Contributed By: Beth Tesmond, MHS, CADC, MISA, Addictions Program Coordinator, Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center
Much of this is a result of horrific holiday memories such as the consumption of far too much alcohol, family arguments and disapproval, attending seasonal celebrations with no recollection of doing so, and ultimately choosing to isolate at home alone with the one friend that never judged: the bottle.
With such negative holiday recollections, it is no wonder the season only evokes dread. But that is the beauty of a new life in recovery: with positive planning, the present will look nothing like the past.
Consider the following:
Social events involving alcohol are an inevitable aspect of the holiday season; therefore, you must advocate for yourself. You do not have to attend everything, so select only those they you believe are safe.
If you attend a party, bring your own beverage, whether it be a fancy bottle of water or carbonated drink. This means the inevitable question “what can I get you to drink?” will not be asked.
Decide in advance how long you will stay and tell the host that you have another obligation. Make the second obligation, a 12-step meeting; there is always one going on somewhere. Not only is the meeting beneficial, but it means you will not be lying. Deception is part of your past and that is gone.
If you are very new to recovery and feel that the sights, smells and sounds surrounding alcohol consumption are simply too triggering, ask the host if they would consider not serving alcohol for the first hour of the party; you can come, enjoy and exit before the alcohol appears. People are often incredibly accommodating when they know what is at stake so give them the option. If they cannot comply, then the choice is yours as to attend or not.
Drive yourself, so that you will be able to leave as planned. Always have the numbers of at least five supportive people in your phone. These are friends who know to answer on the first ring, compassionate people you can rely on if you feel you are in trouble. Or, you can host a party of your own, whether at your home or a restaurant, with the understanding that no alcohol will be served.
The holidays are a stressful time for everyone, so be intentionally vigilant in caring for your body, mind and spirit. Speak to your sponsor often; if you normally go to two meetings per week, increase attendance to three or four. Eat healthy food, get enough sleep and exercise.
If you experience increased emotionality, recognize that this is completely normal. In the past, you numbed painful thoughts and feelings with alcohol. Since that is no longer an option, use the coping skills you embraced in treatment–that is why you learned them.
Additionally, you may experience genuine sorrow at the loss of your addiction. That is understandable and your feelings are legitimate. Discuss these emotions with your therapist and sponsor; they will understand the magnitude of this loss and how these conflicted feelings could affect your recovery process.
You might consider meeting with a grief counselor in order to fully mourn the loss of your addiction.
In your spiritual life, focus on positivity. If you do not have a gratitude journal, make this a gift to yourself. Purchase one that is fancy or beautiful. Write in it every day. Be thankful that you are strong and healthy, that you no longer live under the tyranny of alcohol, that sobriety translates into freedom.
Have Realistic Expectations
The holiday season is just that: a season. It comes and it goes. If you expect perfection in terms of relationships with family and friends, or anticipate around-the-clock happiness and joy, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Keep in mind that just because alcohol is no longer in the picture, the picture will still have flaws. If you never got along with your sister, the absence of alcohol will not magically change that.
Decide in advance what you want your season to look like: if giving back is important, volunteer; if peace is the focus, pray or meditate more and avoid the shopping malls; if appreciation is at the top of the list, spend time with those you love, tell them in person how much you value them or write a letter to express your thoughts.
This is a brand new season and a brand new, and vastly improved, you. Commit to creating joyful, positive memories that can be repeated year after year.
Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!
What has been your experience with attending holiday parties while in addiction recovery? What tools have helped you to maintain your sobriety?
About the author: Beth oversees the Addiction Therapy program, including staff supervision, quality improvement of the addictions program, and training TK staff in substance abuse. Beth received her Bachelor of Science – Psychology Clinical Counseling from Saint Xavier University. She earned her MHS – Master of Health Science – Addictions Studies from Governors State University. She is a Certified Alcohol Drug Counselor (CADC) and is certified in Mental Illness Substance Abuse (ISA). She is a member of Citizens Organized for Recovery and Education (C.O.R.E.)
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
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Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 10, 2015
Published on AddictionHope.com