I stopped eating meat in 1983 yet every few years my mom will say something like “It’s Thanksgiving. You can have turkey on Thanksgiving.” She isn’t opposed to my not eating meat, it’s that she can’t wrap her mind around it during holidays. I suppose the memories that make her warm, fuzzy and sentimental involve us all sharing the same meal. I mention this because a lot of people in recovery will be going home for the holidays. Many are going to have an experience similar to mine but instead of turkey it will involve alcohol.
If you are new to recovery, you’re going to keep hearing people talking about how difficult the holidays will be and how many people will relapse. This is going to either scare the crap out of you or you’re going to dismiss it by thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me because I have absolutely no desire to drink or get high whatsoever.” The truth is – none of us can predict how we are going to feel ten minutes from now let alone during the holiday season. It’s better to enter the next few weeks prepared for anything. Have a solid recovery plan to increase your accountability to your support group, know where there are meetings ahead of time for wherever you will be traveling to, have people you can call at any hour, and make plans so you don’t spend the holidays in isolation or spend it exclusively in the company of people who are partying or who have the ability to push your buttons (family). Basically whatever level of daily actions you now take to keep your recovery a priority, increase them until after January 1st. Better safe than sorry – and sorry does not mean relapse. It can mean emotional discomfort, living with heightened anxiety, or riding the roller-coaster of shame, remorse, or anger.
In most cases, your immediate family will be supportive of your recovery but they may not understand the disease. To them, you are doing so well they may not see any harm in a glass of wine at a toast or alcohol soaked desserts. It’s up to you to educate them beforehand on what you need. If you go to 12 Step meetings, tell them beforehand when you will be attending them so they aren’t disappointed if it conflicts with their plans. You don’t want to be in a position where you give up your meeting because your mother is upset. Also, let them know if going for a walk/run/yoga/gym is something you have to do for your mental and emotional well being so that you don’t get moody and lash out. If alcohol drenched sweets are part of the dessert ritual, make sure there is an alternative for you to enjoy. And most important – if your family’s idea of fun is getting sloshed together, know when it is time to leave. Don’t stick around for the insults on how you are now a stick in the mud or debates about whether or not you are an alcoholic.
Self-care and sobriety involves preparing for the holidays. While they are almost always a roller-coaster of the unknown to the newly clean and sober, those of us who have some time under our belt can still be hit with loneliness, grieving for those who are gone, feelings of inadequacy or whatever negative self-talk that can surface when we are the sober one at a party. Thank God, it does get easier. Holidays clean and sober really can be a blast. Even so, it is always good to have a recovery plan in place.