Tis’ the season! Holiday seasons can be notorious for instigating relapse. Whether you do or do not get along with your family, it can be a difficult time. Some people have very dysfunctional families and are prone to illicit strong emotional responses. Unhealthy anger can be such a volatile emotion that it leads to relapse, and we all know families can push those buttons like none other.
No matter what you celebrate during the holidays, it is important for people who are sober to make it through this time without relapsing. Let’s attempt to answer, “How do I stay sober for the holidays? What should I do for the holidays? How do should I act around my family during the holidays?”. Amongst this jolly, LED-lit season, many stories exist of the anti-clause, Claude Claus or Krumpas, attempting to destroy the holiday spirit with harbored negativity or reawakened family feuds. Staying sober during the holidays is not about avoiding these difficult emotions, but rather dealing with them in a way that enhances the opportunities to remain sober. Instead of the anti-clause, we can help keep the spirit and foster relationships with our loved ones.
How do I stay sober for the holidays?
First and foremost, are you in a position to spend the holidays with your family? Perhaps you are in rehab during the holidays and you want to leave against medical advice to see your family. You haven’t seen them in ‘X’ amount of years and “have” to leave to see them. I promise you, one last holiday away from them is the best gift you can give. Not only is it likely they want you to remain in treatment, but it is the greatest opportunity to spend a lifetime of holidays with them by remaining in recovery.
If you have decided that you are in a position to spend time with the family this holiday season. Ask yourself the important questions, “Does anyone in my family drink? Does anyone do drugs? Who is likely to antagonize me? What feelings do I feel when I think about going to spend the holidays with my family? Knowing all of this, what are the chances of relapsing or experiencing emotional upset?” With proper reflection, you can start to formulate a plan.
Families that use together lose together. Addiction takes lives, it’s a sad yet simple truth. If you have formulated that your family is riddled with people struggling with addiction, it is perhaps not a grand idea to go and spend the holidays with them. Build your own family or go to a recovery event (yes, they have one for the holidays, they always do,) but above all else: BE HONEST with yourself and do what is best for your own recovery.
- Triggering emotions (i.e. Guilt, shame, remorse, anger, anxiety, sadness, depression, euphoria, feeling less than, feeling more than, irritability, agitation etc.) are all “emotional relapses.” Emotions are the first sign of a relapse, being able to identify these emotions and do something that contradicts these emotions is vital.
- Triggering thoughts (i.e. Maybe I can just have one, it’s the holidays! Everyone else is doing it. They offered it to me so it must be okay. My addiction wasn’t all bad, there were good times too! I deserve to drink with my family. It would feel so good. I could deal with so-and-so if I just had a little buzz. I’m not an addict. No one believes I’m sober so I mightiest well prove them right.) are all obsessive thoughts, euphoric recalling, and justifications that the addict mind tries to convince our sober minds to partake in the festivities. These usually stem from emotional responses. Identify these thoughts and do something about it. Call your social network, call your sponsor, tell your family how you are feeling, walk away, go to a meeting (don’t tell me you can’t, we all have zoom now), get some fresh air, yell out loud ‘NO! and fight the voice inside your head, distract yourself — whatever it takes to get out of this stage go and do it.
- Triggering actions (i.e. Drink in hand, joint in lips, pills crushed up, or syringe locked and loaded) means it’s not too late to put it down. Many times, drug seeking behavior is obvious to addicts and the thoughts of “I shouldn’t, I can’t, and I know what will happen” are not enough to stop our feet or hands from moving towards a relapse. It’s vital to not allow our emotions and thoughts to get us to this point. At all costs don’t get to this point. Hand over your wallet, your keys, your phone, whatever it takes to keep yourself safe.
Have A Plan:
- To Have a Buddy: Have a sober buddy!
- To Call: Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! No really have a phone list handy in case those demons start knocking. It’s the holidays, yes, but dial that number anyways.
- To Join a Meeting: Where are the closest meetings/times of zoom meetings?
- To Be Held Accountable: Write out a list of triggers and warning signs, then hand it to someone in your family that you trust. Include thoughts, emotions, conversions, and behaviors that could signal them to check on you.
- To Leave: Are you able to remove yourself from the function if necessary? Where will you go? What will you do?
- To Stay Calm: Someone is instigating a reaction. Practice remaining calm and using a neutral voice, but do not, by all means, engage the individual with anger. Instead validate their emotions, set boundaries, ask yourself how you can bring peace to this situation, then tell them you understand their concern and that you would like to talk about it after the holidays. Respond with kindness, serenity and love, in a respectful manner that will undoubtedly provoke a new response or at least dial the tone down. If it’s not possible to come to an understanding and you feel yourself losing control, you have permission to walk away and talk about it later.
