Maintaining Recovery Over the Holiday Season

Nov 29, 2011

 by Heather Wiszczur, LMSW, CAADC


The holidays are a stressful time for everyone, but they can be especially challenging for someone in recovery. Here are a few tips to help you maintain a strong recovery program through the holiday season.

Maintain Your Foundation

During busy and stressful times, it can be easy to find a “good” reason to skip a twelve-step meeting, call your sponsor a little less, cancel an appointment with your therapist, or slack on self care. However, these seemingly little things are part of the foundation of recovery and are even more important during times of stress. Make sure you continue those activities that support your recovery and consider increasing them if you need extra support. Also try to maintain good self care by getting enough sleep, getting good nutrition, staying active, and maintaining any medication regimens.

Maintain a Manageable Schedule

Keeping a somewhat regular schedule is an important part of recovery, but the holidays can wreak havoc with that, with changes in work and school schedules, social events, and holiday preparations. Do your best to establish or maintain a routine, plan ahead, pace yourself, and try not to over schedule yourself. Don't try to do it all. Set reasonable expectations for yourself by deciding what activities are the most important and which ones can be skipped this year. Ask for and accept help to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Set and Maintain Healthy Boundaries

Although it may be tempting to do otherwise, this is an important time to avoid those “people, places, and things” that trigger you to relapse. Find out if there will be alcohol or drugs at celebrations, before agreeing to attend. If there are family members who trigger you, find out if they will be attending family gatherings. Evaluate social events before attending to determine if they will be safe places for you and discuss any concerns with your sponsor, sober support, and/or therapist. Develop a safety plan for events you do attend. Know what you will do to avoid relapse if you are in a difficult situation. Also plan for support after a challenging event. Many times people can get through a triggering situation, but relapse shortly after. Don't be afraid to decline to attend an event, avoid spending time with certain people, or to ask for an event to be made more supportive of your recovery. If you feel a situation may be too risky, err on the side of recovery and seek whatever support you need.

Maintain Your Budget

Finances are often an issue at the holidays, especially in early recovery. Feeling pressure to spend a lot on gifts can stress you and your budget. Try to determine what you can afford and don't go over that. Consider giving less expensive or homemade gifts. Another great option is giving your time or help to someone instead of buying them something. Some people forgo gifts altogether and instead choose to each do a volunteer service project and then share about their experiences on the holiday.

Have Fun

Seek out fun activities and people who support your recovery. Many recovery organizations have sober holiday parties and events that you can attend. If family gatherings are not safe for you, spend time with supportive friends or other people in recovery. Consider doing some service work to give to others. Remember what a gift it is to get to experience the holidays sober.

The holidays can be a vulnerable time when you are in recovery, but with some conscientiousness and self-awareness you can navigate them safely and still have fun. Just remember to utilize your support, take care of yourself, and prioritize your recovery, because that is the best gift you can give to yourself and the people who love you.

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