The holidays are often associated with fun and excitement, but they can be stressful, lonely and difficult for people in recovery. Between holiday parties, family dinners and work events, it can feel like alcohol is built into the holiday season. This time of the year is also when people tend to see old friends and family who may be associated with past drug and alcohol use. These triggers can add up and increase the risk for relapse.
Whether you are new to recovery or have been sober for many years, it’s important to be extra cautious about your health and well-being during the holiday season. Below are ten tips that will boost your recovery this time of year.
1. Follow H.A.L.T. to ensure your needs are met.
HALT is an acronym that stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. It’s an important tool that reminds you to take care of yourself.
- Hungry. Make it a point to eat regular meals no matter how busy you get. This will keep your blood sugar levels stable and prevent you from feeling hungry or thirsty, which can be confused for a drug craving.
- Angry. To avoid feeling angry or irritable, be sure that you’re practicing stress management. Get outside this holiday season to decrease stress and increase feel-good endorphins in the brain.
- Lonely. Create a list of people who support you. These people will be there for you when you need it. Aside from close family and friends, also consider your sponsor and AA/NA group members.
- Tired. The holiday season is busy, and you might spend more time out. Be sure you’re still getting enough sleep at night – around 8-9 hours.
2. Create and introduce new traditions.
If you’ve always spent the winter holidays drinking and attending parties, you might be unsure of how to celebrate. To prevent falling back into old habits, start new traditions that do not involve drugs or alcohol. Spend a weekend ice skating, decorating Christmas cookies or watching holiday movies. Doing something different will help the holidays feel new again.
3. Plan your holiday obligations wisely.
Too often, people feel obligated to do things that aren’t good for them. The reality is that you shouldn’t feel forced to do anything. Attend events where you feel comfortable and bring along a trusted friend, or at least your own vehicle so that you can leave when you want.
4. Create an exit strategy.
An exit strategy is like a backup plan. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, follow this plan. We also recommend practicing saying “no” so that you’re more comfortable and confident in real life situations.
Below are a few exit strategies to use when you’re feeling uncomfortable.
- Slip out quietly. You don’t have to give anyone an explanation. Your recovery comes first.
- Identify your reason to leave. If you feel more comfortable saying something, identify your reason to leave (e.g., babysitter at home, dog needs to be walked) and say goodbye early.
- Set the stage. Let others know that you can only stay a short time. This sets the stage for an early exit.
- Plan with your partner. This only works if you’re on the same page as your partner, as you don’t want them to feel used. As long as they agree, you can use them as a reason to leave early. Maybe they’re not feeling well or have to get up early for work.
5. Volunteer your time to a good cause.
Volunteering is one of the best things you can do for your recovery. It refreshes the mind, changes your perspective and encourages you to be more grateful. Plus, you can find a sense of purpose in helping others. This time of year, volunteer opportunities are plentiful. Find your calling, whether it’s serving meals at a soup kitchen or walking dogs at the shelter.
6. Practice gratitude daily.
Having gratitude helps you develop positive thinking that can protect you from relapse. Fortunately, November paves the way for grateful thoughts and actions. Each day, write out a few things that you are grateful for. When you do this every day, it becomes a part of your life. If you’re feeling down, look at your list and remember the things you are thankful for.
7. Keep on top of your meetings.
Don’t stop going to your AA or NA meetings. In fact, you may have to increase your attendance if you’re feeling vulnerable. If you plan on traveling for the holiday season, consider attending a meeting in the new location. Also, stay connected to your group by bringing along a recovery book or downloading a sober app.
8. Exercise most days of the week.
It’s easy to fall into a slump during the holidays. The shorter days, cooler temperatures and high-calorie foods make you want to stay in bed. But, be diligent about exercising most days of the week. Regular exercise maintains a healthy weight, helps you sleep better and increases feel-good endorphins. Some of the best exercises for the winter are swimming, walking and yoga.
9. Practice an elevator speech.
It’s likely that you’ll find yourself in conversations with friends and family who want to know how you are, what you’ve been up to, etc. You don’t have to talk about your sobriety if you don’t want to. But, be prepared to respond to potentially uncomfortable questions. You can’t control what others say, but you do have control over your response. Our best advice: keep it short and simple.
10. Stay connected to friends and family.
Stay close to your support network. They’ve come a long way with you, and they wouldn’t want you to jeopardize your recovery. Invite them along to holiday parties and ask them to join in new holiday celebrations. It’s easy to feel like “everyone” is out drinking and having a good time, but you do have sober friends who support you.
Recovery has its ups and downs, and the holiday season can be particularly challenging. Remind yourself of how far you’ve come and the things you get to enjoy now that you are present and sober. For additional support during this time of year, or to start your recovery, contact Continuum Recovery Center.