Navigating Holidays and Family When New to Recovery

Holidays, Mental Health, Recovery

The holiday season is a happy and cheerful time for many people, but can be full of challenges for those in recovery from substance abuse. 

Why the Holidays Can Be Hard for Someone in Recovery

The busy holiday season can be challenging for someone in recovery from substance abuse, especially someone who’s still new to recovery. Some of the reasons the holidays are often difficult for those in recovery are:

  • Holiday parties usually involve alcohol or other substances
  • Many holiday traditions, like making toasts or drinking eggnog, punch or other seasonal drinks, involve alcohol
  • Spending time with family can bring up bad memories and lead to difficult situations
  • A deviation from your usual routines and support groups could lead to thoughts of using or even a relapse

5 Ways To Navigate Holidays and Family When New to Recovery

1. Have a Plan in Place

Peter Grinspoon, MD says that it’s “critical to have a plan in place, in advance of the holidays, to minimize stress and dangerous exposures.”

The most important thing to remember when it comes to staying in recovery during the holidays is to have a plan in place. Try your best to keep to your normal schedule, even if you’re going to be out of town. Arrange to attend a virtual or local meeting of a recovery support group. Make sure you can always reach your sponsor or other key supporters.

Make an exit plan, especially if you anticipate being in a difficult situation like fighting with family or otherwise being triggered. Make sure you have an excuse for leaving early and, if you’re staying with friends or family who have drugs or alcohol in the house, a backup place to stay. You might also want to consider bringing a sponsor or sober-friendly friend with you to holiday events.

Not sure where to begin? Dr. Grinspoon suggests asking yourself a few questions when creating your holiday plan:

  • What are your triggers and flash points?
  • What are the scenarios that have proven dangerous in the past?
  • What kinds of interactions knock you off center?
  • Who can you call if/when you start feeling like you are losing your grip?
  • How are you planning to recenter yourself?
  • Can you envision yourself just walking away from stressful situations?

2. Limit Time at Parties Where There Might Be Drugs or Alcohol – Or Skip Them Altogether

You know what’s at risk when you’re tempted by substances – everything you’ve worked for. If you’re concerned about being at a party where there might be drugs or alcohol, do what you need to do to protect your newfound sobriety. Bring something non-alcoholic to drink, stay away from the punch table and avoid your triggers. 

And keep in mind that you don’t have to accept every invitation this holiday season (or any of them, for that matter). Erin Goodhart, Director of Women’s Services at Caron Treatment Centers says to remember that “putting your sobriety first is your priority.” 

3. Be Aware of Family Dynamics and How They Impact Your Recovery

After getting treatment, many people realize that the root of their substance abuse problems is in sometihng that happened in the past, maybe even something that happened long ago. A lot of the time, it has to do with your family relationships. If you know that some family members trigger negative memories or feelings, then do what you can to avoid them. And if you need to limit time with these people or avoid them altogether, don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it. It’s ok to put yourself first sometimes. You’ll have to if you want to make it through recovery.

4. Host Your Own Sober Holiday Event 

Why not avoid the possibility of substances at a party altogether? Host your own sober event and you’ll be in charge of all the details. Make sure you make it clear to guests that it’s a completely sober event. Other than that, go crazy. Host a white elephant gift exchange, an ugly sweater party or a cozy holiday movie night.

5. Focus On Serving Others This Holiday Season

If you’re currently in a 12-step or other recovery program, you might have been tasked with giving back, but even if you haven’t, it’s a good idea. Shifting the focus from serving yourself to serving others can sometimes help you to look outside of yourself and see things from someone else’s perspective.

Some of the ways you can help out during the holidays include:

  • Volunteering at a soup kitchen or food bank
  • Providing gifts for families in need
  • Volunteering at an animal shelter, library or another place you’re passionate about
  • Spending time with someone who’s lonely this holiday season – whether it’s a friend or family member, a resident at a senior living center or a child who needs a mentor

You Don’t Have To Do This Alone

Recovery is hard, but so worth it. If you’re not currently in a program or support group for those in recovery, we urge you to consider it. Individuals who complete a recovery support program have a much higher chance of completing and maintaining recovery.

Related: Can I Get Off of Drugs or Alcohol By Myself – Or Is It Really That Dangerous?

We offer Peer Support services for those in recovery. A Peer Recovery Specialist is someone who’s successfully recovered from a mental health condition and/or substance use disorder and is now using their lived experience to support and encourage others in recovery.

Ready to beat addiction once and for all?

Find out more about Region Five Peer and Family Support.

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