Limit Your Exposure to Holiday Stress to Avoid Relapse
Certain people bring out the addict in us. The chummy brother-in-law who tries to press a beer into your hand at family gatherings, the administrative assistant whose shrill laugh pounds at your eardrums even over office-party chatter and holiday music: They’re not trying to push you over the edge, though it sometimes feels like they are.
With a little foresight, you can avoid stress or minimize your exposure to it. For instance, if you know your brother-in-law will pressure you to knock back a few with him, you can arm yourself by bringing or mixing drinks of your own. Having your own concoction on hand will make it easier to turn down his offers, and seeing that you’re already drinking something may make him and others less inclined to push drinks on you.
You might not be able to anticipate all triggers that come your way. The following strategies will help you deal with holiday landmines before they explode on you.
- Pay attention to how you feel. Watch for signs that you are becoming tense or uncomfortable. You may be able to pinpoint the cause and get away from it before the situation becomes uncontrollable.
- Have an exit strategy. Avoid riding with someone or driving other people to a holiday party. If you must rely on someone for transportation, keep an alternative exit in mind, such as another friend, a bus, or a taxi. This way you can leave when you need to.
- Step out if necessary. Be willing to take a short walk or go to the corner store to clear your head. A few minutes away from a potential trigger can allow you to mentally regroup.
- Buddy up. Having a sympathetic friend at your back can help defuse many potential disasters. If your friend isn’t with you, you can text him or her to remind yourself that you’re not alone, which will give you the strength you need to stick to your resolve.
Check in with Your Counselor Frequently
Your sobriety might not be high on the list of your family and friends’ priorities during the holidays, but it should be a high priority for you. Sobriety will also be a high priority for your support group and counselor, many of whom know what you’re going through and are invested in your success.
Meeting with your counselor before a stressful, trigger-filled event can provide encouragement and strategies for successfully coping—strategies tailored to your particular situation. You should also plan to meet with your counselor after an event. Doing so can help you assess how you did as well as think of ways to handle next year’s stressors. Additionally, knowing ahead of time that you’re going to meet with your counselor will give you added incentive to avoid situations that might lead to relapse.
Keep in mind that inpatient care is also available during the holidays. Inpatient care can be especially helpful if being alone is one of your pervasive triggers. Alone time during the holidays can be particularly painful. Remember that, no matter how difficult sobriety may seem, you can always obtain inpatient care to help you overcome hurdles to staying sober.
Manage Your Expectations
Being clean on Christmas and New Year’s Day is a milestone—and an important one—but it doesn’t mean everything will magically be easier or better afterwards.
Also, even if your family and friends are aware of the addiction you’re battling, they might not entirely understand what you’re going through. They may seem glib or insensitive to your feelings, or they might unknowingly contribute to the triggers that make it difficult to stay sober.
In other words, it won’t be easy. However, you can succeed. Remember to plan ahead how you will avoid stressors, and stay in touch with your support network, especially when things are the most difficult. Keep in mind also that momentary relapse doesn’t mean you’ve failed or you should give up. Though the holidays can be immensely stressful, they will pass. By taking one day at a time, you can be stronger tomorrow.