The Holiday Season seems to bring out the best in people. We see generous acts of kindness on the streets, we share baked goods with our neighbors and the thought of giving permeates the air like the smell of the pine trees in our living rooms. So why do so many people who are striving to live a life of sobriety relapse during this time of the year? I want to share my thoughts on this to help those that may not see the signs, either in themselves or in a loved one that may be at risk for relapse.
First, the holidays seem to be very polarizing emotionally. There are times when it is a struggle to recall memories of being loved. Often this can be accompanied by feelings of loneliness. These kinds of thoughts also tend to bring similar emotional experiences that individuals had when using drugs or alcohol. Without even knowing it, those in recovery replicate an extreme emotional roller-coaster that offers a sense of familiarity and comfort. These extreme emotions cause the individual to start responding similarly to family, work and community situations as they did when using, namely isolating, fault finding and playing the victim.
Another point that needs to be mentioned is the over-stimulation of our senses during the holidays. So much of life around the holidays is extreme and overwhelming. There are the flashing lights, the constant music and the crowded stores that can be stressful. People’s day to day routines are set aside to run around and buy gifts, go to parties and celebrate with others.
There is also a change in diet during this time of year where we eat more sugar and starch. Our bodies respond as they are supposed to, with this onslaught of food, through intense stimulation followed by an emotional crash. Again, we replicate, to a much smaller degree, the effects of alcohol and drugs. This cycle may take many people closer to the urges and cravings associated with drugs and alcohol use.
So, the questions is, how do we help ourselves or our loved ones be safe during the holidays?
Here are a few tips:
· Keep as close to a normal schedule as possible. Don’t skip meetings or appointments that have to do with your sobriety.
· Maintain a healthy diet. Enjoy some treats, but don’t overindulge on snacks and candy.
· Attempt to keep expectations for the holidays realistic. Communicate with family and friends about what to expect in terms of visits and other holiday interactions.
· Focus on what you control. Remember that your thoughts and actions are all that you have control over, so focus on that.
Happy Holidays to everyone and may the New Year be a happy one!