Staying Sober: Handling the Stress of the Holidays

HopeXchange is proud to welcome another distinguished guest post! Constance Ray co-created RecoveryWell to provide a safe place for people to share their addiction stories so that others can learn from them and benefit in their own lives. In this article, amidst the holiday festivities, while a relapse is attempting to steal one’s joy here are some ways to conquer it. Wishing everyone a joyful time this holiday season.

Photo via Pixabay by Geralt.

Big family celebrations, colorfully-lit trees, and exchanging gifts are some of the things that make the holiday season special for many people.  Recovering addicts may view the holiday a little differently, with stress and trepidation.

Chaotic parties and family events, coupled with a feeling of loneliness, can all be triggers for a temptation to relapse. Making a plan to neutralize these situations can help you make it through the holidays without having a meltdown or risking your sobriety.

Starting with a Plan of Action

Start every single day with a plan of action.  Look in your mirror and tell yourself how good it feels to be sober and in charge of your life.  Keep notes and positive sayings on your mirror for reinforcement of your daily goals.

Set a routine for yourself as much as possible during the holiday season.  Maintaining recovery depends on getting good rest, eating healthy foods, and getting exercise in your schedule whenever possible.  Placing your health as a top priority will aid in recovery by keeping blood sugar levels in check, curbing irritability, and keeping cravings low.

Knowing your triggers and assessing possible stressors can help you make a plan for the day’s events.  Don’t be afraid to decline certain parties or get-togethers that may present too many issues for you.  Try bringing a close friend or family member with you to events you do attend to support your sobriety.

Being sober will not always guarantee life will go as planned.  The holidays are not the same for everyone, so be realistic with your expectations.  Your joy can come from different places and moments if you look for it.

Dealing with Holiday Parties

Take control of how you navigate holiday parties and events. Driving yourself to holiday events is one way to have an easy way to leave whenever you feel necessary.  Knowing some people or situations might set off your triggers might be a good reason to arrive early and have the option to leave earlier.  When people do not respect your boundaries, feel free to leave the area or the party.

If you’re a recovering alcoholic, being handed drinks or desserts with alcohol in them could trigger relapse.  Plan some drinks and snacks to bring along to parties, or serve yourself before the host does to avoid the possibility of being handed things you might have to politely decline.

Board games, movies, or playing outside in the snow might be better options to suggest to family members instead of sitting around talking and pouring drinks.  Staying active will curb cravings and alleviate stressful conversations or situations.

Ways to Handle Stress and Temptations

When things are getting too stressful, take some time to walk away and breathe.  Clear your mind of thoughts of substance abuse and focus on all the steps you’ve made toward sobriety so far.  Think about things you can be grateful for in your life, instead the possibility of relapse.

Call on your support system, whenever necessary.  A trusted friend, family member, or sponsor that can be available when you need to talk is invaluable.  Get through the holiday season by attending some extra AA or NA meetings.  You can find meetings to attend in almost any city while traveling to bolster your sobriety resolve during the holidays.

Ask What You Can Do

Sometimes we get so focused on our own problems that we forget there are others dealing with the same problems or worse.  Finding ways to help support other recovering addicts at events, volunteering at homeless shelters, or asking an older neighbor if they need help with errands during the holidays, can bring joy into your life as much as it will bring into theirs.  Actively engaging in a positive, meaningful lifestyle, will make you stronger and more confident in your sobriety, and get you through the holidays stress free.

Christmas is About a Baby

christmas-star-77979-m As I look back over the Christmas Holiday that just passed, there was another story of grief and loss; a baby that was never born. The grand daughter of a good friend experienced a miscarriage that was followed with three months of physical complications and pain. Her emotional saga finally came to a close with a final procedure that took place the week before Christmas. It has been a very difficult time for the family.

I thought about how many times I have seen and heard about stories just like this one in my many years of supporting families who are dealing with the grief and loss of miscarriage. The “regularity” in which it seems to happen is striking and disheartening. It could become easy to focus on this very sad reality. But then I think about all of the new babies that I have welcomed into the world this year, and years gone by, with gifts and showers and notes of congratulations.

Just like anything else, we can choose to see the tragedy the world can bring, or the hope we all long for. During the Christmas Season we tend to turn our thoughts to the joy and peace we’d like to have all year long- not just while we attend festive parties, eat our goodies and tear open gifts with family and friends.

When the tree is taken down and the gifts have all been put away the spirit and joy of Christmas can disappear as well. It can be tough to hold on throughout the year- especially if we are dealing with grief and pain. Unless we remember that Christmas is about a baby- a baby that was born to bring us a peace and hope that does not fade when the decorations are put away. Want to know more about this baby? Would you like to know a peace that does not get packed away in attic each year? Find a pastor, rabbi, priest, church or trusted friend who can tell you more.

May you find and keep the Christmas spirit throughout 2015 and beyond.