From my experience in recovery, especially early recovery, holidays can be like walking through a minefield. IEDs everywhere: flame throwers, snipers, relatives throwing grenades. People can tell you a hundred different ways, tips, and tricks, but what worked for me is very simple.
Stick to the basics. It sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to forget in the chaos of the holidays. Don’t get distracted by the little things, no matter how tempting. Focus on the relapse prevention strategies you learned in treatment and take a break when you need to.
Surviving Thanksgiving Dinner During Early Recovery
Spending time with people who are supportive and understanding of your recovery journey is the best thing you can do during early recovery. However, sometimes our relatives are a bit more judgmental than we’d like. Avoiding toxic people or difficult situations can be hard, especially around Thanksgiving.
While you may want to be around family, it may not be the healthiest choice for you. If you do decide to join in on the festivities, being mindful of stressful situations can help you set your limits and respect your mental health.
If all else fails and you need to escape the situation, don’t be afraid to take a break and leave if things get too hard. More than that, never be afraid to put yourself and your recovery first.
Ways to Get Through The Holidays Sober
Relapse prevention skills are incredibly important during the holidays. In order to have a sober Thanksgiving and to live a happy life in recovery, using coping skills is key!
Using the acronym “A.L.E.C.” in times of stress, you will practice four easy skills that can help you prevent relapse and stay emotionally regulated during the holidays!
The four skills of A.L.E.C. include:
Using healthy coping skills as a form of relapse prevention can be used during your daily routine and to have a sober thanksgiving.
AVOID: Avoid Triggering Situations
If you are newly sober, you may not be ready to go into the lion’s den. That’s okay. It’s also okay to say no to a holiday invitation. The earth will still keep spinning if you don’t show up at Aunt Mildred’s alcohol-fueled Christmas party this year. Besides, if you have to drink in order to make it through the party, do you really want to go?
You don’t have to be the drunken uncle that ruins Thanksgiving by passing out in the mashed potatoes this year. Early recovery gives you a hall pass.
You can say “no” to dinner invitations or leave early if the situation is too triggering for you. If anyone tries to stand in the way of you and your recovery, that is a “them” problem, not a “you” problem.
LIMIT: Identify and Respect Your Limitations
If you insist on going or simply must go, limit your exposure. Think of it like “just how close and how long can I expose myself to Chernobyl before I get radiation poisoning”. That’s not to say that your relatives are bad people, you’re just not ready to be with them for an extended period of time.
Your expectations and resentments right now are at very high levels, toxic levels really. So set some simple limits and boundaries like “we’re not going to talk about that this year Aunt Mildred, let’s give it a rest and have fun”.
It takes time to rebuild your tolerance for stressful interactions. Limiting your exposure to irritating conversations and backhanded comments will likely surprise you with how good it feels.
ESCAPE: Leave Situations That Put Your Recovery At Risk
Remember that leaving a stressful situation is always an option. Additionally, no matter what, it is okay to leave. If your anxiety level is too high after 20 minutes there, simply fake an emergency phone call and get out. How enjoyable is it for the rest of your family to see you sweating bullets when uncle Marty enters the room? The look of panic on your face when you see him and remember you crashed his car last month and fled the scene.
The point is, that if you’re there and it’s too much for you to handle, it’s okay to leave early this year. It’s okay to recognize your limits and to protect your recovery. Everyone eventually will understand why you had to go early and they won’t even remember this time next year.
CONTACT: Reach Out to Your Sober Contacts for Support
Call your sponsor, your sober support, and your accountability buddy! Text them, DM them, anything, but just stay in touch. Sometimes you just need to vent for a minute. Other times you may need a getaway car. If none of your sober supports are answering, reach out to the National Drug Helpline.
During my first 5 years sober, I did all of these strategies. Gradually, I lowered my expectations of others and for the holidays. I set limits and boundaries in all my relationships. I ended relationships with toxic people. I learned to accept and love myself and others with all my failures and shortcomings. I realized that I didn’t have to be perfect or give 110% just in time for the holidays. Life became easier, and joy returned to my life. That’s my holiday wish for you.
If you or a loved one is struggling in early recovery, please feel free to contact Royal Life Centers. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 877-RECOVERY. Because We Care.