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Thriving in Survival: Holidays 2020


As we start to prepare, or continue, to celebrate the 2020 holiday season, it goes without saying that this will be perhaps one of the most stressful and difficult ones in recent times. The pressure and influence of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many folx in recovery and supporting fields to assess this year differently. For many in or seeking recovery, the holidays may already activate any number of traumas or personal “stuff” causing some to be more susceptible to symptoms of recurrence or heavier use. We may also experience the effectiveness of our self-care strategies lessening through this time, which does not mean we are failing, it instead indicates we are experiencing something new or extra challenging. We need to remember there are ways to successfully navigate the holidays — and we can ask family, friends and colleagues to help.

One of the ways we can mitigate the stress of the season is planning and boosting our self-care before the holidays kick in. We can do this by focusing not just on engagement in recovery supports, but also on staying on track with a holistic approach to support our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. Every individual's recovery looks different and with the help a counselor, mentor, recovery coach, or sponsor we can have a plan ready. (We also want to consider other factors, like equitable access to services and promoting multiple pathways of recovery, which includes medications and moderation.)


Here are some suggestions that may help you out:

  1. Check in with yourself first. A great tool to use is the P.I.E.S. list. It stands for Physical, Intellectual/Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual or Social. Looking at where we are at in these areas before we make connect digitally or in-person is a good way to give ourselves the time and space to reflect. 
  2. Take some digital breaks. With so much of our time and energy taking in place in front of screens, planning some time off from them can help you reset and take some time to breathe. Gratefully, there are apps that can help us keep track of our screen time and set reminders. 
  3. Check in on someone else or volunteer. Checking in on friends, family or co-workers is a great way to get outside of ourselves in a healthy way. Service and connection can help us gain perspective and support others. 
  4. Building your network, part 1. Attending more recovery support meetings so you are walking into holiday get-togethers with a good foundation and connection to your recovery. There are several platforms that offer free digital support meetings such as In the Rooms. Some in-person meetings have started back up; be sure to make sure they are following all COVID-19 precautions. 
  5. Build your network, part 2. Get numbers and social media usernames of other people in recovery and keeping them available just in case you need some extra support. Also consider helping others by committing to calling three or four people who might be struggling (see number 3). 
  6. It's OK to say no and it’s ok to leave. We may at some point felt we had to attend gatherings or events out of a sense of amends or obligation. If you are compromising your own recovery or integrity to be around people who are excessively using or making you uncomfortable, you have the right to decline or leave. Having an exit plan for gatherings or events and a way to get home that is not dependent on others. 
  7. Create your own traditions and meaning. If the stories and memories of the holidays are not happy or align with you, this is the chance to make up new ones. There are several alternative practices and ideas out there that might fit for you. You may also re-examine your current traditions and find deeper meaning in them. This is a time to give yourself room to create or commit to something meaningful for you. 
  8. Brave conversations instead of confrontations. The holidays can be a time to try new tools of boundaries and practicing emotional intelligence. Even if we are triggered by a family member or lured into a loaded conversation regarding politics or beliefs, we can simply say this may not be the best time. You can also do some practicing beforehand with someone you trust to make sure you are anchored in your responses and personal values. 
  9. It’s about wellness, not perfection. We can often be hardest on ourselves more than anyone else. Work on showing yourself the same, or more, levels of compassion you might have for someone else. Put your wellness and recovery first. In the book The Four Agreements, it’s called Always Doing Your Best. Our best changes from moment to moment and cannot be compared to anyone else’s.


Again, these are just some suggestions, and you may have some great ideas to add. The more we do to meet people where they are at on the journey, the more opportunity we have to thrive in the survival of 2020. Have safe and happy holidays! 



NEW WEEKLY MEETING: The Recovery Coach Connection   

This will be a weekly meeting for Coaches and Peers to learn from others in the field, explore the art and role, and receive support. In each meeting, we will focus on a topic or bring in a different guest to share their experience on topics relevant to the recovery coaching field and movement and answer your questions. Meetings will take place on the second Monday of every month at 8 p.m. CST / 9 p.m. EST.
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Jesse Heffernan is a person in long-term substance use and mental health recovery. He is a CCAR Core Trainer and Recovery Coach Professional. Throughout his professional career, he has worked as the Program Director for one of Wisconsin’s three mental health peer-run mental health respite facilities, the Outreach and Empowerment Coordinator for Faces & Voices of Recovery and currently is the Co-Owner of Helios Recovery services. He lives in WI with his partner and 4 children, enjoying all things in geek culture, basketball, and coffee. It is his belief that Recovery is the process of returning to inherent worth and dignity.

About Helios Recovery:
Helios Recovery Services inspires and ignites leaders through training, consulting, and advocacy that focuses on core elements that help create healthy, responsible, and thriving individuals and communities. 
Learn more at and see more recovery related blogs by Jesse Heffernan here.