HELPQ. I am new to sobriety and lately at meetings all I’m hearing about is how hard the holidays are. Why is everybody freaking out? 

A. The danger of any experience that triggers feelings of fear, shame, guilt, remorse, and negative thoughts about oneself is that they fuel the disease and can lead to
relapse. As active addicts, we used over uncomfortable feelings.

Everyone has different trigger times. For some people, a birthday can awaken inner criticism of having not achieved certain goals. Being without a date on a Saturday night can trigger feelings of loneliness, insecurity and escalate to fears of dying alone.

Holidays are a minefield for intense emotion and affect most recovering addicts and alcoholics. Anyone experiencing a first holiday season clean/sober is especially
vulnerable.  The trigger for many is family – whether missing them from a distance or visiting them for the twentieth time, a lifetime of memories and feelings surface: joy, love, and excitement, anger, shame, guilt, old resentments, unfulfilled expectations, sadness and loss for those who have passed away.

The disease grabs onto any feeling of discomfort, magnifies it, and then judges us for having it. While caught up in this inner turmoil, it seems like people who are drinking are the only ones having a good time. This is why it is strongly recommended to stick close to your sober support group, plan ahead and map out meetings wherever you are going, have on hand alternative places to stay if the family environment is difficult and remember – it is OK to leave a party early.

Part of relapse prevention is to share whatever is making you uncomfortable – if it is fear of going home for the holidays, work parties, loneliness, or thoughts of drinking or using. Sharing on a group level takes the negative power away and lessens the fear. It also invites experienced members to take you aside and tell you how they handled similar situations in recovery.

When you hear people in meetings sharing their fears you are witnessing recovery in action. This is what works to keep people clean and sober.




Patty is a nationally recognized certified recovery coach and writer. She lives in New York City.

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