It’s nearly the end of another year, and we want everyone in our recovery community to be looking forward to 2020 feeling hopeful and confident. But before we get to January, we’ve got to make it through the minefield of the holiday season. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), holiday stress can get to everyone; even those who aren’t also working hard to maintain their sobriety. The APA notes some common worries, like dealing with difficult family conversations, avoiding the pressures of gift-giving and managing tight finances. But when you throw addiction recovery in the mix, the list gets longer — and the stakes get higher. Avoiding relapse gets harder when schedules shift, stressors are added and expectations are greater.
Fortunately, balancing seasonal fun with your sober lifestyle is easier than it seems. With the right tactics and some thoughtful planning, you’ll have the tools you need to defuse the danger and navigate the holidays with ease. After a successful holiday season, you’ll be able to start 2019 with fresh confidence and renewed motivation.
Maintain Your Routine
If you’ve been living an independent, sober life, you’ve likely worked out a daily routine that helps you get through your days feeling healthy and positive. Interruptions to this routine can throw you off, and make you more vulnerable to boredom and negativity — and to the cravings that often result. The holidays are guaranteed to cause changes in your everyday schedule, and if you aren’t careful, holiday activities will overtake the pieces of your routine that are most important for your own well-being. Whether your morning workout brings positive energy to your day, or your evening meditations keep you centered and focused, you shouldn’t feel pressured to give up the essentials in favor of parties or get-togethers.
Map out the parts of your day that are most important to you, and make sure to work your holiday obligations around this protected time. The built-in “me time” will help keep you relaxed and energized, and ready to take on the stresses of the holidays without getting overwhelmed.
Strengthen Your “No, Thanks” Game
The best thing you can do for yourself over the holidays is to say “no” every now and then. Tell your coworker you can’t make it to the after-hours potluck, and don’t feel obligated to try a sip of your new sister-in-law’s prized spiked eggnog recipe. We’re often too ready to overextend ourselves because we don’t want to upset others, but when your sobriety is on the line, it’s okay to put yourself first. And in all likelihood, people will be understanding — the holidays are busy for everyone, so your declined invitation likely won’t be the first or only one.
If you’re worried about coming across as rude or you think you might run into people who won’t take no for an answer, practice some polite responses or excuses ahead of time. And remember that “No, thanks” is a complete sentence — if someone is being aggressive or making you uncomfortable, feel free to walk away from the conversation. Keeping your sobriety intact is more important than saving face.
Get Involved in Sober Holiday Activities
The holidays are often associated with parties and get-togethers that, in all likelihood, at least involve drinking and may involve drug use. But there are countless sober ways to spread holiday cheer, and you can easily suggest some of these options to your friends and family if you want to stay as far away from substances as possible. Sign up for a run that benefits a holiday charity, or volunteer at a local food bank or gift drive. Our city of Portland, Oregon has beautiful Christmas lights displays at venues including the Portland International Raceway, The Grotto and the Oregon Zoo that are well worth a visit. Try ice skating, or take a holiday-themed cooking class so you’ll be able to help out in the kitchen at your family’s holiday dinner. You already know that you don’t need drugs or alcohol to have fun in daily life — the holidays don’t need to be any different.
Keep Your Support System On Call
Don’t try to brave the holidays alone. You have people in your life — friends, family, meeting members, a sponsor or a counselor — who are there to support you and to make sure you don’t start feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable. Communicate with them leading up to the holidays, and let them know that you’re feeling worried. Ask if they’ll be willing to attend certain events with you in case you need to leave early, or make sure you have someone to call if you find yourself feeling especially stressed. If you’re going to be traveling, keep in touch with your sober friends at home via text, phone calls, FaceTime or email.
Above all, be mindful. If you start to feel uncomfortable, don’t ignore it or try to push through it. While stepping out of your comfort zone is important in recovery, there are times when it’s best to play it safe. In times of heightened stress like the holidays, it’s better to put yourself and your well-being first than it is to test your limits.
If you or your loved one is struggling with addiction or isn’t feeling confident about their sobriety, don’t hesitate to reach out to Tree House Recovery PDX in Portland, Oregon. Our programs are for all men struggling with addiction, no matter where they are in their recovery journey. Call us at (503) 850-2474 for more information.