In Recovery? Tips for Surviving the Holiday Season

By Dr. Tonmoy Sharma 12/04/17

The winter holidays are upon us. A time of warm and fuzzy images of family gathered around the hearth, communing at the dinner table and welcoming friends and family into their homes. "It's the Most Wonderful Time" of the year, right? If you or a loved one are in recovery, however, it can be "The Most Challenging Time of the Year." Now is the time to have a plan to stay sober, remain sane and find ways to take good care of yourself. Here are some tips for you and your loved ones to plan for and survive Thanksgiving and the rest of the winter holidays.

Family: It’s not always the Norman Rockwell clan who gathers around the roast turkey feast. Tensions, old rivalries and past conflicts may arise, but there are strategies to help you get through. Steer clear of hot-button topics and avert conflicts. Remember that you are only responsible for your own behavior and cannot control others. Bring a friend to the holiday feast who helps you to stay calm and isn’t involved in family dynamics. De-escalate conflicts by acknowledging the feelings of other people, even if you don’t agree with them; if things get heated, ask if a matter can be discussed another day. If the tension is getting to be too much, or other conflicts are erupting, feel free to leave when you need to. Calmly make a simple excuse and quietly slip away.

Or maybe you are in the 'no family' category. Sometimes, having no family nearby, or none at all, can make the holidays feel unbearable. Check with friends who are also at a loose end and make a plan to hang out and have fun; order a pizza and watch movies; play a board game, talk about your feelings during this time of year. Or volunteer to help at a community dinner or find a nearby support/recovery group. Throw your own holiday event and asking everyone to bring a dish so you don’t do all the cooking and clean up. Whatever you do, plan ahead; you don’t want to get caught in the doldrums while everyone else is scarfing pumpkin pie.

Low-Stress Hosting. If you plan on being the hostess or host ‘with the mostest,’ don’t go it alone. Ask family and/or friends to help out, and plan ahead what task(s) each one will do. Make any dishes you can ahead of time, or order some of the meal (if not all of it!) from a local restaurant, grocery store or other food service organization. You can also have each guest bring a key dish for the dinner; again, coordinate ahead so that there is a bit of everything you need and enough to go around.

Have a Plan in Case You Are Stressed
If you are in recovery, planning ahead for an emotional crisis is important. Check with your therapist about her/his availability over the holidays and see which local 12-step and other support groups are meeting, including where and when, ahead of time. Do the same with your close friends, especially those in recovery; ask them to be with you, or if you can call if you feel a meltdown coming on.

Shopping and Crowds
If you are easily stressed, avoid the huge holiday shopper crowds. And when you do shop for gifts before the holidays, stay within your budget. There are many low-cost and unique items for purchase both in stores and online. And remember that it IS the thought that counts.

Prepare for the Worst, Strive for the Best
No holiday is worth losing your mind, your health, your sobriety. Be prepared for possible anxiety and decide ahead how you will manage it. Have your friends and other support systems lined up in advance and offer to be there if you are needed. Most of all, enjoy the holiday, whatever that means for you.

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