Tips to Support Recovery During the Holidays

Holidays can be stressful for anyone, particularly for those in recovery. Besides the temptations to party hearty that seem to be everywhere, there are also the feelings of depression and being left out to contend with. Don’t let the holidays get you down or cause you to slip. Here are some tips to support recovery during the holidays.

Tip #1: Be sure to get enough rest. – Let’s face it. When you’re tired, you’re more apt to make snap judgments that may turn out to be wrong, say something you wish you hadn’t, or find yourself entertaining thoughts of giving into the temptation to drink or do drugs. While being well rested can’t guarantee that these situations won’t occur, it’s far less likely.

Why is that? In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, newcomers are encouraged to avoid “HALT.” That means you should never allow yourself to get hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Well, fatigue certainly plays a huge part in what causes many people to succumb to temptation – during the holidays and anytime. When you’re tired, your brain gets lazy. You find yourself making excuses or doing what seems easiest. It’s hard to fight off cravings if you have no resources left. It’s much simpler to just give in.

Do yourself a solid and be sure to get adequate rest each night. This applies all the time, of course, but especially during the holidays. Never permit yourself to burn the candle at both ends. You can’t have stay up for hours on end – wrapping Christmas presents or celebrating the fireworks display – and be in tip-top shape for whatever responsibilities you have on the morrow. And, you won’t be much good at making the right decisions, either.

How much rest is enough? Generally speaking, adults should get a good 8 to 9 hours of rest each night. While some people pride themselves on getting by with 5 hours or less, they’re only depriving their bodies and their minds of what they really need. It also helps to be consistent with you sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning. This establishes your body’s natural rhythms – and also helps you be alert and ready to go each day.

Tip #2: Be selective about what invitations you accept.– Depending on what time of year it is, you can expect to receive numerous invitations to parties and get-togethers. This is particularly true during the period from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. In some areas of the country, the calendar date that results in the most drinking and driving arrests is Halloween. Other big holidays for drinking include the Fourth of July and Labor Day.

You might think that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – while not holidays in the sense that you get time off from work – would be safe. That all depends on what kind of family dynamic you have present. If your family members are big drinkers or have other addictions, it stands to reason that you may wish to steer clear of celebrations on those days.

What it all boils down to is that you should exercise discretion. Be selective – in fact, be very selective – about what invitations you accept. There’s just no sense putting your sobriety in jeopardy by going to places where people are drinking and/or doing drugs.

If, however, an invitation can’t be discreetly turned down, such as a company dinner or event, you might be okay if you pay attention to tip #3.

Tip #3: What’s in your glass only matters to you. – When everyone around you is having a good time, drinking cocktails or champagne or beer, do you really think it matters what you have the bartender pour in your glass? Chances are it only matters to you. The man or woman next to you is only interested in getting his or her own drink. So, if you ask for sparkling water or tonic with lime, it’s your business and no one else’s.

If you’re with family or close friends and someone wants to fill your glass for a toast, it helps if you prepare the host ahead of time to have your glass filled with a non-alcoholic drink. If red wine is the toast beverage, you can have your glass filled with cranberry juice. If it’s champagne, make yours ginger ale or Seven Up. Remember that others will only notice or pay attention to a situation where a big deal is made of it. So, if you handle this ahead of time, no one’s the wiser. Everyone else is just caught up in the celebration of the moment. With this tip, you can join in and still be true to your recovery goals.

Tip #4: Have back-up plans ready. – It’s amazing how a simple tip can make all the difference. If you’re prepared with a reasonable response when you’re at a party and getting ready to leave and someone asks you to stay, it’s not only less stressful, it’s also essential. You’ve got an easy out, no one’s feelings are hurt, and you’ve been true to your sobriety.

Here’s how it works. You always have something that needs to be done. Holidays are no exception. Your response could be that you have to run an errand for your spouse or mother or you have an appointment you can’t miss. Maybe you need to pick up your children or get to the bank before it closes or buy supplies for work. What you say isn’t important. What is important is that you prepare what you’ll say in advance and stick to it. Don’t allow someone to convince you to stay just a little longer. Your time is your own. You don’t owe it to anyone else.

Laugh off objections, if that makes it any easier for you. Your friends or the party’s host will get over it. And you’ll be on your way without getting yourself in harm’s way.

Tip #5: Go late and leave early. – Here’s another tip that may work for you. It’s simple, really. Just go as late as you can to the party without being irresponsible and leave well before the party’s end. What you’re doing, in effect, is putting in an appearance. That’s all that matters to most hosts anyway. You’ve been invited. You show up, talk to a few folks, and leave. End of story.

As for the others at the party or get-together, they’re too busy chatting up friends and family members to notice how long you’re in attendance. And if someone does tap your arm and ask why you’re leaving, give them the response you prepared in advance (see tip #4).

