The holidays—a time for festivities and socializing, gift-giving and merriment!
But sometimes, the holidays can be stressful. Shopping, balancing work with social life, cleaning, cooking, decorating, gift-wrapping and all the other things that get added to your to-do list this time of year can leave you feeling less than holly and jolly. The thought of having to be in the same room with certain family members can be stressful. Conversations can be exhausting, and the culture of overindulgence can leave your head spinning.
If you are a recovering addict, the stressors and temptations that arise for everyone during the holiday season can especially deplete your willpower and trigger your desire to reach for anything that brings you momentary “comfort and joy.” But it doesn’t have to mean a relapse. As recovering addicts maintaining our own sobriety, our substance abuse rehab team compiled some tried-and-true tips we wanted to share with you to help you successfully navigate the holidays. We hope these fill you with confidence as you head into the season. We know this is not easy, but it is possible and so worth it.
● Plan ahead. It’s the old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Each morning, think of the day ahead of you and come up with a plan to stay sober. Having a plan increases your confidence and decreases your chance of relapse. Before you head to a friend or relative’s house where you know there will be booze, plan ahead so that you are ready when temptation comes your way.
● Rehearse a way to say no. Know that there is nothing wrong with turning down the offer of an alcoholic beverage. You can keep it short and sweet and politely say ‘No Thanks’ or ‘Not drinking tonight.’ If you’re comfortable with the idea, you may decide to use this time to briefly explain why. You can be truthful and matter-of-fact with something like, “Actually, I would love to drink that and more, but I have been sober for a while now and hope to remain that way.” You can even throw some humor into your response with a “Nothing tastes as good as my sobriety feels” type of comment.
● Say yes to an alternative. If someone asks what you’d like to drink, ask for a soda or a water.
● Have your own replacement. Carry your own flavored sparkling water to the party. Chances are you won’t be offered a drink as often if you’re already holding one.
● Take time to meditate. Scientific research shows that prayer or meditation can help reduce instances of relapse. Pray or meditate before you go and while you are there. Get away somewhere quiet, like the bathroom. It doesn’t have to be anything lengthy; as little as two minutes is all that is needed. Memorize words of affirmation to speak to yourself during this time or do a quick internet search of affirmations while you are there.
● Know the common triggers. Knowing and recognizing the common triggers that deplete willpower can help you better deal with a craving. The most common triggers are boredom, hunger, loneliness, anger, and exhaustion. When you’re feeling particularly tempted to reach for your old vice, stop and ask yourself if you’re really just hungry, thirsty, tired, bored, etc.
● Have a diversion. According to research, it only takes about 20 minutes for a craving to diminish. It’s like a wave that comes on slowly, peaks, and then subsides. If you start to really crave that holiday cocktail, distract yourself for about 20 minutes and you will increase your success of avoiding relapse. Here are some ideas for replacing an old habit with a new one and riding out that 20-minute craving wave:
▪ Speak with your sponsor or an accountability partner who can relate to what you are going through.
▪ Call a loved one to check in on them.
▪ Ask the host or hostess if you can help prep some food.
▪ Find the kids at the party and entertain them for a while.
▪ Exercise. It is not only a distraction but also increases feelings of euphoria, which decrease triggering feelings of stress, anxiousness, and boredom. Take a brief walk around the block or play a game.
▪ Focus on the relationships. The holidays are really about people. Find that person at the party who isn’t talking to anyone and strike up a conversation. Make a game out of talking to the most people or having the most in-depth conversations.
● Bring a friend. A sponsor or good friend who knows your struggles and will not be drinking at the party either makes a great accountability partner. Discuss a plan for if you start to feel yourself slipping. Lean on them for support when you feel triggered, stressed, or bored.
● Have an exit strategy. If all else fails, leave. Plan a polite excuse or keep it simple and leave without a goodbye.
● Avoid it altogether. While it’s not realistic or advisable to avoid every holiday happening, it may be necessary in certain instances. For example, you may want to stay away if you are still so new in your sobriety that temptations or triggers will be too overpowering.
Remember that you are not alone in your pursuit for sobriety. There are millions of people who are working hard every day to beat their addiction. You can connect with people just like you by reaching out to a substance abuse center like Renaissance Ranch. Our support staff can help you get through the holidays without jeopardizing your sobriety.