Some people anticipate the holidays all year and see it as their favorite season. They might revel in nostalgia from holidays past and enjoy sharing a meal and gifts with friends and family. Others are more apprehensive of it and see it as a time to endure rather than celebrate. They may feel that the holidays are more of an obligation without many enjoyable qualities.

A variety of factors influence the way we view this season. These include the people we spend it with, the traditions we have grown accustomed to, memories from childhood, expectations about travel and gift exchanges, and finances. This is also a period of time with high expectations. Whether you experience joy or dread, it can often become a stressful time while trying to keep up with those expectations. Another element of stress that might be added into the mix is when addiction recovery is involved.

How the Holidays Can Trigger Those in Recovery

For those in recovery, no matter the stage, the holidays can present a challenge. If you are new to recovery and developing ways to maintain sobriety, attending family gatherings can be overwhelming. For many people, family gatherings are triggering because of the presence of alcohol and the family culture surrounding drinking. This is certainly not the case for every family, but if you have traditionally associated family parties with drinking, being exposed to this environment can threaten the hard work you have put in. 

In addition to exposure to substances, the general stress of the holidays can be triggering. You might be concerned about how to afford gifts or travel expenses. This time of year might bring up feelings of grief if you have lost a loved one. It might be the case that you do not get along with your family or are away from your support system. Some or all of these might apply to you, which can increase your overall stress level. Stress can lead us to cope in unhealthy ways and take worse care of ourselves. This is not conducive to wellness in recovery or relapse prevention.

The Importance of Remaining Vigilant About Your Recovery

During the holidays, you might feel pressured to return to substance use. Perhaps you want to appease others and show that you are just as “fun” as you were before treatment. It might feel like you are letting others down if you do not partake in traditions like you used to. You might reason with yourself that just one drink or one night of drinking will not matter. Now that you have been sober, you might feel confident in your level of control over consumption. You have been working so hard that you feel you deserve a reward, especially since everyone else is indulging.

These types of thoughts set the stage for a relapse. The holidays may be temporary, but your commitment to your recovery lasts all year. It is important to think of your overall goals during this time and keep them at the forefront of your mind. While it is true that “slipping up” and using substances does not negate the progress you have made or condemn you to full-blown addiction again, preventing relapse is the best way to safeguard your recovery. 

This is an important conversation to have with your treatment team. If you are anticipating being in an environment with substances or with people you used to use substances with, developing a relapse prevention plan with your therapist can help you be prepared. Your therapist might also help you determine whether it is worth the risk to put yourself in those situations. Keeping up with therapy can also keep you actively engaged in practicing coping with stress, which may increase during the holidays and threaten your sobriety.

Celebrating the Holidays Without Substances

Even if your gatherings during the holidays used to involve substances, such as toasting champagne to ring in the New Year, you can create new traditions. As someone in recovery, it can be difficult to advocate for your needs. It may feel like you are asking people to change on your account. This is why it is important for those who love someone in recovery to step up in these situations. 

If you love someone recovering from substance use disorder, advocating for a substance-free gathering can make a significant difference. You might find that this conversation is received well, or it might be met by rejection. While the first scenario opens up the ability to have a gathering that is safe for everyone, the second scenario also presents an opportunity. 

Choosing to have a smaller gathering or another activity with those who agree to keep alcohol out of the picture can help your loved one feel included and supported as both someone in recovery and a member of the family. Even if the holidays look different without substances, they can be just as enriching and enjoyable.

The approaching holiday season can be daunting for someone early in their recovery. There are many unknowns you might be presented with. Will I be able to stay sober? Will my loved ones view me differently for abstaining from alcohol? Will I still be able to have fun? If you are facing these questions, it is time to develop a plan with a licensed clinician to support your recovery during the holidays and beyond. Family-Centered Services is dedicated to working with you and your family to recover from substance use disorder while promoting family relationships and unity. We offer individual and family therapy, sober accountability, and a Family Recovery program. Call us at (509) 991-5822 to get started.