Not only do family gatherings and changes in weather and the stress of the holiday season already create challenges, returning to a time of year without the familiarity of an addiction can feel foreign.
In some ways, this may come as a relief, a chance to reflect with gratitude at how this day is different from previous, with far more life and health to be celebrated. In other ways, the guise of nostalgia or just contrast to the past may bring up intense emotions, or maybe none at all.
Especially when addiction has been a reality for some time, finding a new routine and rebuilding life outside of these destructive habits can be both exciting and overwhelming.
“What will we do on Christmas Eve if we’re not all drinking together?”
“How will I get through seeing my in-laws without using?”
“What if I’m the only one who doesn’t drink on Thanksgiving?”
“I haven’t been sober for a holiday in so long, what do I do with myself?”
Rather than going into the holiday with dread or as a battle to survive, take this opportunity to reimagine and create new traditions.
With your support network, whether friends or family, start a conversation with a few of these goals in mind:
1) Have a plan
First and foremost, know that the holidays can be challenging for recovery, and work with treatment providers, recovery mentors, and others to create a structure and relapse prevention tools Review the skills you’ve learned and make a map for when and how you or other can take action before an urge leads to a slip. Prevention and preparations empowers you to feel ready and others to know how they can help you have a successful and enjoyable holiday.
It can help to have a support that is your go-to, with a signal that tells them you need assistance, a break, a kind word, etc. This way, even when it may be uncomfortable to use words or ask directly, someone else is with you in that moment.
2) See tradition as an inspiration, not a barrier
For some, tradition rules during the holiday season. This can make proposing a new idea or shift in plans seem daunting. Rather than upset sweet Aunt Debbie, find a way to honor the past, the tried and true, in an updated and more accessible way. Or revamp a tradition from childhood, bringing back sweet memories of days gone by and perhaps activities that younger members of the family can also participate in.
Propose that the evening hours include a cookie-decorating competition, complete with milk for ideal dipping of course, instead of outdated ways of out-drinking one-another. Perhaps the family can go out to a movie or other activity or destination together, instead of heading to a bar. The group is still doing things as a cohesive collection, and tradition can be honored, but new memories that are conducive to recovery can be prioritized.
If traditions truly are immovable to some members of the group, prepare for how you can either adjust to make it a healthy choice for you or prepare for some of the emotions that might come up if you choose not to join at all. If Thanksgiving night is known to be a time where problematic behaviors happen, make plans to leave the gathering to go meet-up with someone else or volunteer with an organization doing good in the community.
3) Create new patterns
What worked for you during addiction is not going to work for you in recovery. It may require that the ways you’ve coped in the past are replaced with different actions, like taking space away from someone who is escalating a conversation or is pushing you to use a substance.
While homecomings are sometimes a feature of holiday celebrations, it may not be the healthiest place for you, especially early in recovery. Depending on the setting, it can be too much to tackle in one sitting, rather than slowly reintroducing or exposing the important things, like certain people or spaces you truly do want or need to return to.
But rather than sitting in the FOMO (fear of missing out), connect with friends to join a Friendsgiving, find service and volunteer openings to tap into your true values, talk with recovery peers about what activities could be good for a group get-together, and consider that new holiday traditions can be a joyous thing.
If you know being alone on holidays has been a catalyst for a decline in mental health and urges to return to substances, be sure to reflect on what type of self-care and therapy skills can help combat and ensure you show yourself some extra kindness on these days.
In time, family and friends may join in and everyone can healthily celebrate together.
The holidays can be a great time to appreciate the good things that sobriety gives to life. In recovery, rediscovering and reimaging how you and your family can flourish free of addiction is a big but exciting part of the process. Steps Recovery Center knows that the journey doesn’t stop after your treatment with us, and we are here to support you from day 1 and beyond. Call today to learn about continuing resources and services we offer – 385-250-1701.