Ahhhhhh.....the holidays—they are approaching like a speeding train. This is a season that can be bittersweet—for the great expectations that so many people have can often lead to disappointment. Seeing family and friends can be a blessing, but at the same time lead to additional seasonal stress. Answering the same questions over and over again can trigger intense emotions. Did you graduate yet? Are you still at that lousy job? Any kids? Are you still single? And comparing yourself to your seemingly "perfect" family members with their high-powered jobs, wonderful marriage and 2.5 children can be a recipe for the holiday blues.
Add these stressors to the steady flow of alcohol present at most holiday events and alcoholics in recovery have the perfect storm for relapse brewing. Therefore, it is an important time for recovering alcoholics and those who may need help for their drinking to reach out to resources that they may not have been utilizing. Now is a great time to contact your therapist, attend mutual-help groups meetings, connecting with sober friends, practicing self-care and preparing in advance for the season.
In addition to family holiday events, work and social holiday parties are a constant reminder to the sober alcoholic that they have to live and socialize in a different manner than those who can drink in safety. There are holiday functions that require attendance and it is important to have strategies in place that can help to prevent relapse and to minimize triggers. Here is a holiday "survival guide" for the sober alcoholic; please feel free to post more suggestions:
• Have an escape plan by bringing your own vehicle or figure out the available public transportation near the holiday event that will enable you to leave if you are feeling tempted to drink or uncomfortable.
• Ask another sober alcoholic to be "on call" for you to check in with during the event for additional support.
• Let someone whom you trust at the holiday event know that you may need additional support during this occasion or time of year.
• Find a tasty non-alcoholic beverage you can drink that will give you something to hold and may prevent people from offering you an alcoholic drink.
• Volunteer your time and help others- research in the article below indicates it can improve your mood! http://www.boston.com/news/health/articles/2010/11/29/how_to_help_yourself/
• Come up with a standard response as to why you are not drinking that may vary depending on the type of holiday event and if you want those in attendance to know you are sober: "I don't drink anymore", "I am not drinking tonight", "I am on medication and cannot have alcohol", "I am the designated driver tonight," etc.
• Be choosy about the holiday events that you attend and avoid "people pleasing" by saying "yes" to events that you don't need to nor don't want to be at.
• Take care of yourself prior to these events: get enough sleep, eat regularly, exercise, relax, etc.
• Find new holiday activities and traditions that you may never have tried in the past which do not involve drinking alcohol (volunteer at a soup kitchen, go ice skating, have a sober get-together and gift exchange, see a movie, take a trip, etc.)
• Remember to create structure for yourself if you have time off (volunteer, exercise, make plans, got to mutual-help group meetings, therapy, etc.).
• Work extra hours if needed in order to distract yourself.
• Learn to say "no" if you do not want to attend an event.
• Put your sobriety first and realize that others may not understand what this entails, but that it is your number one priority.
• "Just say no" to rum cake!
• Attend extra mutual-help group meetings during this season (ie, A.A. has "alcathons" that involve 24 hours of meetings, food, socializing at designated locations on Thanksgiving Eve, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day- contact your local A.A. Intergroup for more information: http://www.aa.org/lang/en/meeting_finder.cfm?origpage=29)
• Be honest with loved ones if you are having a hard time and let them know how to support you.
• Remember that "this too shall pass" and there is life after the holidays.
• No matter how you are feeling, just don't drink!
Additional holiday party survival tips from readers:
• "HALT": avoid being too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired before attending a social event
• At the party, immediately get a "cranberry and soda" or figure out a desirable non-alcoholic drink in advance
• If you are trying to avoid explaining why you are not drinking, then try to keep a non-alcoholic drink in your hand
• For "mandatory" work events: show up early, make the rounds to all the key people (ie, staff, co-workers, boss, etc.) and once the room has filled, you can easily leave early
• "Book End" the party: go to a mutual help group meeting (A.A., SMART Recovery) before and/or after
• Try not to hang out at or near the bar, better to locate yourself near the food
• Dance and be active: you'll have fun and get your mind off the notion of "not drinking."
THE NEWLY RELEASED PAPERBACK VERSION of my book "Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic" can make for the perfect stocking stuffer! For book ordering information and recovery resources visit www.highfunctioningalcoholic.com