It’s hard to believe that we’re already well into the fall season. Along with the cooler temperatures and shorter days comes the start of the holiday relapse season: Thanksgiving, the winter holidays and the New Year. There is no shortage of temptations during the holidays either with friends, family or co-workers. Here are a few ideas to help keep your recovery strong and protected during the holidays and any other occasion where substances are present.
This very useful, 12-step acronym stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. Avoid HALT at all costs. If your basic needs are not being met—your body is starving for fuel, you are upset emotionally, feel alone and have not had adequate sleep—you are more likely to relapse. If you are overcome by emotion or exhaustion, it may become difficult to fight off a craving or turn down a drink. You simply won’t have the energy to fight off the urge and can potentially make a fatal choice. If you find yourself Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired your best bet is to eat, sleep and then proceed directly to a 12-step meeting.
- “NO” is a sentence.
This mantra will come in handy with either declining invitations to events/holidays/parties or when offered alcohol or drugs. It’s not uncommon to be bombarded with holiday or party invitations at this time of year. I urge those in recovery to be selective about invitations, especially to family holidays or events. Time and time again I see people relapse because of people-pleasing behaviors and difficulty in saying “NO” to clearly risky situations. The mistake I hear over and over is that the “no” is immediately followed by a laundry list of excuses. You are not obligated to give any excuse for not drinking or using and turning down an invitation. A simple “No” works. “Want a beer?”….. “NO”. Pair that with a “thank you,” and you will be ahead of the game.
- What’s in your glass matters only to you.
When attending parties or professional events where alcohol is served and everyone seems to be having fun, many people in recovery dwell on the fact that they are not drinking alcohol and “What will everyone think if they know that I am not drinking?” The truth is that it is really only going to matter to you. The “happy” people next to you care about getting their own drinks. Please order your soda or water and remember that what you drink is your business and not anyone else’s. Plus, you’re less likely to stick out if you have a drink in your hand.
- Pre-schedule a check-in.
This is something that has been very helpful for many in recovery. If you accept an invitation, one additional insurance policy for your sobriety is arranging for a sponsor, 12-step friend, recovery supportive friends or family to be available for a quick phone call check-in. I suggest those in their first year of recovery call on the way to the event, duck out for a call or send a text half way through and then call on the way home. Your support network may be able to spot trouble before you do and offer some guidance or express concerns that should be heeded.
- Come late, leave early and always drive.
When attending a holiday party there is really no pressure about when you arrive or when you leave. The important thing is that you showed up and made the effort. For certain events it may be awkward to arrive or leave at certain times, so do a little outreach. Find out when food is served, what time cake will come out, etc. If you want to join in the toast, ask the host for sparkling water instead. Don’t show up for the pregame or after-party and minimize your time spent in high-risk events by arriving late and leaving early. If you live in a rural or suburban area, it is imperative that you drive. When you drive, you decide when it’s time to go for any reason. Park in a location that is easy to get out of to avoid being boxed in. If you don’t have a car and can’t arrange for a sponsor or a reliable, supportive friend to drive you, don’t go. There is nothing more distressing than being stuck in a place surrounded by substances to learn that Uber isn’t available and that you have no safe way home.
Let’s face it, we didn’t get sober to be isolated and hide from life. Nor did we get sober to have a miserable, lonely experience. We got sober to enjoy life to its fullest. Following these tips can help guide you along your journey at any time during the year. Those in early sobriety are at a particularly vulnerable time, as each holiday and event will be the first sober one in some time, if ever. If you don’t have a lot of experience with holidays in recovery, it’s normal to feel uneasy. But a holiday party or work event is never worth losing your recovery. You have worked hard to get where you are regardless of how much clean time you have. As you continue to succeed in recovery, remember how far you have come!