Recovery Through the Holidays:Ideas for Celebrating with Sobriety
by Amy Conklin, MSW, LCSW, LADC 1
Clinical Director for MHA’s GRIT Residential Rehabilitation Services Program
While the holidays are joyful for many people, for others they are not always the most wonderful time of the year. Especially for those in early recovery from alcohol or substance use, it’s important to have a plan for managing stress to avoid the risk of a slip or relapse. Listen to yourself throughout the holiday season and understand that it’s OK to make your own decisions—smart decisions—that reflect your best interest.
An important part of recovery is establishing consistent routines and healthy habits that help you stay safe and manage stressors. During the holidays, it’s important to maintain those routines and habits to feel more confident in your ability to manage the holiday stressors. You know you can do it and you know what works, so take these same practices and apply them now.
Another good way to manage holiday stress is to connect now with people you can count on should you encounter a trigger or a situation that presents the opportunity to make risky or impulsive decisions. Reach out now and let them know that their support and guidance is more important than ever during the holidays.
Knowing that a trusted person is accessible can help you work through another focal point of holiday stress: relationships. You can’t always control who you’ll see or the environment in which you encounter them when you’re invited to a holiday gathering. Stress can be magnified at a family gathering, particularly when it brings together people whose relationships have been strained. Even certain sounds, smells and rituals of family gatherings can trigger painful memories or damaging behaviors.
One way to cope is to ask your host in advance if you can bring along a guest to help you make smart choices and avoid conflict. You can let your host know that you may need to leave earlier than other guests if an awkward situation arises. It’s also OK to say no to an invitation, or not this year, if that’s the best choice for you. You have the right to establish your own boundaries and set your own limits. Your recovery matters more than a party.
That doesn’t mean you need to avoid joyful holiday gatherings altogether. One good alternative is to attend holiday gatherings with trusted friends, members of your sober community, or others who are the “family” that you choose. Recovery is a new way forward, so creating new traditions and ways to celebrate can feel great and help you make progress. Many resources exist right here in our community that anyone can be part of and feel welcomed. Here are three options:
• Attend an Alcathon, a series of extended AA meetings that take place on traditional holiday party days and nights. They’re a great way for people in early recovery who may be struggling around the holidays to surround themselves with holiday warmth and peer support. Alcathons often revolve around a community holiday meal and provide additional fellowship and support for people in recovery. To learn more, visit https://westernmassaa.org/
• The Recovery Learning Center offers a variety of events, workshops, trainings, advocacy and leadership councils, a peer support line, three resource centers (Springfield, Greenfield, and Holyoke) and a Peer Respite (Northampton). Importantly, RLC is made up of people (not places). RLC happens wherever and however members of the community choose to connect. To learn more, visit https://www.westernmassrlc.org/
• Martin Luther King, Jr., Family Services is a multi-cultural and multi-service agency dedicated to being “Keepers of the Dream.” The organization nurtures and empowers the aspirations of individuals, families and youth to achieve new realities of peace, social and economic justice, self-determination, self-actualization and self-sufficiency. While not specifically connected to sobriety, MKL Family Services welcomes everyone, especially during the holiday season, offering events such as community meals and holiday celebrations To learn more, visit https://www.mlkjrfamilyservices.org/
Holiday stress is a normal experience for most everyone, but with some planning and support it’s possible to bring the stress level down. If you would like to explore options to feel better, start a conversation by calling 844-MHA-WELL.