No one actually needs a detailed guide on how to get through Christmas sober….the answer is pretty obvious:
Don’t put any addictive drugs or alcohol into your body. Period.
What we need is a guide on how to deal with the added stress that the holiday might bring to your life.
We probably all like to think that we are immune to the stress of the holidays but it is there for nearly everyone whether we admit it or not. So in the end if you relapse over the holiday then you probably failed to manage your stress and you let it get the better of you.
Really what we need is a relapse prevention plan that is “stepped up a notch” for the added stress of the holiday season.
Our goal is to make it through Christmas while remaining clean and sober. How can we go about doing that?
Create a zero tolerance policy for yourself and then stick to it
This should be your main idea behind sobriety in general–not just for Christmas or the holidays but for all of the time. What you want to do is to make two agreements with yourself:
1) That you will not use addictive drugs or alcohol no matter what. Period. You will not put them into your body under any circumstances.
2) That you will not allow yourself to fantasize about using addictive drugs or alcohol. So if you start to daydream about getting drunk or high–when you realize what you are doing–you mentally flip that switch immediately. You do not allow yourself to keep thinking about what it would be like to get drunk or high.
This second part is very important, especially during the holidays. Why? You may be wondering what is the harm in just thinking about getting high or drunk as opposed to actually doing it.
The problem is that if you allow yourself to fantasize about getting wasted (even for a little bit) then it will make you miserable. In fact it will make you so miserable that it can significantly increase your chances of relapsing.
Why does this happen? It happens because your brain will start to compare. It will start to compare its present reality with the fantasy that you keep playing in your mind (the one where you are getting drunk or high). It is a little like you are “teasing” your mind by indulging in those brief 10 second fantasies where you remember what it was like to get loaded.
Now you may be objecting at this point, saying something like “But I can’t control those triggers and urges and thoughts that I get…..they just come out of nowhere and all of a sudden I am remembering what it was like to use drugs or alcohol….I can’t control it!”
I understand exactly what you are saying, because I have experienced the same thing. You cannot control those sudden thoughts that might pop into your head.
But what I am saying here is that you can control what you do with those thoughts.
As soon as you realize that you are “indulging the fantasy” of using drugs or alcohol, suddenly you have a choice. Now you can choose to keep entertaining those thoughts (the fantasy of getting drunk or high) or you can choose to distract yourself and think about something else. It is not impossible to mentally switch gears. In fact it is very easy so long as you become aware of the fantasy and then make the simple decision to think about something else.
When I talk about having a “zero tolerance policy” what I am really saying is that you should not allow yourself to indulge in these sort of fantasies. Make an agreement with yourself that as soon as you notice yourself reminiscing about getting drunk or high that you will “switch mental gears” and think about other things, immediately. This may seem like a trivial concept but it is significant enough to have a major impact on your happiness. This is especially true if you are in early recovery and tend to have lots of cravings or urges.
You can even experiment with this as I once did–allow yourself to indulge each craving and fully think about what it would be like to get drunk or high, and then measure how happy you are for the rest of that day. Then the next day, employ the zero tolerance policy and mentally restrict yourself from indulging such fantasies. Again, measure your overall happiness. I did exactly this and realized that I was MUCH happier when I was manually cutting myself off from thinking about drinking and using drugs.
Now in order to do this properly you have to do two things. One is that when you notice the fantasy you have to make the decision to stop thinking about it. This is very easy and once you try it you will see that it is no problem. But the second thing is that you have to become aware of your craving or urge to begin with. Raising your awareness is a little bit trickier.
To do this, your best bet is to embrace this idea of the “zero tolerance policy” and then start practicing it. Start “watching your mind” to see if any urges or cravings pop up. Talk about what you are attempting to do with others in recovery. Immerse yourself in the idea of watching your thoughts. Basically what you have to do is to consciously focus on it for a few days, then it will become automatic after that. After a bit of time you will no longer even have to think consciously about diverting a craving or urge–you will have trained your mind to do so automatically.
Mentally, this is one of our long term strategies for recovery–we are training our minds to recognize when we are reminiscing about drugs or alcohol, and we are also training our minds to instantly “switch topics” when that happens. The resulting boost in our happiness (and our ability to remain sober) is greatly increased.
This Christmas, think carefully about the zero tolerance policy and make sure you are employing this important concept. If you allow yourself to fantasize about using drugs or alcohol then you will only make yourself miserable in the end. The solution is to shut those thoughts down immediately. You will be happier for doing so.