Tip #6: Spend your time with fellow 12-step members. – Who understands the impact of the holidays on sobriety better than your fellow 12-step members? And, what better place to be than at a 12-step meeting when you feel the pressures of the holiday season? The truth is that those in recovery aren’t any more immune to depression and loneliness than someone who’s never had a problem with alcohol. Thousands of people of all ages are alone or infirm or depressed during the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, or around birthdays of now-deceased relatives or friends. But the difference is that you, since you are in recovery, have an automatic support network in your 12-step sponsor and group members.

Besides the fellowship and support, you’ve got someplace legitimate to go during the holidays. You don’t have to stress yourself about what to do or say. Your group members know what it feels like to be somewhat out of place – especially when you’re new to recovery. And you’ll get lots of ideas on how to handle different situations by listening to others share during the meetings.

Many 12-step groups may hold special get-togethers during certain holidays. This provides convivial atmosphere and a sober way to celebrate special occasions.

Tip #7: Give thanks for your sober days. – It may help to think about the number of days or weeks or months you’ve been sober. Just counting up the days can afford a measure of comfort and peace. This is a big achievement, and one that you’ve worked hard for. Sometimes, just taking the time to give thanks for all this time you’ve been sober in recovery is enough to keep you firmly on your path.

Tip #8: If you feel you might stumble, call your sponsor. – This tip applies anytime of the year. Day or night, if you feel like you’re in trouble and may slip, get in touch with your 12-step sponsor. Don’t delay. Don’t tough it out. Don’t give yourself an excuse to do something to jeopardize your sobriety.

After all, that’s what your sponsor signed on for when he or she agreed to be your sponsor. If not to help you discover your true strengths, to be supportive of your efforts to stay clean and sober, to listen in a nonjudgmental manner and with compassion, to offer helpful advice – what else is your sponsor for?

Of course, it goes without saying that you should choose your 12-step sponsor carefully. Be sure that the person you ask to sponsor you has been in successful recovery for at least one year. The more time a sponsor has in recovery, the more you look up to and admire the person’s words and deeds, the way he or she is always there when you’re in need, the more beneficial this person can be to you if you have a problem during the holidays.

One thing to remember is that you’re not putting your sponsor out by calling. The relationship you have with your sponsor is a special one. You both are committed to your sobriety.

Tip #9: Keep busy. – When you were in treatment and before you completed your program, one of the important parts was relapse prevention. This is where you learned about the importance of keeping yourself busy, of creating and maintaining schedules and adhering to a healthier routine. During the holidays, it’s especially helpful to have a list of things that you can get involved in or do so that your mind isn’t left to wonder about all the activities you’re missing out on.

Tackle a project you’ve been putting off. Invite some friends over for an intimate dinner at your home. Go out and enjoy a movie or a concert. You can also volunteer to help at any number of worthwhile organizations or charities. Do something nice for your neighbor or someone at work who’s been ill.

Sit down with a paper and pen and make a list of things you’d like to do, want to do, and have the time to do. You can prioritize them or do what is the quickest and easiest to get involved in right now. Once you’re done with that, move on to the next one. If this doesn’t get you through any qualms about being true to your recovery, then get yourself to a 12-step meeting and find support there.

Tip #10: Take time to enrich your spirit. – Material considerations often take center stage in people’s minds when it comes to the holidays. It doesn’t matter what holiday it is, there always seems to be a furious burst of activity around getting ready for the day, being involved on the day, and cleaning up after the day. What often gets left out completely is attention to the spiritual aspect of the holiday.

Christmas is the most obvious time when paying attention to spirituality would seem to matter most. But it’s certainly not the only time. Easter is another, as well as Thanksgiving. In fact, when you get right down to it, any holiday is a good time to think more about your spirituality than all the material trappings associated with the day.

How do you enrich your spirit? There’s no single way. What works for you may not be the same as what proves most effective for the next person. You may believe in God or a Higher Power or the power of the spirit or nature. Maybe you go to a church or a synagogue or commune with nature by meditating in the woods or by a pond or lake or stream. Some people get in touch with their spirituality and feel a sense of enrichment by doing yoga.

You can also just close your eyes, concentrate on your breathing in and out, and wipe your mind of all extraneous thoughts. Picture a peaceful scene and continue to breathe in and out deeply and regularly. Do this for about 15 to 20 minutes. You will feel refreshed and renewed afterward. What you are doing, in essence, is centering yourself, freeing yourself from stresses and distractions. You are bringing yourself back into balance: body, mind, and spirit.

Have a Healthy Happy Holiday

After you’ve been in successful recovery for a few years, you’ll look back on your early days and see how much you’ve grown. You’ll likely be amazed at how much easier it is now to overcome holiday stresses and temptations than it was back then. This is due to your diligence in working your steps, being involved in your support network, constantly refining your recovery plan and taking the necessary actions to achieve your goals. You will know who to turn to when you have a problem, and how to celebrate with sober friends to have a healthy and happy holiday.

Most of all, you’ll then be in a position to be able to offer the same type of support to someone new to recovery, someone who, like you a while back, needs the encouragement and strength that only someone in solid recovery can give. At that point, you’ll really know the importance of support during the holidays. You’ll know because you’re doing it.

Posted on November 16th, 2010

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