For those of us who are in early recovery this could be a stressful and even depressing time of the year. That first year of recovery can find many just beginning to piece their lives back together. Some of those new to sobriety may have just re-entered the workforce. Others may be currently in residential treatment programs at a drug and alcohol rehab center. The struggles and stressors that addicts at the start of their recovery face during the holidays can be strenuous to say the least. What is traditionally known as a happy time of the year can bring about mixed emotions to those new to recovery. During the holidays there is an influx of relapses, overdoses and deaths afflicting those in the addict community. Even for those without a substance use disorder this particular period can be instill depression. However, there are ways to cope and get through this season in one piece.
One struggle seen for those in recovery from substance abuse is a feeling of inadequacy or failure. This can come about due to essentially starting over in life. Many have lost a great deal in their addiction and often time those in early recovery will find their funds are short this time of the year due to having spent time away from work while seeking treatment for a substance use disorder. Those with families often feel bad due to feeling as though they are not doing enough for their loved ones. Sometimes the loved ones of an addict have set up healthy boundaries which can prevent the addicted person from seeing them during the holidays. This can bring on frustrations and depression. There are even those who are currently in treatment programs such as a PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program) that cannot be with their loved ones while they are in receiving help for their substance abuse problems.
Another aspect of the holidays which can be problematic is the reintroduction to family events where those attending may not have an issue with alcohol abuse. Nobody wants to feel different and separate from others. We all have an innate urge to want to belong, so it can be difficult being the only sober person at times while everybody else drinks. As I have seen in my own experience, my family parties consisted of a steady flow of alcohol for those attending growing up. It was commonplace and never viewed as an issue. For my first Thanksgiving free from drugs, I made an excuse as why I could not attend. When it came time for Christmas Eve, I attended the family party but once again made an excuse as to why I could not stay for more than two hours. Just being there caused anxiety and a feeling of discomfort. This was partly because apart from my mother and father, nobody in the family knew I had just been in drug rehab for several months over the last year. People offered me alcohol and were confused when I turned it down. I explained I had to head off to work and that explanation seemed to suffice. This awkward and uncomfortable season had me thinking about what I would do next year. I sought out those with long term recovery who had far more experience than I did for advice. I now implement some of the strategies and ways to cope that they provided me during November and December of each year.
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. You need to set clear and defined boundaries with those in your life. If being offered an alcoholic beverage makes you uncomfortable you need to address this prior to attending a party with friends or family. Sometimes you may not want to let everybody know you are in recovery, but by letting people know you do not wish to even entertain the offer it will alleviate one stressor. You can set a defined time limit for your stay. Make sure you have your own transportation to and from the function. This will prevent you from feeling obligated or trapped. By having a way to make your exit and setting a time limit where you know there is a finite amount of time you will be there, this will lessen anxiety if triggers are present. Boundaries are an important aspect in the recovering addicts’ life, and they should not be thrown out simply due to Christmas and Thanksgiving. You need to be aware people, places and things that could be triggering for you. By understanding what your triggers are, you can better set healthy boundaries to limit exposure to these things.
Incorporate recovery into your holiday schedule. It would be beneficial to attend a support group during this time. Many twelve-step fellowships have meetings all day long during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. These meetings are held because of the need for support during this season. You could even attend a party with sober friends who have the same struggles as you. Connect with others in recovery and be of service. Perhaps offer to help set up for these meetings or you could work at a shelter serving food to the homeless. By being of service it will keep your disease at the forefront of your mind. Helping another person is a rewarding experience unlike any other and puts things into perspective. Finally, never be afraid to reach out to your own support network during the holidays. Sober friends or a sponsor are a great means of support.
With shorter days and the Massachusetts winter weather it can be easy to feel down. Practicing self-care is crucial. Exercise when possible, get sufficient sleep, and take some time for yourself. Whether it is reading a book, meditation or doing something you enjoy, you should always set aside a time of the day to do an act that brings you pleasure. Self-Care is a big part of recovery maintenance, so do not let bad weather keep you from taking care of yourself!
The holidays alone are tough, but you can make it through them sober. With the Covid-19 pandemic we may feel even more isolated than ever before but there are ways to reach out and find support. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Sadly, many lives have been lost to the disease of addiction due to people not reaching out when they were struggling. If you are suffering from a substance abuse do not put off getting help until after the holidays.