Surviving the Holidays – Recovery Edition


The holiday season is finally upon us. As we plan the feast, deck the halls, and prepare to welcome in a new year, we may be overwhelmed by a flood of over-commitment, high expectations, and emotional exhaustion. The holidays can be a joyous time – a time spent vacationing from the stressors of day-to-day life and making memories with loved ones. For those of us in recovery, however, the holidays can be a trigger minefield.

Whether we are in recovery for substance abuse or trauma, we may be secretly dreading the arrival of the stress-filled winter months. We may be thinking about how to evade booze-drenched office parties, or how we can possibly make it through another fight-filled Thanksgiving with our dysfunctional families. Rather than focus our energy on fearing the inevitable, why not begin planning a way to make it safely (and sanely) through the holiday season?

By following a few simple suggestions, you will not only make it through the holidays intact, but potentially even enjoy a fulfilled and stress-free season with friends and family. Imagine that!

Setting Personal Boundaries

The first mistake that many of us make is failing to say ‘no’ and stretching ourselves too thin. We make commitment after commitment, worrying that our friends will be offended if we skip that ugly sweater party; worrying that our parents will be devastated if we opt out of Christmas Eve dinner. In reality, it is absolutely crucial that we continuously put our own needs first. We must pay careful attention to our own limits, and remember that no one will blame us if we need to take a break from tradition. Perhaps we know that there will be excessive drinking at the ugly sweater party, and that we are liable to slip if we attend. Perhaps we know that our alcoholic uncle (an adamant and opinionated non-member of AA) will be at Christmas Eve dinner… and will undeniably give his infamous speech about the fallacy of addiction. Things that put us in immediate danger of relapse should be avoided. Life will go on, and our friends and family members will likely be far more understanding than we might think.

Boundary setting is one component of self-care, which will be absolutely essential around the holidays (and every other day of the year). Self-care refers to any healthy and productive actively that we deliberately partake in; an activity that we know will benefit our mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual health. A major part of recovery is getting to know ourselves, and maintaining a good relationship with ourselves by meeting our own, personal needs. Although this may seem simple, self-care is easily overlooked – especially around the holidays. If we are somewhat new to recovery, we probably haven’t settled into an unwavering self-care routine. In this case, taking good care of ourselves is something we must plan proactively.

Self-Care Around the Holidays

Here are several tips to help maintain good self-care around the holidays:

  • Create a list of non-negotiable NO’s.

If you know your grandmother will constantly criticize you and your life choices, limit the time you spend with her. If you have gotten wasted at your company gift exchange for the past five years, come up with some alternative plans. Take a few minutes to jot down a list of non-negotiable no’s, and share them with someone you trust. Ask that person (a friend, sponsor, or relative) to help hold you accountable. There is no shame in saying no – in fact, saying no takes quite a bit of strength.

  • Continue with aftercare.

Around the holidays, you may be tempted to forgo some meetings and therapy sessions (or whatever it is you do to remain spiritually and mentally fit). Your plate will be full, and attending parties and other events may be more appealing than talking about your feelings for an hour. Be sure to consistently prioritize your recovery, and everything else will fall into place.

  • Spend time alone every day.

Spending so much time with family and friends can be a bit overwhelming. Even if you are just taking a short walk around the block each day, make sure you are allowing yourself a little quality ‘me-time’. Not only will this help you keep your own needs in perspective, but it will allow you a little breather – time to regroup and re-center.

  • Get enough sleep.

When it comes to self-care, sleep is often the first to go. You might convince yourself that binge-watching Stranger Things will be fine; you’ll sleep in an extra hour the next morning. Be aware of how much sleep you’re actually compromising. Staying out a bit later than normal to attend holiday parties is fine on occasion, of course… but everything in moderation. The average adult requires a full 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

  • Don’t live off of sugar cookies.

Forgoing a nutritious diet in lieu of candy and cookies and cake and pie is especially easy around the holidays. Indulging once in awhile is no big deal, but try to maintain some semblance of adequate nutrition. Eating healthy, well-balanced meals will help you feel energized and stable, and will prevent potentially triggering sugar crashes. Exhaustion is a major cause of relapse – stay well-rested and well-fed to avoid any precarious situations.

  • Exercise daily.

Take care of your physical health by exercising daily, if even for 20 minutes. Many find yoga to be especially beneficial around the holidays, seeing as many yoga practices incorporate meditation, relaxation, and grounding techniques. Find a local studio and attend several classes a week to keep your serenity intact (and your chakras aligned).

Staying Sober this Holiday Season

Practicing self-care has nothing to do with being selfish. Remember – if you are not happy and serene (and sober), you will probably not be contributing much joy to family get-togethers and themed work functions. Putting yourself and your own needs first will improve your mood, reduce anxiety, and make you more enjoyable to be around! Practice self-care this holiday season – allowing yourself continuous and fulfilled recovery is truly the best gift you can give yourself, or anyone else.