Life After Addiction Treatment: 4 Tips for Staying Sober During the Holidays
As a recovering addict, the holiday season can be one of the most precarious times of the year. But, by staying connected to your supports, controlling potentially dangerous situations, remaining active, and remembering your path to recovery, it doesn’t have to be. By keeping the right frame of mind, you can enjoy the holidays and stay the course on your healing journey.
While the road that follows addiction treatment will be highlighted by plenty of positive experiences, you’ll also face continuous challenges. One of the most difficult is staying sober during the holidays. For many people, celebration is synonymous with alcohol and drug use. As someone recovering from these very addictions, you will find yourself in plenty of situations where you feel the urge—or are even urged by others—to partake.
But as much as you might think the holidays are a time where indulging might be warranted, this is actually the most important time to stay sober. Why? Because it’s a time that is easy to give in to temptation, whether it’s because of the availability of alcohol or stress of family gatherings. That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy yourself—it just means you need to be careful to not let your guard down and be aware of the potential pitfalls that can threaten your journey to recovery.
Below are four simple tips that you should keep in mind to stay on track during the holidays and avoid relapsing.
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1. Stay Connected to Your Support Networks
Although the holidays are typically a time for reconnecting with family and friends, time, distance, and circumstance can keep some of us from enjoying this benefit. And with the cold weather pushing us into isolation more so than the summer months, it’s important for those of us in this situation to remain connected to support networks.
Whether this means joining seasonal clubs or support groups, anything that maintains your contact with the outside world and prevents you from falling out of touch with your supports is crucial. Isolation, after all, plays a key role in addiction. Most residential treatment programs offer professional support to those who have received treatment through continuing care, meaning you’ll always be able to connect with psychologists, psychiatrists, or counselors for guidance if you feel the need to do so.
2. Avoid or Take Control of Potentially Dangerous Situations
With so much focus on celebration, you’ll probably have a few parties or social gatherings to attend. While these can be enjoyable events, if you’re recovering from addiction, they’re not to be taken lightly. This is especially true for recovering alcoholics, as these events will be full of opportunities to drink.
Should you avoid them altogether? It depends. For most people, the best strategy is to narrow down your social gatherings to those that are comprised of people that understand and accept your struggles with addiction. If you’re attending a party with people who aren’t sensitive to the fact that you’re probably feeling a bit overwhelmed by triggers, you’ll be more likely to relapse.
Regardless of the what gatherings you choose to go to, always have an exit strategy prepared. It can be helpful to memorize ahead of time what you want to say when it’s time to leave, whether you have another social appointment lined up, need to get to bed early because of work the next morning, or you’re simply tired and ready to go home—whatever feels most comfortable and natural to you. This is especially important for events where you aren’t as close with those attending, as explaining an addiction can be a tough process given the stigma and lack of understanding still associated with substance abuse disorders.
3. Remain Active
During colder seasons, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut of inactivity. Although this is unhealthy for anybody, especially those with mental health illnesses, it’s particularly dangerous if you’re recovering from addiction. Why? Because it easily fosters boredom and reopens the many doors that lead to addiction. That’s why exercise is so important: it will keep you active and stimulated due to its ability to create a natural high through endorphins and increased levels of serotonin—you’re brain’s “feel good” chemical.
4. Remember Your Path to Recovery
If you find yourself feeling trapped within a moment, overcome by urges to drink or use, think about the path that you have taken to get to where you are. Remember all of the struggles, relapses, and roadblocks that you have overcome, and the things that you have learned from them. Think of the unhappiness and helplessness that you felt when you were deepest in your addiction, and how much better you have felt since then.
And most importantly, ask yourself what you will feel if you do indulge in the urge. Will you feel that much better? How long will the feeling of euphoria last? Will it even come?
Heather King, who writes about her struggles with alcoholism in her book Parched: A Memoir, explains this feeling:
I once heard a sober alcoholic say that drinking never made him happy, but it made him feel like he was going to be happy in about fifteen minutes. That was exactly it, and I couldn’t understand why the happiness never came, couldn’t see the flaw in my thinking, couldn’t see that alcohol kept me trapped in a world of illusion, procrastination, paralysis. I lived always in the future, never in the present. Next time, next time! Next time I drank it would be different, next time it would make me feel good again. And all my efforts were doomed, because already drinking hadn’t made me feel good in years.
Like Heather, when you look at your situation realistically, you’ll realize that the short-term reward of a high is never as enjoyable as you’re making it out to be.
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Finding Joy During the Holidays While Staying Sober
There might have been a time when a sober holiday season seemed boring, but experiencing this time of year during your path to recovery will help you see the huge potential for joy in your life beyond the constraints of addiction. Residential treatment can not only provide you with coping methods that will help ease the stress and temptations of the holidays, it also offers a safe, supportive environment in which you can fully focus your attention on healing and moving past your addiction. If temptation ever seems like too much, you always have somewhere to go and people to count on for help.
Be kind to yourself this holiday season. Remember to be understanding of your own situation, and don’t blame yourself if you feel tempted or even give in to that temptation. Relapse, while ideally avoided, is part of many people’s recovery journeys—and if you do relapse, be sure to seek the support and medical care you need to get clean and back on your feet as soon as possible. Ultimately, however, avoiding indulging in alcohol or drugs as a recovering addict is the best gift you can give yourself. Stay connected to your personal and professional supports and be aware of every situation that you place yourself in. Remember that you are not alone, and that help is always available should you need it.
Alta Mira offers comprehensive addiction rehabilitation for people struggling with various addictions.Contact us today to learn how you can benefit from our many treatment modalities and professional support networks and take the first steps toward regaining control of your life.