Give yourself a break
For a long time I did not really understand what people meant by this phrase in recovery, that you should “give yourself a break.” I mean, what does that even mean? What are they talking about?
But then at some point I was struggling with some issue in my recovery and the phrase took on new meaning for me, and suddenly I understood fully what it meant. I want to try to share with you what the phrase really means, and how that can apply to your sobriety over the holiday.
When someone says that you need to “give yourself a break” it means that you are being too hard on yourself and you are judging yourself too harshly and that you are doing much better than what you are giving yourself credit for.
This is very difficult for me to do when I am going through a tough time in my life. I am all wrapped up in what I need to be doing, my points of failure, comparing myself to others, and so on. When someone tells me to give myself a break at that point it is typically very hard for me to actually do so. I am too wrapped up in what I am doing wrong and what I need to do.
When they say this it means that I need to take a step back and relax. Stop worrying so much about the outcome in front of me and just let things unfold. Let go. Surrender to the situation and just make an effort. Stop sweating every little detail like my life depends on it and allow things to unfold naturally.
If you are into the 12 steps then this suggestion might be to revisit step three (turning your will and your life over to a higher power). When you give yourself a break it means that you allow someone else to “drive the bus” for a while.
This can be an important step during the holidays due to the added stress of the season.
Take a step back and look at how far you have come for a moment. Now give yourself a break. Realize that you have already done a lot, and that you are doing the best that you can. Stop pushing for a moment and give yourself a break. Step back and relax and let things unfold. Some days, being clean and sober is enough. On stressful days this is especially true. So give yourself a break and realize that the most important thing over the holiday is your sobriety itself. Are you still sober? Good. Give yourself credit for that much. You can get back to worrying about every little detail once the dust settles after the holidays.
Force yourself to relax
This is a bit of an oxymoron (force yourself to relax) but if you schedule some down time in to your busy holiday then it can really make a big difference. I did this myself yesterday (Dec. 23rd) with a trip to the hot tubs and it gave me a feeling of peace and well being for the rest of the day. Alternatively, perhaps you could just take a nice hot bath for yourself or simply meditate in a quiet room at some point.
The key, I believe, is that you plan for it and schedule it in. This is especially important during hectic times when little details can consume all of your attention and “take you away from yourself.” If you know that there is going to be a stressful or hectic situation then you should schedule this sort of down time (or relaxation time) into it.
Our active addiction was about extremes (get high or drunk, be extremely happy, then crash and be miserable). Our recovery is all about balance. In order to achieve this balance you have to take an active role in managing stress. This is especially true during the holidays or any time that you know you are going to be under extra or additional stress. Don’t just walk into the extra stressful situations, knowing that it is coming and doing nothing to counter-act that stress. Plan for relaxation. Plan a diversion or an escape for yourself amid the chaos.
You may object and say “that’s just the problem, I am too busy to take time for myself…that is why it is stressful!” Two things:
1) This is usually not true. Prioritize. If you have zero time for yourself then you are being too generous with your time. Stop giving away 100 percent. Remember, give yourself a break! You are doing enough. Take back some time for yourself.
2) If you are truly busy then “bookend” the relaxing times. Schedule some down time for yourself both before and after when you will be busy.
Just say “no” to tempting situations
Is there a holiday party where you know that there will be alcohol and you will be tempted? Or maybe you won’t be “tempted” but you will definitely see people getting drunk and that will likely make you miserable? If there is such a situation you may feel obligated to attend. Perhaps you have told yourself that you do not even have a choice, that you have to attend.
Guess what? That’s not true–you really don’t have to attend. Keep in mind that you could be dead. Or in the hospital. Would you be attending holiday parties then?
If you know that a certain party may be a big stumbling block for your recovery, then just skip it. Make up an excuse if you have to and tell them you were sick. I realize that you may not feel like you can fully explain yourself to everyone about your aversion to alcohol–I fully understand that. And in my opinion it is OK to lie and make up an excuse in order to avoid a situation like this. I have done so myself and I am glad that I did it. If there is a party and you are worried about how you will feel while watching other people drink, then just avoid the party. Skip it entirely. The world will not end and you will not be burned at the stake for missing a holiday party.
Remember–give yourself a break. The world will not stop if you fail to show up at a single party. Your sobriety is much more important than making an appearance where you think you are “expected.”
So those are my holiday tips for getting through Christmas and the holidays. What are yours? Let us know what you have learned in the comments so that we can help each other….