please, is risking more than just feelings. Almost all recovery programs suggest we remind ourselves, “This too shall pass,”—and yes, the holidays too shall pass. The question is: Will your recovery still be intact once they do? The disease of addiction doesn’t take time off during holidays; it flat doesn’t care.
After 30-plus years’ experience working with youth, adults, families and communities at Palmer Drug Abuse Program (PDAP) in San Antonio, addressing substance use and related issues—and knowing the issues I faced once I obtained recovery in 1981—here are helpful hints I give my clients and their families to help them maintain sobriety during the holidays:
• Make recovery a priority over everything. The greatest gift we can give our loved ones is to remain healthy and sane.
• HALT! Don’t get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired—and remember to stop
• If old traditions trigger you, then start new traditions.
• Count your blessings every morning and every night.
• Go to meetings and access your support, regardless of how busy you are. PDAP will be open on Christmas and hosts a New Year’s event to enable ongoing recovery during the holidays.
• If you host a Party, consider having an alcohol-free event. (Yes, it is possible to have fun without alcohol.)
• Remember that not everyone goes to (or needs) a program. Many people simply will not understand. Therefore, it is YOUR responsibility to protect your recovery.
• It’s OK to excuse yourself from “slippery situations.” Even if you appear rude, it’s better than what active chemical dependency (or co-dependency) will make you look like.
• If you are in a “have to” situation, it’s helpful to have a sparkling soda or a Coke with a cherry in your hands. This keeps people from offering you an alcoholic drink.
• Volunteer! Finding purpose in your past is one of the most rewarding results that recovery can bring.
• Remember that the disease of addiction and its ensuing chaos doesn’t care what day it is; your recovery shouldn’t either.
Frye is a program director and licensed chemical dependency counselor for Rise Recovery and Palmer Drug Abuse Program (PDAP), riserecovery.org, pdap.com