- To Keep Your Routines: Yes, it is the holidays. No, this is not a holiday from the routines that have helped you thus far.
- To Announce That You Are in Recovery: Give your family a reason to celebrate – sober.
- To Talk: Talk about your recovery and share what you are doing to remain sober.
- To Educate: Educate people on addiction and what it really means to be an addict.
- To Be Present: Whether you pray, meditate or something similar, take the time to step aside when you need it and refocus yourself to your present goal: stay sober.
Revisit Your Decision:
BE HONEST with yourself. It’s okay to be alone or to miss out on the festivities this year. Perhaps it’s just not a good idea this moment in time and that’s okay. If you don’t have the emotional strength to participate, acknowledge that staying home is the strongest thing you can do. It’s not a weakness to set boundaries, it’s powerful.
- Find recovery events you can attend.
- Spend the holidays with friends that are not celebrating with family.
- Watch holiday movies.
- Video chat into the celebrations.
- Reach out to people.
- Do what you need to do for you.
Under no circumstances should you put yourself in a dangerous environment. When it comes down to it, the holidays are an annual period of time constructed by centuries of religious tradition that result in spending copious amounts of time with family – for some of us that reality equates to an unhealthy environment that may cause us to relapse. The best gift you can give yourself this holiday season is looking out for your own emotional wellness.
How do I help my loved one stay sober for the holidays?
Perhaps you have invited a loved one who is in early recovery or in active addiction to a holiday function and you don’t know what to do, let’s breakdown what the difference is and how you can be a support system.
It’s the holidays and you have invited someone who is in early recovery to a celebration because you love them and want to spend quality time with them. This is not the time to bring up the pain, suffering, and distrust that may or may not exist between the two of you. There may be scenarios that come up that foster strong emotional responses. If you are unable to deescalate the situation, it is okay to ask to talk about it later. This is the time to just love them as much as possible. Another person’s addiction is not within your control. You did not cause it, you cannot control it, and you cannot cure it, but what you can do is empower the person in your life by…
- Abstaining from drinking or doing drugs.
- Never offering your loved one the substance they are addicted to.
- Being patient and understanding. Addiction is a disease not a choice.
- Not pushing too hard, be sensitive.
- Attending Al-anon meetings to understand how to help, rather than enable your loved one.
- Pursuing family therapy, which can be very helpful to mend broken bonds.
- Giving space. Sometimes some space is helpful, even during the holidays
- Celebrating the small victories. It may seem like your loved is not trying to recover, but even months into sobriety something as small as getting out of bed and taking a shower can be a major victory.
This scenario is not a safe situation. Something as simple as an unattended expensive item like an iPhone, jewelry or new holiday present can be a life-threatening risk to a loved one currently struggling with addiction. If your loved one has an active opiate addiction and will be attending a holiday celebration, you may want to consider hiring a Narcan. Other ways to mitigate this situation are to…
- Set firm and clear boundaries.
- Do not enable them in anyway.
- Have treatment options available to them during or directly after the holidays.
- Educate yourself on addiction.
- Give love as is safe and as you are able. Addiction can be profoundly lonely. Receiving positive emotions, like love, in a situation where an addict cannot use can help on the journey to starting recovery.
Signs of Addiction
If you are unsure if your loved one is experiencing active addiction, educate yourself on the warning signs that they may be using. If you can check off more than 5 items on the below list, you may want to consider an intervention.
Track marks from needle injections as small holes by veins occasionally bruised as well
- Oily or greasy skin
- Spending long amounts of time in the bathroom
- Needing alcohol in the morning
- Being able to consume enormous amounts of alcohol
- Shaking or trembling hands
- Lots of weight loss or weight gain
- Losing jobs, failing grades, or frequent lost loves
- Dirty clothes/blood stains
- Lack of sleep/too much sleep
- Selling or losing possessions of value
- Missing items from your house of value
- Late night excursions
- Nodding off to sleep
- Itchy skin
- Red eyes/bags under eyes
- Irrational anger/irritability
- Overly talkative/euphoric
- Cleaning too much
- Grinding teeth
- Constantly excusing themselves
- Asking for money/rides
- Inability to focus
Staying sober during the holidays can be very challenging, but it is possible! By avoiding triggers, relying on your support network, and maintaining the relationships and coping strategies that encourage your sobriety and bring you joy, you can make small decisions that make a big difference. The choices you make in moments like these determine your future. It’s not an easy path, but it’s an incredible one. Don’t give up!
At Oregon Trail Recovery, we’re here to offer support that’s free of judgment and full of compassion to help you make positive changes so you can live a happier, healthier life. Call us at (855) 537-0067. Wherever you are on your recovery journey, we’re here to help you.