Tis’ the season for family gatherings, work parties, and other community events.
For some, the holidays bring a feeling of togetherness and comradery. For others, especially those of us in substance use recovery, these same parties can be stressors that could lead to unnecessary anxiety and depression, and maybe even a slip or a relapse.
Family dynamics are complicated for everyone but can be an especially tricky landscape to traverse in early substance use recovery and beyond.
5 Tips for Substance Use Recovery During the Holidays
Here are five tips that can help you set yourself up for success at these events during the next months and could lead to better enjoyment of your holiday time.
My first tip is tried and true. Bring something you really enjoy drinking (without alcohol, of course), and bring a favorite cup from home. Anecdotally, by a survey of my peers in substance use recovery, folks can easily alcohol at a party if they have something else enjoyable to sip on. So bring your fizzy water, your diet coke, and even non-alcoholic egg nog if you’re feeling especially festive!
Bring a Friend
Do you have a friend in recovery? Tag team those difficult events that might be looming. You’ll have someone to talk to if a trigger comes up, and someone to watch out for you if you feel tempted. If you don’t have a close friend in mind, the following tips might be more up your alley.
Have an Exit Plan
I mean this literally. Park in a spot you can get in and out of quickly. Cravings and triggers can come up suddenly and you’ll feel safer knowing you can leave when you need to. If you don’t drive or came with somebody, download a ride-sharing app, such as Lyft or Uber. It’s always ok to leave early. Think of an excuse beforehand (“I need to walk my dog,” is my go-to!).
Recovery Meeting Sandwich
Start your day with an early meeting. Often, substance use recovery groups will have a potluck on holidays, many places have a 24-hour cycle of meetings: one meeting every hour for the entire day. It’s a blessing to be around other folks in recovery who may be dealing with the same family stressors as you. So come early, eat great food, pick up some positive recovery vibes, and then head to your family or work gathering. And afterward, head back to a meeting where you will have a place to vent about how it went.
Yes, it’s ok to politely decline, to drop off gifts early, or make other plans with other natural supports. Family can be triggering, especially around the holidays, and it’s ok to just say no. Often, tensions with-in a family unit can be strained or feel forced in early substance use recovery. Sometimes the tension can last for years while healing takes place.
Know that if you feel like you may be triggered during a family event, it’s ok to skip a year, or two, or more! Whatever feels safest and gives you the opportunity for regulation and stress reduction will help your recovery in the long run.
During substance use recovery, having a plan is key.
The biggest holiday hack is to have a plan.
Give some thought to what seems manageable to you during the festive season.
Make use of your coping skills before, during and after the event.
Remember to breathe, and remember that any difficult situation is just temporary.
Keep in mind that those of us in recovery are on a journey of returning to health, a journey full of hills and valleys. Holiday season may be a valley for you this year, but that doesn’t mean it is always the case.
So go, or don’t go, but go prepared, and know that there are resources in the community to help you along your path.
Maxx Dempsey (they/them) works as a Peer Support Specialist on the Assertive Community Treatment Team at Southlight. When they are not working they spend their time enjoying nature walks with their dog and playing with their four cats. They live by the motto, “do one thing each day that scares you.”
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