The holidays are a tricky time for a lot of people in all stages of sobriety. Individuals return home to places where they may have a history of drinking and using, they get stressed out around family members, or they get down on themselves for not having anyone to spend the time with.
Here are some tips to help you get through the holidays:
1. Create a plan to deal with cravings
At West Coast Recovery, we recommend brainstorming a list of ways to deal with those cravings that inevitably come up while in early recovery and either around a lot of drinking or in an emotionally strenuous situation. Most people find that the most useful tool is calling someone when you’re feeling a little restless. If you’re working a twelve-step program, reach out to your sponsor. A sponsor is there to help you navigate some of those tricky thoughts and situations. If you’re not working a twelve-step program, make sure you have a list of some other people you can call who know you’re sober and you can trust to give you honest advice. It's important to check in with another person when those thoughts come up before they turn into more than just thoughts.
2. Look up meetings in your area
Most people in recovery work a twelve-step program like AA or NA. These programs have meetings all over the country and even in other countries. You can find a list of meetings by searching the area you'll be in followed by the fellowship you're interested in attending. Make sure you have at least one meeting lined up to attend if you’re traveling over the holidays. Even if you don’t work a twelve-step program you should be building some sort of sober support network. There are options for non twelve-step based meetings like SMART Recovery, which is beneficial for some. SMART Recovery also has meetings across the country. Most therapists will also accept calls outside of the office, especially during this time of year due to it being such a risky time for addicts and alcoholics.
3. Avoid people you used to drink and drug with
This one may seem obvious, but if you’re going home for the holidays avoid those people who you've used with in the past - especially if they’re still in active addiction or alcoholism. You may feel like you want to help them or save them now that you're sober, but AA is based on attraction rather than promotion. Just because you've found this new lifestyle doesn't mean they're necessarily ready and should be allowed to come to that conclusion on their own. Remember, it’s much easier for them to take you out than it will be for you to bring them in. It’s fine to see friends who know you’re sober and are positive influences in your life. Stick to hanging out with those people who are moving in the same direction you are in life. Your company determines your character so make sure you're associating with the right people!
4. Don’t place unrealistic expectations on things
Just because you’re sober doesn’t mean that everything will suddenly be perfect and back to normal. Placing high expectations on other people will usually set you up for failure. When others don’t meet our expectations we start to form resentments, which in our experience is the number one contributor to relapse. You spent a lot of time in your alcoholism or addiction so it’ll take time to mend relationships. There may be a desire to make all kinds of apologies and promises to people you haven't seen since you've gotten sober, but sometimes our word is no good anymore to those people and the best way to show them the new you is simply through your actions. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Avoid the urge to manipulate people and situations to try and make them as you want them to be. Things rarely turned out well when we did that in the past, so sometimes we need to learn that it's best to just accept things or people as they are. The only person you should be placing expectations on is yourself because that's all you can control. If something is meant to be, it will happen.
5. Stay busy
Whether it’s going to the gym, doing yoga, making sure you have plenty of reading material, enjoying time with family, cooking, or watching movies - just make sure you’re busy. Getting enough sleep and making sure you’re eating healthy are also very important for your physical and mental state. You definitely want to be on the top of your sobriety game at this time of year. The winter holidays tend to take people out more than any other time of year due to the nature of the activities that go along with them in terms of drinking and partying. Boredom is another thing that will lead many addicts and alcoholics to relapse, so if you make sure your time over the holidays is filled with activities you won’t even have time to think about getting loaded. The opposite of happiness is not sadness, it's boredom!
6. Remember how far you’ve come
Give yourself some credit. Remember what it was like over the holidays when you were drinking and using compared to how it is now. For me, my family didn’t even want me to come home over the holidays until I got sober. They're supposed to be a happy time of year to enjoy the company of those you love and cherish. If some of your family or friends still haven’t come around and forgiven you for some of the damage you’ve done in the past, that’s okay. As long as you’re doing your part by cleaning up your side of the street and moving in the right direction eventually they’ll come around. You’ve probably come a long way and put in a lot of work to get to where you are, but it just takes one bad decision to tear all that down and have to start the whole process over.