Avoiding Relapse during the Holidays
The holiday season can be a joyous time, but for those in recovery it can be a minefield. High expectations, over commitment, and fatigue can lead to heightened emotions and mood swings. Travel and busy schedules increase stress. You might be away from your RU class and routines, enhancing a feeling of isolation. Holiday customs, memories, and events associated with alcohol or other drug use may tug at you. But there are ways to prepare for this high-risk season and safeguard the greatest gift you ever gave yourself and those you love: freedom in Jesus Christ.
- Plan your support system ahead of time.
- Understand the emotional complexity of “the holidays”.
- Focus on others.
- Avoid vulnerable situations.
- Remember self-care.
- Keep attending RU classes during the holidays.
Prepare a plan to support your sobriety ahead of key holiday events, whether at work or leisure. This may mean going to an RU meeting out of town, attending the occasion with your spouse or a friend to give you godly encouragement, and making sure you can leave at any time and are not dependent on someone else for transportation. It can also include “bookending” the event with planned before-and-after telephone calls to someone in your RU class. Limit time in stressful situations or around difficult people and always have an escape plan. Setting up support phone calls ahead of time is “money in the bank”. Relapse prevention is about planning.
Talk with your RU director and / or group leader about the emotions and expectations you have wrapped up in the holidays. This is called “calculating reality”. The holidays will not be like they were when you were six years old. Everybody will be tired and stressed, possibly depressed, as past holiday disappointments may hang in the air. Know this. Awareness will help you lower expectations and be forgiving of yourself and others. Instead of entering a holiday event on the defensive, orient your thinking to be on the offensive: What is the next right thing for me to do in this situation?
It’s also important to be aware that some people are most vulnerable after the holidays. The stress and resentments that may come up over the holidays can lead to rationalization – we can convince ourselves we’re entitled to drink or use – and sometimes as addicts we do better through the crisis than after it.
The holidays offer a spiritual opportunity to practice focusing on others with gratitude and joy. Adopting this perspective can take tremendous courage. Because you are in recovery, you have already demonstrated the capacity for tremendous courage and change. Look for ways to think about others. Serve a meal at a homeless shelter. Reach out to a newcomer at church or at your RU class. Go sledding with your children. Spend time with a church member who is confined.
If you know Aunt Lucy is going to criticize your hair and shoes, avoid her. If Uncle Bob will try to mix you a stiff drink, stay away from him. If you know the office New Year’s party is all about alcohol and other drugs make a brief appearance or better yet don’t attend. It is unrealistic to say, “I can soldier through.” These are triggers we must avoid at all cost.
Celebrate the holiday season by taking time for yourself. Proper nutrition and physical movement can be extremely helpful. Maintain your spirituality. Keep your walk with the Lord strong and dynamic. The holidays are a time for reflection and connection with those you love. It is critical to take some quiet time each day for relaxation and meditation, even for a few minutes, no matter how busy you are.
Many families mistakenly think holidays are an inappropriate time for RU class, when actually it’s the best time. Their logic is that holidays are a happy time when everybody should be together, even if in reality this is not the case. Addiction generally ramps up over the holidays. The holidays are more likely an emotionally stressful time when use of alcohol or other drugs is prevalent, making it difficult for someone with an addictive past to avoid use. RU classes initiated during the holidays could be the best gift you give to your family.
Welcome the holiday season with a plan to protect and nurture your freedom in Jesus Christ. Your walk with Christ is the true and beautiful gift that keeps on giving.