Or the greatest potential for stress and chaos? Ten tips for staying sober during the holidays.
By Patricia V. Pavkovich
’Tis the season to be jolly, but for some people in recovery, the holidays can be tough. When your family has a history of alcoholism — instead of joy, laughter and fond memories — there is yelling, possible hospital visits, family members offending one another and someone getting sick from drinking too much. Ho ho ho … But you can get through the holidays intact and stay in your recovery!
Holiday celebrations are all about coming together with the expectation that we will enjoy spending time with our loved ones. From the anticipation of Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, festivities surround us. Sounds like fun, right? Except maybe you are in recovery from addiction or you have just relapsed after 10 years. Perhaps you think you have an addiction or you recently stopped drinking or using because your life is out of control. Maybe you are thinking you may not make it through the holidays if you don’t get help now. If these scenarios are familiar, the holidays are guaranteed to produce anxiety.
Even if you are not in recovery, the holidays can rock your world. Just bringing families together can create stress. In addition to searching for the right gifts for loved ones, grocery shopping, social engagements, cooking, traveling and hosting additional houseguests, those of us in recovery need to have a solid plan to stay strong and avoid a relapse.
Although the holidays can be awesome, they can also be a recipe for disaster for someone in recovery. For example, let’s say you decide to celebrate New Year’s Eve with just a sip of champagne. After all, it is New Year’s Eve! One drink leads to three or four more, and after the celebration, you drive everyone home. There is an accident. You are arrested for DUI, and your brother’s child ends up in the hospital with a broken foot. Years ago after my sister’s wedding, a drunk driver crashed head-on into my aunt’s car, and she spent the night in the hospital along with both of my grandparents. In a split second, your entire life can change.
It is important to think ahead and have a plan in place and enough recovery support to prevent such a tragic thing from happening to you. With or without recovery, it is important to have a backup plan in life. With the additional stress, demands and expectations the holidays can place on us, it is important to also have a strong support system in place. Extra support is a good idea, too. We must stick to our recovery program as much as possible during these busy and potentially stressful times.
We belong to a recovery “family” in addition to our biological family. All of us in recovery are going through the holidays together, standing side by side. There is strength in numbers. Make sure you are being honest about what you are feeling or experiencing. Talk to your sponsor or your friends in recovery and express yourself in the meetings you will attend.
Here are 10 tips for surviving the holidays and staying sober!
- If you don't trust yourself to abstain, do not go. In the grand scheme of things, your recovery is the priority.
- Bring a sober support with you or a list of contact numbers if needed if you do decide to attend. I suggest leaving if/when the party gets wild.
- Attend support group meetings. It’s beneficial to hear what your peers are going through during the holidays, and you may recognize yourself. Relating to others will give you strength and hope.
- Do service. Adopt a family for the holidays. Donate toys. Chair a meeting. Invite a newcomer to coffee. Get out of your addiction head.
- Keep your higher power close. Prayer and meditation can help decrease stress and anxiety.
- Be prepared. I always have a glass of sparkling water in my hand at parties. It’s up to you if you choose to tell people you are in recovery or not. I have said many times, “I gave up drinking to be healthier.” Another favorite of mine is, “No, thanks. I'm good.”
- Know your triggers, such as people, places and things that can be possible temptations, and avoid them. For example, don't sit at the bar and think it’s all going to work out.
- Put the brakes on runaway negative feelings, thoughts and emotions. This can lead to drinking and using and self- destruction. Remind yourself why you are in recovery and the strength and courage it takes, and be proud of it whether it’s been two days or two years.
- No matter what happens, do not drink or use. Stay out of reaction. One day at a time.
- Keep the focus on giving and gratitude — the true spirit of the holiday season.
Patricia V. Pavkovich works for MAP Health Management as a program coordinator for Origins Hanley in South Padre Island, Texas. Pavkovich has a bachelor of science in secondary health education and a doctor of chiropractic degree. She ran the Marine Corp Marathon, is a yoga instructor and enjoys riding her Harley in her spare time.