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Holiday Joy or Holiday Fear: How to Get Through The Season Without Slipping

Once the cold weather starts moving in, it's a sure sign that the holiday season is right around the corner. Don't let the upcoming holidays throw you into the doldrums or, worse yet, be an occasion that precipitates a slip or full-on relapse. There are some things you can do to minimize your risks during this time. Here we take a look at how to get through the season without slipping.

man trying to not drink during holiday seasonBe advised. Some of these suggestions may seem a bit off-the-wall or even strange. But you never know what's going to work until you try it, right? Don't worry. There's no right or wrong associated with any of these suggestions. Just remember that the wise choice is always what feels comfortable and reasonable for you.

What's Your Worst Fear About the Holidays?

There isn't one person among us who doesn't have a particular fear about the holidays. And that includes other family members who aren't in recovery, but do support your recovery. Everyone, it seems, has their own horror story about the family get-together gone terribly wrong or the disastrous office holiday party where someone got drunk and then went on to cause an accident.

Thinking about your own situation, what comes to mind as your worst fear about the holiday season? Is it that you dread coming into contact with certain family members, even distant ones that you don't see that often - but occasionally do at holidays? Is it one person or several that you try your best to steer clear of, for one reason or another?

Maybe you don't like the individual or there's something about their demeanor toward you that makes you feel uncomfortable. There's no question that family dynamics can get a little tenuous and stressful, particularly at a time of the year when many people are drinking more than they usually do or should and trying to cram a year's worth of socializing into just a few short hours.

Are you worried that your boss will insist that you attend a company function for the holidays and this is an occasion where the alcohol flows freely and you're expected to either participate or stick around until the end of the evening (there's often some sort of program involved)? Do you fear that you'll be tempted to imbibe and you don't feel comfortable saying no or coming up with some kind of convincing reason why you're not drinking?

Is it that the holiday season brings back memories of loved ones you've lost, of relationships destroyed by your addiction, by all the negative consequences that followed your addictive behavior in the past?

As with all fears, the best way to overcome them is to face them head-on. You have to be able to identify and recognize what it is about the holidays that make your guts churn and you want to run the other way. This is the first step in being able to make sound decisions about your behavior.

Sort Out Your Emotions

Once you've identified your worst fear about the holidays, you're not out of the woods just yet. There are a slew of other emotions that crop up during the holidays that you need to recognize and know how to deal with.

We've already discussed fear, to a certain extent, at least identifying what makes you feel fearful. But fear is an interesting emotion. On the one hand, it can warn you of a risk and give you time to make a good decision about what to do. On the other hand, fear can stop you in your tracks, causing paralysis and an inability to make any kind of a choice.

Another emotion that frequently is associated with the holidays and the newly recovered is sadness. Of all the emotions we could experience, being sad is probably the most painful. There is such a sense of loss, at times, that we simply don't know how to overcome it. While it's easy enough for someone else to say that we just have to allow time to pass, because time helps heal all wounds, that doesn't do us much good when we're face to face with a roomful of people or in a situation where we're constantly reminded of our loss. And the pain is very real. You feel it, physically, as well as emotionally. So, sadness is something to be on the lookout for. Acknowledging that you might experience some feelings of being sad during the holidays will help defuse the emotion, deflating its power over you.

Accompanying sadness is yet another powerful emotion: guilt. When you see certain people, they remind you of the terrible things you did that brought harm to others. This makes you feel guilty as well as sad. You may also fear being around these people because of the possibility they'll bring up matters better kept private. You don't want them talking about to others or asking you in front of others about your addictive past and all the bad things you did. Like, "How are you getting along now that you're out of jail?" Or, what about, "Do you ever get to see your kids now that your wife divorced you." It's completely understandable that you might feel a wave of guilt wash over you during this time. Be prepared with a succinct statement to make to the person who attempts to dredge up the past. Be polite, but firm. You've come a long way since that time and are working hard on your sobriety. Take credit for that and don't allow others to try to drag you down.

Some newly sober individuals have another emotion to deal with at holiday time: helplessness. There's so much on their plate, just trying to manage their day-to-day schedules and doing the recovery work to maintain their sobriety that they tend to feel a complete helplessness in the face of anything unexpected or threatening. By threatening, we mean risky. And the holidays are chock full of risky situations, people we know we should steer clear of, and the ever-present likelihood that we'll run ourselves ragged trying to keep up with our duties and responsibilities and still make time for holiday obligations. Keeping a schedule and knowing when to bow out of social engagements, or even when to leave them, will help prevent falling into helplessness. Always have a plan so that you know what to do and when. When you're prepared, you're more in control of your emotions during the holidays.

What about feeling numb? Let's face it. You've been through a lot, what with rehab and getting your life back together now that you're in recovery. It may be that you don't feel much of anything at all and are berating yourself for that. After all, the holiday season should be a cause for joy and happiness, right? Why can't you feel that? Well, don't beat yourself up about it. There's no point to doing so. In fact, recognizing that you feel numb is important in and of itself. It means that you know you are healing. Remind yourself of that and accept the fact that you need time to heal. And each person heals according to their own needs, so there's no set timetable for how long it will take before you feel emotion.

How to Deal With Memories of the Past

Getting back to the memories of the past that may pop up during holiday get-togethers, social events or the season itself, what are some of the ways to deal with them so that they don't stall or jeopardize your recovery?

