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Handling the Holidays When You’re Early in Recovery or Not Yet in Treatment

The holiday season is a happy and fun time for some people, and an anxious and nerve-wracking time for others. Many people love this season—the decorations, the well-wishers, the parties, food—the list goes on and on. Of course, this time of year has it challenges, too, such as the unrealistic expectations, the fatigue that sets in after yet another get-together…. But for people early in recovery, as well as those with a substance use disorder who haven’t taken action yet, the days and nights can be especially stressful. Here are some ideas for getting through the holidays with as little stress as possible.

 ideas for getting through the holidays

For people in early recovery

— Know your triggers. If you think a work get-together will be too much and you’re not ready to answer why you’re not drinking, you don’t have to attend.  Volunteering for a good cause and giving back that day may be a good substitute. Arranging get-togethers with other friends in recovery is another idea.

If you do go to a gathering and you’re offered a drink, you don’t have to look for excuses, you can just say “Alcohol doesn’t agree with me,” and leave it at that. Some experts recommend always having a glass in your hand filled with something like club soda and lime.

— Plan ahead. If you’re worried about seeing extended family or friends you haven’t seen in awhile, have a plan. Think about what you want to say beforehand on the subject of recently being in treatment (and now being in recovery) if people ask. If your family asks if they can have alcohol at the get-together, there is nothing wrong with saying you’d rather they didn’t. Yes, you will eventually have to face the fact that you’ll be in situations where others are drinking, but now is not necessarily the time. Your family may recognize that, especially if they have been in a family program.

— Remember self-care.  The holidays may bring up any number of emotions that are difficult to deal such as painful memories, or guilt. Find healthy ways of coping. Take a walk, go to a movie with a friend, or do something else you enjoy. Call your sponsor, or go to a meeting and find a sober friend. Recognize that you may be vulnerable, and be especially mindful about depression. Don’t put your own needs aside. Keep stress to a minimum if you can, and don’t commit to too many responsibilities.

For people in not yet in treatment

If you haven’t yet made the move to do something about your addiction, the holidays can be stressful because of guilt. You know it weighs heavily on your family,  and a family member or two may have spoken to you about an upcoming get-together and his or her fears or what’s expected of you. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about contacting a top-notch alcohol treatment facility when all the hubbub is over. Whether you have a problem with alcohol, or suffer from a different substance or chemical abuse problem, think about whether your family would rather have you home with them or getting healthy. You can’t say “the children need you at the holidays,” if you’re not all there.

If you’re being truthful with yourself, you know your family would likely prefer to see you in treatment. This is not to say you should go for them; you should do it for yourself. And if you look at it long enough, you may just admit that saying your family wants you home is an excuse.

Here are the questions to ask yourself to determine whether or not you may have a problem and should seek help:

  •         Have your friends and family members mentioned they’re about how much you’re drinking, or using another drug?
  •         Is your drinking or substance or chemical abuse affecting your relationships or your performance at work?
  •         Do you have an increased tolerance for alcohol or other drugs?
  •         Do you get defensive when questioned about your drinking or other drug use?
  •         Are you constantly planning for the next drink or time you can “use?”
  •         Are you getting into legal trouble because of your drinking or other drug use? (Have you had a DUI, or been charged with disorderly conduct, for example?)
  •         Have you been inappropriate at office parties or other gatherings?

Don’t wait to make that call or ask for help just because it’s the holidays. It could be the biggest gift you give yourself.