It’s that time of year when everyone is gearing down for the holidays and everyone is in “party mode.” Well, not everyone. In fact, this is the worst time of year to be an addict. The constant partying and socializing means you are exposed to temptation more than at any other time. It’s also a stressful and emotional time, when issues around money and relationships with family and friends (often among the original triggers for abuse) come into focus. It’s harder than ever to stay clean and sober – but there are ways you can minimize the risk of having a destructive relapse.
Be aware and be prepared
You know you’re going to be exposed to all sorts of situations that could nudge you over the edge; you’ve been there before. So, don’t wait for that situation to arise. Start each day with a plan.
Focus on the most important thing in your life right now: Your sobriety.
If you’re in the early stages of recovery, you might want to skip all but the “essential” get-togethers over the holiday season. If you’re further through your recovery, by all means go out and enjoy yourself. But, if you know you’re going to be at a social gathering later, plan ahead so that you can enjoy the celebration without compromising your recovery.
Picture who will be there. Imagine how the conversations might go. You can even rehearse some standard responses to potentially awkward questions or tempting, dangerous suggestions, to take the pressure off you if they do crop up. It’s not being paranoid; it’s looking out for yourself. Make a list of likely pitfalls and give some thought to how you can avoid them.
Speaking of avoidance…
Simply keeping yourself out of harm’s way is probably the most obvious way to minimize risk. But you don’t want to become a recluse. If anything, that could be even more stressful than dealing with other people. Part of your recovery involves accepting responsibility for your addiction and taking charge of your life. That said, you can take steps to avoid falling off the wagon at a social gathering, whether it’s with friends, family or work colleagues.
Distance yourself from the bar.
Physically position yourself away from the bar – the temptation to join in (especially when rounds of drinks and shooters are being ordered) will be reduced. Find a chilled spot to relax and take the time to chat with some of the less frenetic merry-makers.
Bring Your Own Beverage. It might sound strange, even silly if there are soft drinks available. But having your own “special” drinks can strengthen your focus on staying sober. Take some sparkling apple or grape juice so you can still join in the toasts if you wish. But avoid trying to match the alcoholic drinking patterns of other guests – remember, you want to break your old habits, not mimic them.
Break your old patterns
Hanging out and shooting the breeze is fun, but it’s also a way to reinforce those old habits, especially if your friends are fond of swapping “war stories” about their past indulgences.
Look for other things to do: Help with snacks in the kitchen; if there’s a fire, volunteer as the “braai master”; offer to kick a soccer ball around with younger guests.
Not only will you be breaking your old patterns, you’ll be interacting with more people in a normal, healthy way.
Know your triggers
The most common triggers that can cause a relapse can be summed up by the letters HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Be aware of these feelings and, if you feel any of them, stop immediately and do something to rectify the feeling.
Hungry? At this time of year, it’s traditionally a time for feasting but with so much on your mind you can also forget to eat! Low blood sugar weakens you and in turn, might make you lower your guard against alcohol. Avoid hunger by eating regularly – even if it’s something small, every three hours.
Angry? Take some slow, deep breaths and move away from whatever (or whomever) is bugging you. A short walk does wonders to clear the head and calm you down. Is there someone you know you don’t get along with, or perhaps someone linked with your history of abuse? Walk away. You don’t have to be in denial (in fact, accepting your addiction is an important part of your recovery) but remember it’s YOUR recovery. It’s your right to tell people as much (or as little) as you feel comfortable with – so, don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself. Sometimes distant relatives might be pushy without knowing what you are going through; at other times you’ll be pleasantly amazed at how understanding they can be.
Lonely? If you’re feeling alone, reach out to the people you know you can trust. If there’s no-one at the party you feel you can talk to, call a friend who is also in recovery, or is part of your support circle and invite them to join you or to fetch you.
Tired? Drink some water and find somewhere to take a nap, or simply leave. You can also avoid fatigue by being sure to get plenty of rest the night before any planned event. A little regular exercise also goes a long way. Besides helping to take your mind off stressful thoughts, being fit will give you the extra energy and strength to work through recovery.
Drive yourself and know when to leave
Don’t count on others for lifts (unless they are also not drinking). Arrange your own transport so that you can leave any time you want. Leave a little earlier than usual – before things start getting too crazy or intense for you to handle.
It’s not going to be easy; it never is. But by being aware and prepared, you have a better chance of getting through the “silly” season without going off-track.
Above all, keep this in mind:
You are not alone
Now, more than ever, is the time to lean on your support system – the friends and family who put your recovery first on their holiday wish-list.
If you’re part of a regular support group, consider going to a few extra meetings so you can draw strength from others who are going through the same struggle over the festive season.
Addiction doesn’t take holidays
At Houghton House we are acutely aware that addiction doesn’t take time off during the holidays; nor do we. Our facilities are open 24/7 to offer assistance with addiction. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Office Hours 011 787 9142
Emergency 079 770 7532
or simply fill in the contact form below, and one of our professional staff members will get back to you, either by email or mobile, the choice is yours.