From friends in recovery, from readings and from other sober support groups, I’ve picked up quite a number of suggestions, techniques, strategies, even hacks, for staying both sober and happy during the year-end time that we call the holidays (hellidays?).
Let me pass them on in the hope that they also might be helpful to you.
During the holidays, the two things that we in recovery obviously are aware of:
– First, the expectations set upon us by being with our families, should family remain. The idea is that we ought to feel good again about being a sibling, child, parent or close relative with others in the family.
– The second is an acute awareness of the near-ubiquitous presence of alcohol (and sometimes other substances) in our lives: at the parties, gatherings or functions that mark these days.
But there are other, perhaps more subtle, stressors that we also might consider being aware of during the holidays:
– The financial pressure of purchasing presents or gifts for others – especially what we think will be “the right gift” for someone.
– What the letters SAD stand for, “seasonal affective disorder,” set in by cold, gray days or what comes to feel as oppressive or depressing weather.
– And that sort of loneliness that befalls those trying to separate themselves, even in a crowded room, from noisome others, or clinking glasses, or anything or anyone triggering, pressuring, stressing and urging a whole raft of feelings.
The best advice I’ve received, from many people, is to have a plan, ahead of any time or event or possibility — a plan to stay occupied, a plan to do things I don’t normally do, a plan to plan.
If I’d otherwise be sitting and gabbing with friends or family – and drinking during the same – then a plan to do something else. If I’d be idle, by myself, at the whim of my feelings or urges, then a plan to be busy, even distracted, or focused on something outside of my head (games, pleasant work, inviting reading, fulfilling activity, etc). But a plan, above all, for something to do, at the ready, and not to rely on any last-minute decision.
About people in the family difficult to be with: Your family members know where your buttons are because they installed them.
Avoid encounters with family whom you fear might set you off, if merely because they have in the past and may again. It doesn’t matter where on the scale they land, from well-intentioned to out-and-out malicious: If simply being with them will stir up fears and anxieties, stay away from them.
Of course, this goes against that powerful expectation, this time of year especially, that everyone be happy in the company of everyone else. But you can avoid the unpleasant in creative ways: plan a visit so that your time doesn’t overlap with that of those whom you wish to avoid; peel off during unpleasant encounters to text or call your sober mates back home; take a deep breath and tell yourself that “This will be over in a few minutes”; take in a meeting ahead of time or logon to an e-meeting right before; and, if worse comes to worst, Uber an escape.
Before you head out for “home for the holidays,” check out the meeting schedule there for your sober support group(s). While AA may have the widest spread all over the world, you can also find SMART Recovery, LifeRing, Rational Recovery and other group meetings elsewhere. (Many also offer online meetings that, of course, aren’t bound to any geography.)
For some in recovery (see: me), airplanes and airports can be worse Ulysses’ Sirens. Take a pair of headphones on your flight in case you get seated next to a drinker. And just “urge surf” [see below] your way past the bars on the concourse. Get that after-security beverage at the newsstand …
Strategies, Techniques, Hacks
Use tried-and-true recovery strategies such as urge surfing or recalling axioms or slogans that have helped other.
1. Some folk swear by “urge surfing” (also called “riding the wave”). When an urge or impulse arises (a craving, say) that engages an old habit you’d rather not indulge, don’t necessarily fight it or repress it; that way it might get worse, in fact.
Let it ride; wait it out; let it pass through you. It will subside in intensity; it will go away; it always does. (Time varies, but it always goes away.) If you “surf” the crest of an urge, you feel it, sure, but it passes and you thereby rob it of its power.
2. Calling up and going by phrases such as “One day at a time” or mnemonic acronyms such as “HALT” (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) can help.
3. Ask yourself “What is my motive?” when going to an event or attending a party. Why am I (really) going? Really?
4. Bring along a sober friend; bring your own beverage.
5. Keep something in one hand: a glass of what you’d like to drink, a nibble, a napkin or anything else to keep a paw filled or occupied. If someone sees you with something in your hand (especially a glass filled with what you’re into), it’s less likely they’ll ask you “May I get you something?”
6.Arrive late; leave early.
7.If you’ve driven to a party or gathering, don’t let your car be blocked out on the lot or street; you want to be able to leave when or if you choose.
8.Care as you might wish to care, do not volunteer to be the designated driver. Two reasons: You need to stay until the end of the party in order to be the DD (not the best time for a person in recovery, the end of the party) and, furthermore, chances are you’ll be taking home the more, um, obnoxious guests from the party if you’ve stayed long enough to take them home.
9.If you’re comfortable, tell friends, or even acquaintances, that you are in recovery; it’s likely that they will both support you and also be less likely to reflexively offer to “get you something to drink.”
10.Have an answer ready (i.e., planned) to the question, “May I get you something to drink?” My answer: “May I burn down your house?”
11. Antabuse (disulfiram) may be taken on a topical or periodic basis (one week; one month; the “hellidays”). Consult your M.D. on it; side effects exist although few people suffer a combination of them, fewer still anything serious. Many people report having no side effect of disulfiram. But, again, speak with your doctor. Antabuse is a very effective aide to recovery.
12. Download apps such as SoberGrid or podcasts available through recovery support groups such as Refuge Recovery.
Be proud of your recovery; remind yourself how good you feel in recovery (versus how bad you felt deconstructed …); and find time each day to still the mind, sit in peace and quiet, and give thanks for your sobriety.
At the time of year when we sometimes maniacally exchange gifts with each other, it is the best gift that you have quietly given to yourself.
~ by Bill SJ.