Preparing For A Sober Holiday Season
While the holidays can be a magical time for many of us, for those in recovery (especially early recovery) they can be a source of anxiety, fears of relapse, and a time of feeling even more conspicuous than usual. While our families and friends continue to enjoy the usual parties and traditional libations of the season, many of us in our first holiday season of sobriety can find ourselves feeling isolated, alienated, and overwhelmed by the fear of potential triggers and temptations.
So, how can we adopt a more empowering mindset in what can be some of the most challenging weeks of the year while still allowing ourselves to enjoy the true essence of the season and successfully emerge with our sobriety intact? Here are some mindful strategies and practices to consider to remain engaged in our traditions without succumbing to triggers, temptations, and traps that no longer serve us.
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Most people who have participated in any type of formal recovery program are familiar with the concept of a gratitude list. For those that may not be familiar, a gratitude list is exactly what it sounds like: a list of all the things you feel grateful for. Many addiction recovery programs incorporate a gratitude list into their treatment regimens, typically in the early days of recovery. Creating a list of things you’re grateful for can be extremely helpful in maintaining sobriety and motivation throughout treatment.
While gratitude lists can be effective tools to help keep the momentum of treatment moving, meditating from a place of true gratitude, however, changes the brain and the way the brain functions. When done properly, anxiety diminishes, the focus of our thinking changes, and best of all, we can look at the life we’ve been given in a way that recognizes its worth.
Practicing gratitude is not an exercise in the denial of difficult circumstances in our lives, nor is it the practice of taking inventory of our material possessions. Instead, it is simply remembering that there is value in everything, that life itself is a gift, and that the humility it requires to express thanks makes us more “right-sized” in our perceptions of ourselves. Gratitude is the cornerstone of serenity which is often scarce this time of year.
Nothing can lead us to entitlement faster than resentments. This time of year, there are countless opportunities to harbor, nurture, and rehearse them in our minds. Everything from the extra obligations we take on to the lack of appreciation we may experience for all our efforts to create the perfect holiday backdrop for our loved ones can take center stage.
Take time to take inventory of all your resentments. Name them, list them, and acknowledge them. Then; surrender them. They have the potential to convince us that we deserve whatever we want in the moment regardless of the outcomes. Nothing says “relapse” like holiday entitlement.
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Confront Unrealistic Expectations
Everyone has a wish list for the holidays, but far too often that list becomes a set of expectations rather than wants. When we live in a state of expectation, we will almost always be disappointed. Not only do our expectations serve to rob us of the joy of the moment, but they also have a way of getting transmitted to those around us. Expectations set the stage for our feelings of entitlement.
Anticipation, on the other hand, is living with a loose grip and being willing to accept the gift that is the moment at hand. Expectations demand; while anticipation waits in wonder. During the holiday season, remember to regularly take stock of what unmet expectations could be robbing you of your holiday joy. Accepting life on life’s terms requires living with the loose grip of anticipation rather than the tight fist of expectation.
Navigating Social Gatherings
It is important, especially in early sobriety, to never feel trapped at any holiday social gatherings, especially since there are likely to be temptations or triggers that need to be averted. Having an exit strategy for these events is imperative. Driving ourselves to a party or being sure we can access a car service should we carpool is an important detail to keep in mind. Sharing rides with friends who will want to stay the entire evening is too risky if we begin to feel uncomfortable.
In early sobriety, it may be that we allow ourselves a half-hour at the beginning of the event to simply make an appearance, say our hello’s, and slip out quietly. Once we make a lap around the room to greet everyone, we can feel fairly certain that we won’t be missed once others are into their second, third, and fourth martini, at which time we will be back at home safe and sound. If it feels safe to stay at the party into the night then by all means enjoy the evening, but if feeling triggered or tempted starts to enter the picture we need to have a plan to exit without excuse.
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Taking care of our personal needs is always an important component of recovery, but during the holidays it is even more important. Time demands can cause us to skip our contemplative practices, miss our exercise times, and grab far too many treats from the office goodie table at work and call it “lunch.”
Our lack of self-care can often cause us to lose our focus and discipline, and ultimately find ourselves in self-loathing, restlessness, irritability, and discontentment; all of which have the potential to cause us to slip. Recognizing that self-care is as important as the other tasks on your to-do list can help put yourself at the top, and stop you from succumbing to holiday temptations.
All of us need connection and support in our recovery; especially during the holidays. Make your recovery meetings a priority, find time with friends who enrich you, and surround yourself with those who make you feel known and loved. The holidays can be a very lonely time for many. Depression spikes and relapses escalate during this season. Maintaining our connections to others is part of staying present and accountable for our recovery.
Seek To Serve
Volunteer, serve at an event for underserved people, and make an intentional effort to express gratitude by sharing time and effort that benefits others. Engaging in service work is far more beneficial for our sobriety than simply writing end-of-the-year checks to our favorite charities. Sacrificing for others is the fastest way to take our focus off ourselves and shift it to the world around us. Being a part of the bigger story is where we find purpose and hope which shifts our gaze away from the self-centered fear of our addiction.
When we allow ourselves intentional connection with others, a mindset of gratitude for the life we have been given, continue to practice self-care without feeling self-centered, and experience our traditions with anticipation rather than expectation, we can embrace the true essence of this season of peace (sober serenity) and goodwill (service to others) with genuine comfort and joy.
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Get Help Before The Holidays
The holidays can be an incredibly stressful time for anyone, especially those struggling with a substance use disorder or mental health condition. While the New Year is a popular time to make a change for the better, waiting to get the help you need is never the best option. To get started on your recovery journey, contact a treatment provider to learn more about your options.
A survivor of addiction himself, David Hampton is a Certified Professional Recovery Coach (CPRC) and a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC).
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