It’s 86 degrees, the relative humidity is 90% and its only 6:45 in the morning. I’m dripping wet and I have not even begun my daily 5K run through the neighborhood. There are pro’s and con’s to living in South Florida but the weather allows me to take advantage of the outdoors as part of my recovery. I am grateful for being in recovery and my new lifestyle balance program includes a daily morning run along with a well balanced nutritious breakfast in order to start my day right. I am coming up on 5 years clean and sober and as I approach that milestone, I am reminded that the holidays are once again approaching. The mere mention of the word “holiday” sends shivers down my spine. That simple word triggers my stress and induces thoughts and feelings of relapse. I know many of you in recovery feel the same.
The question is; can we turn this typical holiday stress into a new positive and sobering experience for ourselves and our loved ones?
In order to answer that, allow me to submit yet another question in order to set the stage for our conversation. What is your priority? I humbly believe that whatever your priority is, it will come to pass. Whether we stay clean and sober or fall into a relapse, we are ultimately responsible for our own sobriety.
Our priorities can serve as a motivation and or inspiration to our desires and outcomes. However, without a plan we may be doomed to fail before we even reach the starting line. Instead of just waiting for something to go wrong and maintaining a defensive posture, consider switching gears to go on the offensive.
Going on the offensive does not include wishful thinking, magical spells or fairy dust. It requires strategies and visualizing outcomes that we would like to implement in order to manifest our goals.
Before taking part in this exercise, lets go back for a second and answer the question above. What is your priority? If you answered, my priority is my sobriety, then you have the green light to proceed forward in establishing and outlining your specific plan in order to turn this holiday season into a positive experience for you and your loved ones.
4 Points to Victory:
1. What are your expectations? Clearly write out your expectations and those of your family for this upcoming holiday. Sounds simple enough, but there are pitfalls that exist which can easily sabotage a sober holiday experience, Although expectations are often perceived as genuine, they may not reflect reality. Some family members may believe that because the holidays are a time for family, fun and parties, they may not be privy to the fact that their loved one in recovery may be struggling to avoid their drug of choice to help cope with stress. The recovering addict must also have realistic expectations. A very common scenario faced during the holidays is whether to even attend family holiday functions. Families that choose not to invite their recovering loved ones for the holiday celebration risk the possibility that it may cause isolation and shame and ultimately lead the addict deeper into relapse. Likewise, those in recovery may not feel ready to participate in holiday celebrations and have to accept that this holiday season may just not be the time to get together. A mutual agreement is best. If a loved one experiences a relapse, the family needs to deal with the situation and take immediate action. Options include taking him/her to a meeting, contacting the sponsor and even personally taking the loved one to a treatment facility.
2. Prepare ahead of time. Do not wait for the last minute to prepare your holiday tool kit. Smartphones are a great tool these days for providing recovering addicts with tools and back up all on their phones. Consider using an app connected to a GPS system that automatically gives you directions to the next meeting. Simply put in your desired zip code. Whether you are traveling or staying local its just an app away from planning ahead. Since you’re already on your phone, have your sponsor’s contact information handy as well as back-up contact person. Help is just a speed dial away. You may also want to have in your possession a copy of the Big Book from AA or recovery magazines along with a book on daily mediations and positive affirmations. You can even journal electronically by jotting down some thoughts on the notes app of your smart phone.
Another helpful hint is arriving and leaving early from holiday parties. Alcohol and drug use tend to become more prevalent as the party lingers on. Consider bringing along a bottle of sparkling water to toast the event while reminding yourself that you have made sobriety your priority.
3. Self-care time. Finding time for self care is non-negotiable. It is essential and crucial to have an iron-clad plan. Just imagine a diabetic going on holiday without pills or insulin or a person suffering with sleep-apnea traveling without a C-PAP machine. This is the equivalent for us in recovery. Not making time for our own self care is a recipe for disaster and a relapse about to manifest.
Topping the list for self care is sleep. Study-after-study documents the enormous negative consequences to our bodies/mind when we deprive ourselves of sleep. Sleeping less than 8 hours per evening may signal a red flag that something may be lurking in our minds causing us to lose sleep.
Next, what are we putting into our bodies for fuel? Eating a well balanced and nutritious variety of foods is paramount to giving us the right energy to confront our daily challenges. It’s important to keep check of your sugar intake as it can cause erratic mood swings. Make sure to have on hand or close by pieces of fruit, carrot sticks, mixed nuts, yogurt and bottled water as healthy snacks to regulate blood sugar. Imagine if the tires on your car were low on air, or that you put sugar in your gas tank instead of gas? It’s obvious that the car would be stuck and so would you. Not having enough sleep and improper nutrition can stop you even with your well intentioned holiday plan.
In addition to proper rest, sleep and proper nutrition, incorporate regular daily exercise. Whether it’s a brisk walk, jog or run, the holidays are not the time to skip these much needed activities. As a reward for all this work, make time for peaceful and quiet meditation and restoration where you can be grateful for everything you have in your life. If necessary, you may even want to schedule some face time with your sponsor as a preventive measure.
4. An evacuation plan. Okay so you’ve planned and stuck to your carefully drafted outline in order to turn this holiday into a positive experience. Then all of a sudden, life happens and you are thrown a curve ball you didn’t see coming. That’s okay, no need to panic because you already have an escape route in place. City governments have plans for evacuation in order to secure their citizens until a storm has passed. The storm you may be weathering can manifest when you become exposed to a situation during a family gathering or dinner party. You may be visiting with friends and may all of a sudden feel pressure to drink alcohol. The mere potential for arguments is also unfortunately very common during this time of the year, as tensions and stress run high. These scenarios alert our minds to be calm and take decisive action instead of panicking, because we have a plan in place. Once you have removed yourself from this dangerous situation and are out of harm’s way, your support system begins to guide you back to safety.
After you’re successfully implemented your plan and avoided negative fallout, take a moment to look at the view of the road ahead. It is large and full of opportunity. Then take a look at the rear view mirror and notice it is small in size representing the past. While its important to glance back at the rear view mirror in order to switch lanes safely we must keep our eyes on the road ahead. In other words, instead of getting stuck in the past, we must learn from our past while staying in the present in order to enjoy a clean and sober future.
Whether you initiate or continue treatment during the holidays, it could simply be the best gift you give yourself and your loved ones this holiday season. Wishing all a positive and sober holiday season.