Holidays are a big time of year for everyone. Pumpkin-spice flavored things start popping up on the menu, colored lights and fake snow appear in window displays, and Christmas music starts piping through the speakers in every store. For some people, the holidays are a time of great joy, gathering together with friends or family, and getting into the spirit. For others, it’s a difficult time of year, and can bring up feelings of depression or anxiety. The holiday season may mean getting together with people who you may not be so happy to see, or missing out on being with people who are special to you. If you are battling addiction or problematic substance use, the holidays add an extra layer of challenges to these experiences.
Regardless, if you’re in recovery, it’s important to gear up. Here’s how:
Be aware. It’s important to take a minute to put aside what other people say the holidays are about and think about what they mean to you. How does this time of year make you feel? What does it bring up for you? For people committed to sobriety, the holidays can mean exposure to extra pressure to use or drink. Maybe you’ll be around people who don’t know you’re in recovery and may be confused when you turn down an offer to drink. For those working on moderating their use, the holidays also bring extra pressures. If people know that you are in recovery, they may automatically think you’ve opted for abstinence. A glass of wine in hand could mean questions and sideways glances. Read more about moderation and other options for recovery.
Set goals. Set an intention for what you’d like to get out of your interactions with friends and family during this time. What would you define as successful, even if it’s moderately successful? How will you know that it went well? Maybe your goal is not to get into arguments with a particular family member. Or maybe those arguments are inevitable and success is keeping your cool or walking away. Whatever they may be, your goals will help guide you as you enter potentially chaotic environments.
Plan, plan, plan. The best way to guarantee success is to envision different scenarios for your interactions with friends and family members. Some things to consider:
If there’s a family gathering coming up, how do you want to engage? You could opt to skip it, and meet the people closest to you elsewhere. If you go, you can decide to stay the whole time or just a couple of hours.
If the holidays bring up feelings of depression or anxiety, it helps to anticipate these in advance. Recognize that it’s totally natural to feel this way at this time of year. What are some alternate ways you can cope or take a break when you feel these feelings coming on?
If you plan to reunite with friends or family who drink or use, how will you keep your substance goals in mind? If you are sober, maybe you want to have a non-alcoholic drink in hand at all times to avoid invitations for drinks. If you are moderating, it’s a good idea to decide ahead of time many drinks you plan to have.
To address questions about why you are or are not drinking during the holidays, it may be helpful to rehearse your answer. The most awkward time you’ll explain yourself is the first time. From there, it gets easier and easier.
When you leave an event, how will you get home? You may want to set up a ride home for yourself so you don’t have to worry about your levels of intoxication keeping you from getting home safely. If you are planning to leave earlier than people might expect, you may want to have an idea of what you’ll say.
Enlist allies. You have a higher chance of success if you can recruit people to back you up. First off, if you need to talk things through, get help! Talk to friends or reach out to professionals. Even the act of talking through your goals out loud can make them more real and easier to achieve. It may help to create a check in plan with a friend or a therapist—to text or call before, during, or after going to a specific event. If you know a friend or close family member will be with you at a holiday event, you can ask them to intervene if they see you doing or saying certain things. You can agree on a code word that will prompt them to suggest you leave. Or you can have them change the subject if certain topics arise.
Go easy on yourself. Know that this is a big time of year and it is natural for it to be hard. A lot of people experience holiday anxiety, blues, or depression—so know that you are not alone in feeling this way. Most importantly, take it easy on yourself. Remember, there’s a good reason that things are hard. You may feel upset for not meeting your goals exactly as you laid them out, but there’s no need to beat yourself up for having a tough time. Cut yourself a little bit of slack and know that there’s always room to start anew.