As recovery experts and psychiatric professionals recommend, it is important to take a proactive approach regarding painful memories. Therapist, teacher and author Reneau Peurifoy (//, for one, has this advice:

As you recall the memory, keep in mind that it is in the past. That event is no longer part of your present day.

The experience or the circumstance you recall cannot happen again. Be specific about why this is so. It could be, for example, that the people involved are dead or they are no longer an active part of your life.

Remember that things are different now. If the painful memory is of your childhood, you are now an adult. You have choices now as well as the ability on how to protect yourself that you didn't have as a child.

Be Smart About What Festivities You Attend

There's no sense in accepting more invitations for holiday events and get-togethers than you feel capable of managing. By that we mean managing in accordance with your recovery goals. It does you absolutely no good to overdo your holiday activities. In fact, it can prove disastrous to your being able to maintain your sobriety.

Comb through the list of invitations or think seriously about saying yes to a request to attend a party or event before you make any commitment. Think about what else you have on your schedule, especially recovery-oriented work and obligations. Is the event or activity anything that will pose a conflict for your schedule? Is it something that will put you into contact or close proximity with people you know you need to avoid because they are associated in some way with your past addictive behavior?

When it comes time to decline an invitation, it makes sense to have a reasonable statement to make to the person inviting you. Have this prepared ahead of time and even practice saying it in a mirror so that you feel comfortable delivering the lines. The more at-ease you appear when you express your thanks for the invitation but you are unable to accept, the more likely you'll be to pull it off without a hitch.

Remember, you aren't obligated to put yourself out for any of these invitations. Even if it is a work-related event, there are ways to manage it so that your sobriety never comes into question or is put at risk.

Maybe later on in your recovery, some months or years from now, you'll be more comfortable accepting a few more holiday invitations. Right now, however, your recovery absolutely has to come first. You can celebrate the holiday season with your loved ones in a more controlled and non-threatening environment. That's what should take precedence, not every request to "stop by and have a drink" that you receive. You're not that person anymore. You can't afford to put yourself in such situations. That's all there is to it.

Try Giving Time to Others in Need

There is always someone who is in need. You only have to look as far as the nearest homeless shelter or food bank to see any number of individuals who can benefit from your assistance. Maybe you aren't in a position to go and work the Thanksgiving Dinner schedule, but you may be able to donate some small amount of money so that the organizers will be able to feed more people during the holidays. This is giving of you to help others in need. And guess what? It feels good to be helpful to others. Beyond that, it helps take your mind off the stress and tension of the holidays. It is a way to celebrate the occasion in a proactive and appropriate manner.

Of course, there are other outlets for you to be able to give of your time to others in need during the holidays. Do you know of someone, perhaps a relative, who is in a nursing home? Why not pay them a visit during the holidays? Bring a small gift, something to let them feel appreciated and a little less alone. It doesn't have to be anything expensive. It's really the thought that counts. And, speaking of visiting the ill or elderly in nursing homes, these people are generally very eager for outside visitors. It gets boring and lonely in such places, even though there may be many activities for the able-bodied residents. Not everyone in a nursing home is up to participating in such activities. But they do like having visitors, someone to spend a little quality time with them.

Besides bringing a little sunshine to someone who really needs it, when you give of yourself to others, you're doing something that benefits your recovery. Directing your energies outward, instead of focusing on your problems or worries, you are making inroads into strengthening your foundation in recovery. And that's always a good thing.

Go Someplace Different

If the holidays always seem to get you down, why not opt for a change of pace? Take a little trip to someplace different, a place where you normally don't spend the holidays. If possible, make it a location you've never been to before, or one that you haven't visited during a holiday.

It can be a weekend getaway or simply a day-trip, if you don't have three or four days to spare. Any amount of time away, if it allows you to explore and see new things, engage in activities you find enjoyable and, especially, spend some quality time with the person you care about most, is time well-spent - particularly during the holidays when being at home or in your normal environment seems to cause you frustration and anxiety.

Since anticipation is a big part of enjoying your trip, start planning for it well in advance of the upcoming holiday season. If that is not possible, there's nothing wrong with a spur of the moment getaway with someone you love. Even if it involves the entire family, getting away to someplace new and different can put a whole new spin on celebrating the holidays. With new activities, a variety of food options and other things like sightseeing and shopping to keep everyone busy, there'll be less time to dwell on what may otherwise get you down during the festive season.

Know Where Meetings Are

No matter what your plan is for the holiday season, if you find yourself feeling like you're about to slip, make sure you always know where the 12-step meetings are. This is true when you're visiting relatives or out of town on a family getaway just as it's true in your home environment.

When you feel in danger of slipping, get to a meeting. Go to as many as you need until you feel like you're better able to manage the stressful time and to get past the temptation to use again. Remember that cravings and urges are time limited and that means they don't generally last that long. If you can wait them out while doing something proactive for your recovery, you'll be on your way to being better able to deal with them the next time they surface.

Summing up, know what your worst fears are about the holiday season, sort out your emotions (so you're better able to manage them), learn how to deal with memories of the past, be smart about what festivities you attend, try giving to others in need, go someplace different, and always know where the meetings are. If you follow these suggestions, you'll be more likely to experience holiday joy instead of holiday fear - and you'll be able to get through the season without slipping.

Posted on November 16th, 2012

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