The holiday season is finally here. Are you excited to celebrate with family and friends or are you dreading it? In many cases the holidays bring up a variety of emotions relating to things that occurred in the past as well as what might happen going forward. Some memories are filled with pain, arguments, and repercussions of being an active user during past holidays. Other memories could be of family trauma, or of other active users that are family members. Any of those can be a challenge to handle, especially at this time of year. However, here you are now, right now in this moment. And you are sober.
The holidays can be a challenging time for many, especially those new to recovery. It will be a time to create new traditions. And it’s a time to put yourself first. That means that if your family triggers you during the holidays, perhaps you want to skip this year. It’s absolutely okay to avoid high-pressure situations!
While being early in your recovery can present challenges during the holiday season, here are some ways to set yourself up for success!
1) Surround yourself with support. Seek out those in your life who are supportive of your recovery. Be sure not to isolate! There are many others who will be struggling during this time of year especially, so perhaps you can seek them out by going to self-help meetings like AA. Whether you became sober using the 12 steps or not, meetings are a great way to seek support and camaraderie during difficult times.
2) Practice Self-Care. No is born knowing how to spring into action and perform CPR in a crisis. The individual makes the decision to complete training so that when the emergency comes they’ll be prepared to act. Self-care is your lifeline. It is an effective way to manage daily stress instead of letting it accumulate to unbearable levels. Self-care involves doing the things you enjoy and that soothe you, such as going for a swim, watching your favorite movie, taking a bubble bath, getting a massage, going hunting, or cooking an exotic meal for yourself or your partner. Self-care is the act of self-love, so take care of yourself and continue to love you.
3) Be aware of your triggers/stressors. Understanding your triggers while in recovery helps you to understand what will tempt you to use. Once you are aware of your triggers you can work on action plans to help manage them, such as being ready to leave the area or practicing various exercises to keep you calm while you wait it out (such as deep breathing or calling someone in your support system).
4) Avoid situations where you will be tempted to use. Steer clear of environments where there will be alcohol, drugs, and triggers as much as possible. Also, actively avoid being in contact with people who you know will be using or who you’ve used with. If you are in a situation that presents challenges, make sure you have an exit strategy to remove yourself from the situation if you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
5) Get enough sleep and exercise. Make sure you are getting enough sleep and are exercising regularly. This is helpful for feeling energized and positive. Exercise is also a great stress reliever.
6) Share your feelings instead of bottling them up. The holiday times can bring up a range of emotions that can be fun, crazy, or scary, including drinking and drug use, painful memories, stress, disappointment, and sadness. Make sure you are expressing and processing these feelings in a healthy way. You can do this using your sober support system and/or an experienced mental health professional.
7) Find ways to celebrate the holidays in a healthy way and prepare. For newly sober individuals this holiday season will be different, to say the least. Instead of dwelling on what you will be missing, find healthy ways to celebrate and have fun. Join in sober activities around town, volunteer, and rediscover your ability to have fun and feel good without alcohol or drugs. Most importantly, prepare and make plans so you can set yourself up to win!
8) Recognize when you need help. If you are struggling, reach out for help. Schedule an appointment with a mental health professional. You will have a judgment-free zone to voice your concerns about the holidays and work through the feelings coming up. Mental health professionals experienced with substance abuse are trained and equipped with a vast tool kit to help their clients survive the holidays. If you don’t already have a therapist it’s a good idea to find one so you have an existing relationship when issues arise, even if you don’t want to go on a consistent basis.
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