Staying Sober and In Recovery During and Through the Holidays
Fred Dyer, PhD, CADC
Dyer Training and Consulting
The evening before Thanksgiving is known as "Blackout Wednesday." The biggest bar night of the year, with more car accidents occurring than any other day of the year, Blackout Wednesday launches the holiday season. Now Christmas is upon us, and addiction treatment and recovery counselors throughout the country are concerned about relapse among their clients.
For many people, this season means family visits, lots of food, holiday and Christmas decorations everywhere.Christmas specials on TV, exchanging gifts, neighborhood caroling: all of these festive activities are part of the holiday season.
But what about those who are in their first few months of recovery from alcohol and drugs, or those who have been in recovery for some time? For many in recovery, the holidays can be a challenging time. This can be related to having had an active substance use disorder in the past, relationships that have been harmed by previous active addiction, as well as the loss of family members, friends, or acquaintances due to death, separation, or divorce. Unfulfilled expectations and feelings of loneliness add to these challenges, triggering relapse during the holidays.
The following strategies can help clients maintain recovery over the holidays:
1. Plan. Have clients create a plan for maintaining recovery during the holidays. Include strategies for dealing with high-risk situations that might involve others' alcohol or drug use.
2. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. Remind clients to have an "attitude of gratitude" every day during the holiday season. Have clients list ten different things to be grateful for each day and instruct them to post the lists on the refrigerator door, bathroom mirror, or other place where they are likely to see the list frequently throughout the day.
3. Recovery support: Have clients create a list of names and phone numbers of individuals to call and talk to if they feel overwhelmed or triggered to get high. Advise them to keep the list with them at all times. Clients who are in 12-step recovery and have a sponsor may want to talk with the sponsor daily during the holiday season.
4. Travel support: Clients who are traveling should find out the locations of mutual aide recovery support groups and meeting schedules in the area where they will spend the holiday, so they can attend meetings if they need recovery support.
5. Family support: Encourage clients to develop a healthy "family of choice." This often includes peers in recovery who celebrate holidays drug-free.
6. Kindness: Encourage clients to do something kind for others. This can include volunteering at a soup kitchen or providing food for a person who is homeless. Acts of charity/service can decrease a focus on cravings or urges to use drugs triggered by the holiday.
7. Holiday rituals: Help clients create their own drug-free holiday celebration rituals.
8. Social events: Remind clients that they don't have to go to every holiday party if they're not "into the scene." Emphasize that their recovery and sobriety are important to both their "now" and to their "future."
9. The gift of recovery: Remind clients of the many gifts of recovery. The absolute best gift people in recovery can give themselves, those who care about them, and society as a whole, is another day of recovery, gift-wrapped with a ribbon of charity/service and gratitude.
About the Author:
Fred Dyer PhD, CADC is an International Trainer and Consultant in substance use and mental health disorders. Dr. Dyer prepared this article for the Great Lakes ATTC. You can reach Fred at Dyertrains@aol.com and observe his work at dyertrainingandconsulting.org.