The holidays can be a difficult time to be sober. Traditional social gatherings often have an excess of alcohol and other substances available, and there may be familial or social pressure to drink or do drugs in these environments. Some people even give alcohol as gifts. For many, it seems impossible to go anywhere during the holidays where there are no substances involved.
The holidays also tend to cause more depression, loneliness and other situations that increase the desire to self-medicate with substances. This year in particular, with COVID-19 preventing many typical social gatherings and substance use already on the rise, the holidays may be very dangerous for those who are trying to maintain their sobriety. Yet the best gift we can give ourselves this season is actually the gift of recovery.
A Holiday Season Unlike Any Other
Whether this is the first holiday season in recovery, the fifth or more, this season will likely make it even more challenging to navigate and maintain sobriety. Participating in family gatherings and other events often ensures that alcohol or other substances will be present. Even with an open dialogue about our recovery and a circle of supportive friends, family and coworkers, being around substances can trigger cravings and present unnecessary temptations to relapse.
This year, with a global pandemic, there will likely be fewer social engagements, which will help us have fewer social triggers and situations where we are tested. However, because of these unique circumstances, more stay-at-home time means that we will need to have more strength and resolve with ourselves and others in our household. With anxiety, depression and mental health issues skyrocketing due to COVID-19, and disappointment surrounding changes in the way we celebrate, it may take extra resilience to maintain our sobriety while staying at home.
Recovery Maintenance During the Holiday Season
One of the most effective ways to maintain recovery during the holidays is to continue our self-care and other routines as much as possible. The usual hustle and bustle may or may not be diminished with social distancing in place—regardless, we must be vigilant in our first line of defense against potential addiction relapse. Finding ways to exercise, attending meetings (even if only virtually) and maintaining contact with our sponsors and other people in our support networks can be critical factors in staying sober.
We must also allow ourselves to acknowledge the feelings brought on by changes in celebrations, the decreased ability to travel and spend time with our loved ones and other disappointments related to the pandemic that will be uniquely challenging this season. Proactively seeking extra support through virtual connections with friends and family or even seeking extra mental health care can help our minds stay strong when traditions, nostalgia and emotions about this unprecedented holiday season hit us. Anticipating the places, people and events that might trigger an addiction relapse can help us put recovery contingencies in place and ultimately save our recovery.
Staying Sober While Staying at Home
The holiday blues have never met a holiday season like this one. With everyone stuck mainly alone or within their family units, missing the joys and festivities that only being around large groups of other people can provide, it may be even easier to become depressed.
The one advantage is that everyone else is going through the same withdrawals from their usual holiday celebrations, which means that we can work together to create new ways to celebrate while still socially distancing. Thinking outside the box to create new traditions and celebrate safely “together” while apart can help keep us busy, distracted from the temptation to drink and may even help stave off the COVID-19 holiday blues.
Alternative Activities that Support Recovery
Staying busy this year will require more planning and creativity but looking outside ourselves to cheer and lift others can help support us in our recovery. Shoveling sidewalks and driveways for our neighbors, checking in on friends by phone or text, or offering to run errands for someone at higher risk are all good ways to serve others and keep ourselves busy.
Planning virtual parties and gatherings, sending anonymous greetings or small gifts to spread holiday cheer, or planning a gift exchange through the mail with friends, family or coworkers can offer similar feelings of connection and warmth as traditional celebrations once did. Shopping online while Facetiming with friends can be a replacement for those fun shopping outings in previous years, while looking for ways to spend virtual time with fellow patients in recovery can benefit both parties. Altering traditions just a bit and staying busy will help support our recovery this holiday season.
Holidays and sobriety do not often go well together. Traditional holiday celebrations are typically steeped in alcohol and other substances, whether to create joyful memories or to forget the dysfunction of addiction. Depression during the holidays also often leads to increased substance use. This year in particular, mental health professionals are on alert for even higher levels of depression due to COVID-19. At New Life, you can learn how to prepare yourself to be vigilant in your recovery this holiday season. Our Maryland outpatient treatment program offers the resources and support you need to plan now to prevent addiction relapse. Call us today at (877) 929-2571 to find out how you can maintain your recovery this holiday season and beyond.