It’s not unusual to find that your fear of relapse has returned as the winter season arrives. The tragedy of seasonal relapse is real and needs to be recognized in order to take steps to prevent it. Christmas parties, Hanukkah ceremonies, and New Year’s Eve events are crammed with relapse triggers that rouse once-dormant cravings.
Indeed, it’s common practice for participants of social gatherings to fill the events with spirits and party favors that call out to those of us in recovery. In particular, wine pairings for dinner, ball-drop champagne flutes, and energizing bumps of cocaine are all regulars at holiday celebrations.
The overt presence of alcohol and drugs during holidays bears many other burdens that strike chinks into the armor of sobriety. To clarify, those in recovery who dread the onset of holiday cheer aren’t grinches. In general, fearing the winter holiday season is a subconscious act of prevention. In fact, fear is a natural response that instills caution and prepares an individual for financial hardships, emotion-packed evenings, and weighty societal pressures.
Unfortunately, stress has a knack for compounding until it’s a Molotov cocktail prepped for a spark. For this reason, it is important to acknowledge your fears surrounding the holidays, but use your worries as a driving force to prepare for potential triggers and prevent a seasonal relapse.
What Triggers A Seasonal Relapse?
Most everyone finds the onslaught of extended family time to be stressful. As a result of the holiday season, family dynamics are tested and the pressures of perfection only add to underlying tension. A week of uninterrupted family time sounds great to some but in practice, it never goes as planned. Additionally, the pressure to perform for guests is often silent but deadly to your mental health. Judgmental glances, whispers from across the room, or straight-up verbal assaults can occur at the smallest of slip-ups. Surely, these acts of passive aggression and abuse build and develop snowballs of stress. Stress is an unforgiving trigger of relapse that inches an addict toward seeking relief from trauma through substance abuse.
For those of us who are without family connection—whether it be physical distance or emotional—loneliness settles in, puts its feet up, and spends the season without our invitation. Scrolling through social media feeds, the smiling faces of friends huddling together with parents and siblings increase the sense of alienation. For this reason, December’s well acquainted with depression. Those in recovery who find themselves alone during the holidays feel inconsequential and relapse in pursuit of self-comfort.
Holiday Stressors That Can Threaten Sobriety
Unsurprisingly, gift-giving is an integral part of our capitalist society during December. While the premise behind gifts has genuine intentions, it has the potential to trigger anxiety. As the calendar pages fly by, the time crunch to deliver intensifies. The financial strain of gift purchases, travel tickets, hotel rooms, and receipts from party preparation multiplies alongside the dollar signs and zeros.
Subsequently, many people struggling with money catastrophize over credit card bills and dwindling bank accounts. In response to monetary troubles, they turn to drugs and alcohol for an escape.
Common holiday stressors include:
- Societal expectations
- Family tension
- Financial debt
- Feelings of failure
Due to the societal expectations surrounding the holidays, people often experience high levels of stress. As seasons change and one holiday quickly follows the next, negative emotions build and fester. Unfortunately, without a strong foundation of healthy coping skills, seasonal relapse is a common outcome.
The added pressure of the holiday season comes hand-in-hand with the fear of failure to meet expectations. The holiday season demands your attention by requiring your time, money, and sanity. For the most part, holidays require you to promote cheer despite the current state of your mental health. All in all, you set aside your own wants and needs in order to please your friends and family. Sooner or later, your anxiety may overpower your avoidance and the chain reaction of misery will set in.
With that being said, you can prevent the overpowering wave of misery and self-doubt by creating a relapse prevention plan. While holidays can be hard, you can prepare yourself for stressful situations and maintain your sobriety.
Relapse Prevention for the Holiday Season
In order to prevent seasonal relapse, communication is key. If you struggle with maintaining your sobriety during the winter months, it is important to address the situation with a hands-on approach. Surely, admitting weakness is never an easy task but in order for your loved ones to help, you must express your doubts and hesitations regarding the holidays. With this in mind, broach the topic of upcoming stressors and collaborate with others in finding solutions.
Creating a holiday budget for spending, and a realistic family schedule can also help you to prevent burnout. In turn, you can ease the fear of failure by removing external pressures. Voice your concerns about easy access to addictive substances and distance yourself from triggers that cause cravings. Allow yourself to vent to your sober community—they relate to your anxieties and remind you that you’re not alone in having seasonal relapse fears.
How To Enjoy the Holidays Sober
This holiday season, celebrate with your sober community and find joy in sobriety. Enjoy a sober Thanksgiving dinner, attend virtual parties and activities with friends, give back to those in need, or take advantage of online events for sober entertainment. Healthy coping skills can help you create positive memories this season. Surround yourself with people who will provide insight and support during the holiday season.
Plan Ahead and Know Your Limits
It’s important to plan ahead when it comes to the holidays, especially if you are in recovery. Be aware of the potential triggers that could occur this season and create a plan for how you will navigate them. Additionally, be mindful of how much time you spend with family members who may be difficult to be around. With the right plan in place, you can have a safe and enjoyable holiday season.
Manage Holiday Stress and Cravings
Stress and cravings can be difficult to deal with during the holidays, but there are ways you can practice self-care. Make time for yourself and take breaks from stressful situations. Exercise or do something creative to help manage your emotions and cope with stress. Avoid environments where there is easy access to addictive substances. If you overcome a craving, take note of it and celebrate the small wins!
Be Kind To Yourself
Remember to be kind to yourself this season. It’s easy to be hard on yourself, especially during the holidays. Instead of focusing on what you haven’t accomplished, take a step back and think about how far you have come over the past year. Celebrate your successes and know that recovery is an ongoing journey.
Create New Traditions
It’s also important to remember that celebrations don’t have to look the same as they did before your recovery. You can create new holiday traditions that are both safe and enjoyable. Invite your friends over for a movie night or game night, get creative in the kitchen by trying out some new recipes, and treat yourself to something special. Redefining traditions can be a great way to stay sober and have fun.
Connect With Others
The holidays don’t have to be lonely. Remember, you can always reach out to family or friends for emotional support. Surrounding yourself with people who know what you’re going through can also be a big help in dealing with holiday stress, so find a local support group or your sponsor for advice. If you’re away for the holidays, you can also participate in virtual meetings and events to connect with other people who are also living a sober lifestyle. Support from others can make all the difference during this stressful time of year.
Have a Wonderful Holiday Season
No matter where you are in your recovery journey, these tips can help to combat the holiday blues and keep you feeling your best this season. As always, if you are struggling with addiction or know someone who is, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Royal Life Centers offers comprehensive care and we would love to hear from you.
At Royal Life Centers, we are here to support you during this holiday season and beyond. We offer 24/7 monitoring, access to evidence-based therapies, and specialized care for individuals who may be struggling with addiction or a mental health disorder.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, please feel free to reach out to us at 877-RECOVERY. Our addiction specialists are available 24/7 to assist you through this time and find hope in recovery.
We are here for you every step of the way and believe that by working together, we can help you achieve a brighter future in recovery. Restore meaning to your holidays by getting the assistance you need and making progress toward sustainable sobriety!