Christmas and New Year can be a challenging time for those of us in recovery. In fact, let me rephrase that: Christmas and New Year is a challenging time – full stop. There is pressure all around us. Memories of Christmas past, insecurities, people getting drunk, family arguments, money issues, fears, arguments over the remote control, stressful cooking experiences. I mean there is a lot that goes on and a lot of areas of potential stress. Throw in the curve ball of trying to manage all of this without your familiar coping mechanisms and you have a vulnerable time of the year. So, it is really a good idea to consider how you will keep yourself safe and minimise risk of relapse. The objective number one being to get through events safe and sober. The second objective is hopefully you can get some fun along the way.
Here is a list of 12 tips that may support you during the Christmas and New Year period:
1. Recovery support system: Get your recovery support system in place….and stay in touch with your recovery support system. Call people even if it is all going well. If you keep lines of communication open it makes it much easier to make the call when things get a little tense for you. Call, use WhatsApp, skype – remain in contact. You should be making at least two calls a day.
2. Support groups: Before the holiday period starts check out where and when the local 12 Step fellowship meetings are held. This applies to you whether you are a regular attender or not. It’s access to a room full of support that is open to anybody. At the very least be aware of them and to to give yourself a chance of surviving strongly consider attending. It will help to be around likeminded people facing up to the same struggles as you - so get along to a meeting.
3. Don’t take risks: it can be easy to think that because it is Christmas or New Year you can do things that you would not do at any other time of the year. Do not risk your recovery or let your boundaries slip. It is not worth it. The aim of your recovery is that you have many sober holidays in the future. Do not jeopardise that because you do not want to upset people by leaving the party early, or by taking some time out of family activities to go to AA. Also avoid meetings with old using or drinking friends or going to old haunts.
4. Other people are not you: do not think that just because you have changed, that everybody else has also changed. People will continue to present with the same dynamics and behaviours they always have. Do not personalise this. The family system takes time to change. And do not expect the family to dance to your tune. You take responsibility for yourself and if the family dynamics are creating feelings in you then have a look at points 1 and 2 and do something to look after yourself.
5. Be aware of your triggers: I usually group my triggers into five categories: people, places, things, times/occasions and feelings. Most triggers in isolation are fairly straight-forward to manage. Christmas and New Year usually means that you will be in a position where several triggers while hit you at one time. The better your awareness of your triggers the better placed you will be to manage your recovery.
6.In Case of Emergency Plan: Put together a plan of what you will do if it all gets too much. What will you do? Where will you go? Who will you call? Write the plan down and email it to your recovery support system. You can also practice putting your plan into action. Make your plan as comprehensive as possible – cover all bases.
7. Clashes and Grievances: Avoid conflict with people at all costs. Now is not the time to re-open wounds, air grievances or get drawn into battles. It will not end well. Be positive, compassionate, breath and step back. Christmas is a stressful time for everybody – not just people in recovery. And not just people in early recovery. De-escalate any potential conflicts or if things get really tense then remove yourself.
8. ‘No’ is a complete sentence: It is OK to say no. It is an important part of holding your boundaries. Remember your priority is to get through clean and sober. You do not have to care take the feelings of other people. Hold your boundaries they will keep you safe. Be aware of people who push your boundaries and if you need some support communicating with them then get support.
9. Stick to your plan / schedule: impulsive decision making is one of the most dangerous risks to your recovery. If you made a plan stick to it. If you want to make some changes check your motivation, get a second opinion and risk assess for any potential danger. When we make plans when we are in a rational frame of mind. We put recovery first. Often impulsive changes to plans will not be recovery focussed, and may put you into a dangerous situation.
10. Escape plan: Have an escape plan for every aspect of your stay. Develop a “Get out of Dodge fast” plan to how to remove yourself from a party or a house visit if you are feeling uncomfortable. And make a bigger plan…in case the whole thing gets too much… how will you get yourself to a place of safety. Think about what you need to have in place and how you will make your plan work.
11. Be prepared to have fun: I’ve talked a lot about risks and dangers. But remember…. We plan for the worst and 90% of the things we worry about never happen. It will probably be that you go home and that you experience some difficulties, but also moments of fun, humour, love and joy. Take the pleasure in these moments and revel in it. These are the benefits of recovery.
12. Don’t forget January: sometimes so much focus and control is put into recovery at Christmas that when you hit January it is easy to take your foot of the gas. Stay vigilant, keep going, one day at a time, with no days off. Have a cool yule and step into 2018 with your head held high.
Author: Dean Gustar, Head of Clinical Operations - The Kusnacht Practice