Staying sober during the holidays is not a wild idea

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Michael Leach | Special to the JT

The holiday season can be a challenging time for someone in recovery from addiction. It can also be the perfect storm for someone addicted to drugs or alcohol. Starting at Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, there is endless temptation at gatherings large and small.

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There are effective ways to stay sober over the holidays, regardless of how they are celebrated. There is a common misconception within Jewish communities that addiction is not prevalent. Unfortunately, a significant portion of the Jewish community knows someone who is affected by an addiction or has a family history of addiction.

While Chanukah is not necessarily considered a major holiday in Judaism (as it is not included in the Hebrew Bible), the holiday season still impacts individuals much in the same way.

It significantly affects those struggling with addiction or in recovery.

Some of the following tips may help with staying sober over the holiday season.

Always plan ahead. Consider taking your own vehicle to holiday parties, having a sober companion for support and paying close attention to triggers. Anyone who is recovering knows that it can trigger cravings when you become hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Plan ahead for this and know that it’s fine to arrive early and leave early.

“Many holiday traditions are changing for the better because more people are recognizing the damaging effects of alcohol around this time of year,” says Marcel Gemme of Addicted.org.

For example, he points out, “holiday mocktails are an excellent replacement for alcoholic beverages. It removes problems associated with alcohol, and someone in recovery can enjoy an alcohol-free holiday beverage.”

Avoid relapse triggers. The holidays are often an emotional time, and this is a common relapse trigger, whether or not you are in recovery. In addition, the holidays can be a stressful time of year since so many activities are squeezed into just one month. The increased demands from family and friends can leave a person wanting to run and hide.

Have a plan for these triggers. And realize that it’s OK to turn down invitations to holiday parties.

Do not lose sight of self-care over the holiday season. Focus on taking care of your body, mind and spirit. The holidays can be a busy time for many families, and we often forget about proper nutrition, sleep and exercise. Even just getting eight hours of sleep a night makes a huge difference.

Celebrate positive and healthy relationships. The holiday season can be a time to rekindle old relationships with friends or family. Instead of eating or drinking, make the celebrations about people and interactions, and work to build strong relationships that benefit sobriety.

Maintain your spirituality. Regardless of faith or spiritual beliefs, the holidays are about giving and gratitude. Staying focused on these things brings more joy than anything else. It also removes the focus from resentment, disappointment, anger, worry, self-loathing and other negative feelings.

Staying sober over the holidays is not a wild idea, and it is not impossible. It can be a fun challenge to direct attention towards people and activities that strengthen our recovery or drive to become sober. Enjoy the holiday season and express gratitude whenever possible.

Michael Leach has spent most of his career as a health-care professional specializing in substance-use disorder and addiction recovery. He is a certified clinical medical assistant and a contributor to the health-care website, Recovery Begins.

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