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Recovery During the Holidays: What You Should Know

recovery during the holidays

The Unique Challenges of Holiday Recovery

Those in recovery during the holidays are often faced with unique challenges that somebody who has not faced addiction may not know about. The season can be emotional, with ups and downs sometimes coupled with temptations and guilt, along with the normal stress of being around family, gift-giving, and social navigation.

You don’t want to miss out on the fun, but it can be an isolating experience to be the only sober one at the party, and there is a lot of pressure to be “happy” and socialize. Your routine is often disrupted as well, especially if you have traveled and are staying in somebody else’s home.

All of this turmoil can result in feeling like you are out of control, cause strong negative emotions to arise, and temptations will be at an all-time high, with alcohol and other substances often within arm’s reach, and worst of all, it can feel like nobody understands how hard it is. It is a very difficult situation to be in.

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Preparing for the Holidays in Recovery

For a successful sober Christmas (and a sober New Year’s Eve), preparation is key. Try to imagine yourself surrounded by people who are drinking or using substances, it is noisy, there are people everywhere, and they keep asking awkward questions about recovery, and then offering to get you a drink. What do you do?

One of the best solutions for maintaining sobriety, especially during challenging times, is to have an immediate escape plan. This is where enrolling in or having access to the best rehab in California can be invaluable. These top-notch facilities provide the support and resources needed to stay on track. You can excuse yourself at any time from triggering situations, and remember, your sobriety is more important than a host’s hurt feelings. Removing yourself from a stressful environment, perhaps by seeking solace in a supportive rehab setting, can significantly reduce stress and temptations enough to keep you on track, and you will feel better in a little while. For some, just promising yourself to stay sober for five minutes, possibly with the support of a professional team in a premier California rehab center, can be good enough to get you out of panic mode and back into a more regulated state.

Some other preparations you can do beforehand include:

  • Promise yourself you will not drink, no matter what happens
  • Invite a sober friend with you to an event, or ask those close to you to be “on your team”
  • Let party hosts know your boundaries and what to expect of you ahead of time, and that you may need to leave if things become too intense
  • Bring your non-alcoholic sodas or beverages to the event (and keep them away from the bar), so you have something to hold onto, and so people stop offering to get you something
  • Avoid going to spaces where you may be triggered. If you are invited to meet up in a pub, for example, suggest a different venue
  • Practice a concise way to say “no” that you are comfortable with

Managing Triggers and Stress During the Holidays

holidays during drug recovery

Some ways to manage triggers and stress include:

  • Reminding yourself that nobody expects you to be perfect, and it’s ok to have an awkward moment here and there
  • Try to focus on the positive, like the time you get to spend with family, instead of what you may be missing out on
  • Treat yourself to something nice, like a holiday manicure or a hot cocoa
  • Bring books, download podcasts, or prepare yourself with other distractions for times when nothing is going on
  • Limit time spent with those who add drama or stress to your life
  • Remember that your recovery is your top priority, and you can control your actions in every scenario

The Importance of Support Systems

Even the best of us struggle at times to handle stressful situations on our own. Support systems during the holidays make a big difference when you are trying to have a sober Christmas. Sometimes, simply having somebody there to drive you to a meeting, to interrupt when things get awkward, or to be your ally during tense moments will diffuse the situation. They can make a decision when you feel overwhelmed and keep you accountable when you begin to question yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’d be surprised how many people will gladly step up.

Healthy Holiday Traditions in Recovery

Just because you are not partaking in substance use does not mean you have to miss out on having fun with your friends and family. Some ways to incorporate new holiday traditions into your life include:

  • Starting a board game night, a sober craft party, or another family-friendly event. A bonus is that this is a child-friendly setting that may make the kids feel included
  • Try to plan holiday-themed outdoor activities like sledding, skating, or walking around the neighborhood judging the town’s holiday decorations and lights
  • Going to a play, the ballet, or even just a movie can be a nice break and a holiday treat, getting you out of the house, and into a comfortable, entertaining, sober space for a few hours
  • Have a cookie bake-off or a gingerbread house contest. You will be surprised at how competitive Uncle Jim can get, and there is no need for drugs or alcohol to have fun

Balancing Celebration with Self-Care

Self-care can take many forms. Some of the ways to balance having fun with prioritizing your health include:

  • Letting people know your boundaries, and walking away if things become too difficult
  • Managing your stress levels using breathing techniques, meditation, positive affirmations, or whatever works best for you
  • Take as many breaks as you need. You don’t have to go to every event, so choose a few that are most meaningful to you, then spend time in a bubble bath or take a dog for a walk
  • Do your best to keep your schedule on track. Sleeping and eating well, taking your medications on time, and getting enough exercise can make a big difference in the way you feel

The Role of Professional Help During the Holidays

Professional help can get you out of your head, away from family pressures and holiday obligations, and bring the focus back onto your recovery. Scheduling a phone call, a video chat, or an in-person meeting with your therapist will not only give you someone to talk to who understands, but it will also be a small incentive to avoid substance use, so you can report back to them as a clean and sober individual.

Finding a local support group is a great way to make yourself stay on track with your sobriety while reminding you that you are not alone in this. 12-step meetings take place year-round for good reason. People with substance use disorder can experience symptoms of relapse, feel alone, or just want somewhere safe to go at any time of year, but you may find your meetings getting bigger around the holidays. This season can be intense.

Resurgence Can Support You During the Holidays

Recovery during the holidays can be more than challenging. It can feel downright impossible, and many people will experience a slip. If you are experiencing cravings or have begun to notice signs of relapse in yourself, this does not mean you are “failing” sobriety. It is normal, and at Resurgence Behavioral Health, our team can help you avoid relapse, stay sober, and enjoy the holidays.

If you would like to learn more about our inpatient and outpatient treatment plans, and how our individualized evidence-based treatment plans can be custom-tailored to best suit your needs, please call us at (951) 708-7961. We can help you, and we are only a phone call away.

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Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.


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