The holidays can be joyous and they can also be stressful and full of triggers, especially for people in early sobriety.
My first sober holiday was Thanksgiving and I was nervous to see family who hadn’t yet seen me sober. I didn’t know how they would respond … or how I would!
My thoughts raced around. Would I be awkward in conversations? Would I be present at the moment or would I be distracted and consumed by thoughts about drinking? How would others treat me? Would I feel shame and guilt?
We gathered at my aunt’s house and my parents asked that there be no alcohol to reduce any triggers for me. I was grateful that everybody honored their request. Although there was no alcohol in sight, I grabbed something from under the sink, and there was a bottle of vodka. I thought, “Hmm, is this my test today.” I shut the cupboard.
Even though only I knew the choice I’d made, I was pleasantly surprised and proud of myself for saying no. The rest of the evening went smoothly. I didn’t obsess about that bottle of alcohol, and told myself, “What would be the benefit of drinking? What would that resolve?”
I’m thankful that for the first year of my sobriety, my family supported me by not drinking around me. I know how difficult it is to stay sober when those around you offer little or no support.
If you are in this situation, here are twelve ways of preventing relapse in the midst of the holidays.
- Attend support group meetings and use them to expand your support network. The more support you have, the easier it is to stay clean.
- Identify your personal triggers and the best relapse prevention strategies for you. Know yourself and your most difficult situations. Have a plan for when those situations arise.
- Count to 100. Simple as it sounds, just stop what you’re doing and silently count to yourself. The short pause can give you space to make a wise choice.
- Remove yourself from vulnerable situations. Walk outside for a minute or move to another room to shift your perspective away from a trigger.
- Give yourself positive self-talk. Take a breath and say something kind and encouraging to yourself. I like to say, “You’re ok, JoJo. You don’t want to drink.”
- Process your drinking thoughts with others. Have a couple of people who get it on speed dial. Feel free to call from the bathroom. Don’t think you have to handle it alone.
- Call your sponsor or any supportive person. Your sponsor understands what you are facing. Lean on them.
- Meditate … even for a few minutes. Triggers get the brain moving fast. Meditation slows everything down. Breathe deep and sit quietly to notice the thoughts and let them go.
- Listen to music. Whether it’s dance music or relaxing sounds, have a favorite playlist queued up and ready to go before, during, and after an event.
- Remind yourself of the negative impacts of alcohol has caused in your life. Before walking into an event, run through the three worst experiences from your drinking life. Remind yourself that you choose not to go back there.
- Bring a supportive friend with you. Even better than speed dial, bring somebody who you can talk to along to the event. Sometimes, just making eye contact in the midst of a difficult situation can shift everything.
- Bring your own non-alcoholic beverage to events. Have a fun, bubbly beverage while others are having alcohol. A special non-alcoholic drink can help you feel part of the celebration.
It is important to prepare yourself for potential triggers that may arise. Instead of walking into the holidays hoping for the best, make a relapse prevention plan. It can help to write down your plan or your list of strategies so when Uncle Frank asks you if you want a drink, you can remember how to support yourself. Even if you have been sober for years, you may still experience triggers…especially around the holidays, so be prepared!
Holidays celebrations can be fun and they can also be stressful and overwhelming. If you are in recovery, be mindful of your thoughts, emotions, and actions. Make a plan so you have plenty of support. If your loved one is in sobriety, think about how best to make it easy for them to relax, feel included, and not be triggered. Ask questions and look for resources to help you be as supportive as possible (SAMHSA is a great resource for substance abuse and mental health. )
Even after all these years, I remind myself — sometimes on a daily basis — that my recovery and my life are worth the effort. In this holiday season, I remind you of the same. Have a happy and safe holiday!