10 Tips to Get You Through the Holidays on Your Journey to Recovery [BLOG]

Family celebration outside in the backyard. Barbecue party.

For many, the holidays are looked forward to as the most wonderful time of the year. However, for many it is also a time that is loaded with expectations that can sometimes be overwhelming. The expectations to make a good impression at a family get-together, having to prepare enough food for everyone at the dinner table, making sure the propane tank is full for the grill, and the list goes on. On any given year, this list can be challenging to navigate, but for someone in recovery it can seem like an unachievable task. The good news is – it isn’t! 

There are many things you can do to help. The holidays are full of pleasant cravings, and we want to help you keep it that way. By using the following tips, you can help yourself do just that. 

  1. Know Your Triggers: Depending on where you are in your recovery, you have started making a list of things you notice trigger urges. While you know how to avoid these things, holidays are a time of many unpredictable things, especially in social situations. Do not be afraid to ask about certain triggers to trusted friends and family members attending or hosting events you may attend. Watch for triggers that correspond to the acronym HALT – hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. 
  2. Be Prepared: Most of us have been in an awkward situation with a nosey person who asks too many questions. Try to have answers prepared ahead of time. Do not dwell on a “perfect” answer, as these do not exist. However, having a few things prepared keeps you from being taken off guard and becoming stressed, which can be triggering. 
  3. Ask Ahead of Time: If you are planning to attend an event that you are not hosting, do not be afraid to ask ahead of time if there will be any drugs, alcohol, or any other activities that are triggering for you. Also, do not be afraid to ask ahead of time who is on the guest list. You are doing fantastic on your road to recovery and the last thing you want is to run into someone who still has a substance use disorder they have not addressed.
  4. You Do Not Have to RSVP: If you are making plans and you know there will be triggering people or substances, don’t go. It is human to think “it is only this one time of year,” but you are aware of what one time can turn into. We know this is easier said than done, but you can do it! Never feel obligated to say yes just because you get an invitation. If it is a friend or family member you would like to visit with, see if you could meet up at another time. 
  5. Invite a Friend: Invite an accountability buddy. Even if they are not on the initial invite list, ask if they may attend as your plus one. Having someone there to check in with or to leave with, is never a bad idea. This also allows you to have someone to have your back if you are not ready to go out solo yet.
  6. Do Not Be Afraid to Say NO: You do not have to make it to every event or get-together. Prioritize and be sure you make yourself and your sobriety your number one priority. Sometimes, less is more. Do not feel like you must meet other people’s expectations to be there or to do things.  Give yourself permission to take breaks and relax. And always remember you do not have to wait until you reach your breaking point to say no.
  7. Keep Busy: You may not have any cook outs or parties to attend, but that may still be too much. If this is the case, try doing something else. Volunteer to serve meals on the 4th, volunteer to help with local church programs during the holiday, go to an extra meeting if needed or look at what community events are going on that you could attend. Anything to keep from being alone and giving in to the urges that come with it. 
  8. Don’t “Create” Stress: One thing that parents often do around this time of year is add stress to themselves by worrying about what events to take your children to, especially when it comes to fireworks! The truth is, your kids will not even know they are missing anything if you go as a family and watch from the outskirts of town. Or, choose to put off a few fireworks in the back yard.
  9. Know Your Limitations: This time of year is normally associated with being close with family. However, all of us are not lucky enough to have the family off the front of the Sears catalog cover. If being around your family, or at least certain family members, is too much, don’t. You may want to attend a family function to make mom or grandma happy, but if it is going to do harm for your recovery, find another way. Work to find another time to see the positive family members and focus on your recovery. You must think about you, and you have every right to.
  10. Never Be Afraid to Reach Out: Lastly, while we know that everyone is busy around the holiday, that is not an excuse to not reach out when you need support. Make sure you know when and where meetings are taking place over the holiday weekend and be ready to go if needed. Always remember that YOU ARE IMPORTANT and that you have every right to ask for support this time of year regardless of how busy someone else may seem.

While we usually think of the word stress as meaning “a state of mental or emotional strain resulting from difficult circumstances”, it also is a noun meaning “pressure or tension exerted on a material object”. Around the 4th of July season both of these two definitions often get melted into one where we develop emotional and mental strain over pressure put on ourselves over making appearances at the family BBQ. This year, remember to put yourself first and focus on maintaining your mental health. Most importantly, if you are struggling do not be afraid or embarrassed to reach out and ask for help. You have made it this far, just wait to see what wonderful things are coming your way!

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