By Sandy Baker
Thanksgiving is supposed to be a family-friendly time when people gather to enjoy good food and each other’s company. Yet, for someone in addiction recovery, those interactions can become high-risk situations. Will there be alcohol? Will you need to deal with the grumpy uncle who doesn’t understand addiction or recovery?
Managing stress during the holidays is essential.
Stress is a common trigger for many people with addiction. It is not uncommon for a person to experience intense stress that builds after each negative encounter, making it nearly impossible to manage cravings to use. So, before Thanksgiving arrives, consider a few strategies for managing potential stressors. Being prepared will minimize your fears and help you enjoy the good times Thanksgiving can offer.
#1: Make Yourself the Ultimate Priority
Beyond anything else, you are most important. If you are in any situation that puts you at risk of using, leave it. Others might make you feel like you owe it to the family or to your friends to stay, but the only person who knows what you should do is you.
Thanksgiving isn’t the best time to meet with family you haven’t seen since you left rehab. It is also not the best time to have to explain what you are doing to “fix” your life. If you anticipate these types of stressful interactions, you can either excuse yourself from them or have a plan to fend off or diffuse them.
You may say something like, “If Aunt June asks me about my addiction, I’m going to tell her that’s my private business. If she won’t leave it alone, I’ll excuse myself.” Know what you’re going to do if you encounter a negative situation.
#2: Start Every Day with a Commitment to Yourself
Focus on staying sober. Each day when you get up in the morning, meditate. It’s important to keep yourself focused on your health and wellbeing. Ask yourself where your risks are right now. Are you feeling overwhelmed or unable to control your thoughts about a substance? If so, reach out to your support team.
#3: Focus on Your Reality
The holidays can have you thinking about the past. Perhaps you’re remembering things about previous Thanksgiving holidays where you were abused or hurt, or where you abused or hurt others. Perhaps the pain you feel about the death of a loved one will resurface as you realize they won’t be at the table.
Instead of getting lost in those memories, focus on the present. What is happening right now? Don’t replay your childhood experiences. Adjust your attitude and reduce your expectations to a more realistic level based on what’s going on today.
#4: Be Mindful of Your Role During the Holidays
If you’re feeling strong and confident, that’s a good thing. There’s no reason to hide or not attend events that you can enjoy with your family or friends. That said, be realistic about your limits. If entertaining is at all stressful for you, this might not be the Thanksgiving to host a group of 50 people at your home.
If you’re visiting family for the day, give yourself a role that helps you balance activity with downtime so that neither stress nor boredom will trigger the desire to use. You could offer to help with dinner, entertain the kids, walk the dog, or clean up the dishes afterward.
#5: Don’t Expect More Than You Should
Don’t expect people to understand what you are facing, why it is so “hard for you” to get back to life, or what it takes to live in recovery. Some of your friends and family might have the attitude that recovery is easy or that addiction is a sign of weakness. That’s okay. Use the tools you learned in treatment to react to ignorance with understanding and tolerance. You don’t have to put up with interrogations or ridicule, but you don’t have to let them ruin your day. In the best-case scenario, your family and friends will surprise you with their forgiveness, encouragement, and compassion.
Most Importantly – Get Help When You Need It
The stressful holidays will push many people towards relapsing. Your best move against this is to immerse yourself in supportive help from your treatment center’s alumni program, your therapist, or a local AA group. When you do, you’ll find yourself able to recoup even when you are faced with ongoing challenges.
At The Ranch at Dove Tree, our outpatient drug and alcohol rehab program in Lubbock, TX, is available to you at any time, even during the holidays. If you need help, call us 24/7 for immediate support.