While it’s a time of great festivity for many, the holidays can be the most difficult period of the year for recovering addicts. Family gatherings can aggravate difficult relations and intense end-of-year work demands combined with must-show holiday parties can amount to additional pressure to drink or use.
Avoid a destructive relapse by following our go-to guide for staying clean:
- Start Each Day With An Action Plan
During the holidays, take time to ask yourself, “What am I working on in my programme right now?” Focus on following through with your recovery programme and talk regularly with your sponsor. Start each day with the conscious decision to stay sober. Write it down or repeat it to yourself as a mantra.
- Be Selective About Which Invitations You Accept
Evaluate social occasions according to one of three categories: low risk, medium risk or high risk. In early recovery, avoid altogether those functions that are high-risk. Medium- or high-risk situations, such as a party with an open bar, require a plan of action. Arrive late and leave early and always have a way out – drive yourself so that you have a way to immediately go someplace safe if you need to. Set a timeframe ahead of the party and clearly state: “I can only stay for an hour.” Then stick to your plan.
- Take The Party With You
Bring along your own safe drinks so that you are not reliant on your host’s beverage offering, or that of the barman. When the Champagne corks fly, toast in the New Year with flavoured sparkling water or Appletizer. Remember that what’s in your glass only matters to you. When everyone around you is having a good time, do you really think it matters to them what you are drinking?
- Identify Your Triggers
Remember the Alcoholics Anonymous acronym “HALT” – hungry, angry, lonely and tired. These are the most common triggers for recovering addicts. When you feel any of these, take extra care of yourself both physically and mentally. Get plenty of exercise and don’t forget to eat. Low blood sugar can leave you anxious and irritable which, in turn, can make you feel impulsive and tempted by substances.
- Control Your Stress Levels
De-stressing mechanisms include taking time out to decompress and even meditate, as well as making time for regular exercise. The urge to drink or use a drug often feels physical, so giving yourself something else to do can help to satisfy that craving.
- Bring A Buddy Or Be A Busy Body
A friend who doesn’t drink, smoke or use drugs can be your best ally when it comes to staying sober at social functions. Alternately, distract yourself by offering to help the host so that you stay busy with small tasks.
- Write Your Own Script
Learn to say “no” in a way that is comfortable for you. If you’re not ready to share the fact that you’re in recovery with everyone, rehearse your responses for turning down alcoholic drinks or other substances. While a simple, “No thanks” should always suffice, “I’m driving” or “I’m detoxing/dieting” can help silence pesky persuaders.
- Ride Your Cravings
A craving typically lasts about 20 minutes so if you can stay strong for that time, the urge should pass. Distract yourself during intense cravings with deep breathing, meditation – even simply changing position can help. If need be, escape to the bathroom where you can spend some time privately talking yourself out of acting on your urge. And if you feel you might stumble, don’t hesitate to call your sponsor.
- Give Thanks For Your Sober Days
It may help to think about the number of days or weeks or months you’ve been clean. Just counting up the days can afford a measure of comfort and peace. This is a big achievement, and one that you’ve worked hard for. Sometimes, just taking the time to give thanks for all this time you’ve been in recovery is enough to keep you firmly on your path.
- Lean On Your Support System
Make time to attend extra support-group meetings during the holidays. After all, who understands the impact of the holidays on sobriety better than your fellow 12-step members? Stay close to helpful friends and family and those you’ve met during your journey to recovery. And make it clear to friends who abuse substances that they will have to celebrate without you this year.
For addicts in recovery, holidays are a good time to reach out more frequently to one’s addiction counsellor or therapist. If you feel that you would like to help those who have made the conscious choice to turn around their lives, why not consider becoming a psychologist or Registered Counsellor yourself? SACAP offers a four-year Bachelor of Psychology Degree that is endorsed by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) as an accredited programme. Students who complete the BPsych Professional Degree are eligible to register as Registered Counsellors with the HPCSA. Registration for Term One 2016 is now open. Ask one of our advisors to call you by filling out this form.