Understanding how to stay clean and sober over Christmas will be vital for your recovery journey
Although Christmas is a joyous occasion for many people, for those of us who are recovering addicts or alcoholics, the festive season presents many challenges and temptations that can trigger a relapse or addictive behaviour. “Christmas and New Year festivities offer opportunities to gather with the extended family and if we’re in early recovery or sometimes with dysfunctional families, these times will also be times where we can be triggered into old traumas around family, celebration, connection or lack of it,” says Diane Young, addiction specialist and therapist at South Pacific Private.
Ironically, social celebrations can often make us feel isolated and separated – even in our own family and circle of friends. “We want to be able to fit in and to have a few drinks, but addicts in solid recovery know there is no such thing as ‘only a few’,” explains Young.
Another challenge is that although 12-step meetings are on, our usual support system within the therapeutic community may be away on holidays with family. “This can further contribute to feelings of isolation and if in early recovery, reaching out may be the difference between staying clean and sober and in recovery or not,” says Young.
“We might manage to hold everything together through the festive season then New Year hits. This is a time where we need to adapt to a slightly different environment – relax, yes, but safely have fun, and enjoy new-found freedoms.”
So what can we do to prepare us for this time? Young says that from pre-Christmas to early January, it is important to have a plan. “What will you do if you feel shaky? If you feel like you might relapse, who can you turn to? It is imperative to think about who those people might be – in your 12-step community and outside of it. Stay close to your support system – friends and family – who understand and support you.”
She also says don’t be afraid to ask for help in times of need. “It’s the hardest thing for a newly recovering person to do, but it’s essential to set up those contacts if you feel you’re getting off track or feeling lost. Always, always, always keep up your meetings and your homegroup and talk to your sponsor or your therapist if you have one,” she adds.
For many of us in recovery it can be a good time to remove triggers entirely and book in a three-week stint at our treatment centre over the Christmas break. “We are all out of routine and know the festive season is a time of significant relapse and acting out,” says Young. “Many clients will often book a stay in rehab to keep themselves safe – they know this is not an easy time for them and they are proactive in their approach.” We need to do what we feel is best to protect ourselves.
Deciding to get help means we can keep ourselves safe, get the help we need with others who are doing the same. It also allows us to approach the new year from a perspective of new beginnings and new possibilities. “Maintaining sobriety and staying in recovery – it’s the best gift you can give yourself,” says Young.
How family and friends can support those in recovery during the festive season
Those of us supporting a loved one through recovery may feel apprehensive at this time of year – that’s completely normal. Here’s a guide to help them through this challenging time:
- Ensure they are included in the festivities and don’t feel isolated
- Provide a safe environment – don’t ask them if they want a drink or put them in charge of the bar on Christmas Day
- Be supportive and helpful – let them know that it’s okay to decline an invitation, or leave festivities early
- Encourage them to reach out for additional, professional help if they are at risk of relapsing
If you’re concerned you may have a problem with alcohol, you can use our self-assessment tool here to gain a better understanding of whether key indicators of addiction apply to your situation. To schedule a free, confidential, professional phone assessment, call our team seven days a week on 1800 063 332.
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