For some, the thought of the upcoming holidays produces an exciting, joyous, feeling. For others, thinking about the impending celebrations produces a sense of dread. Whether you view the holiday events as a blessing, or an obligation, your continued success along your journey of sobriety depends on your preemptive tactics. Planning ahead for situations where substances are likely to be available can mean the difference in staying on – or falling off – the wagon.
Make It Clear That You Are Not Going to Drink
The most important step toward making it through the holidays without intoxication is to make the decision for yourself that you will be abstaining. Going into the situation without determined resolve to stay sober is putting yourself in danger of compromise. It is vital to be singularly focused on not allowing the holiday to be an excuse for backsliding.
Be your own coach, and give yourself whatever pep talk is necessary to create a no-substance policy within your mind. If you have others around you who are involved in your recovery, ask them to give you the same kind of encouragement. For even more bolstering of resolve, take one of your recovery partners along to the party with you. The buddy system is great for maintaining accountability.
For those in the initial stages of recovery, remember that this time is about learning to discern what it is that you need to stay sober. It doesn’t have to be a time where you explain to everyone else why you are choosing to abstain. Unless you enjoy telling your sobriety story to every family member who is offering you a drink at the Thanksgiving table, a simple “no thanks” will do. Have your boundaries in place for resisting the pressure to respond to further inquiries, and don’t let their curiosity stress you out.
Play Out Stressful Scenarios Beforehand
One of the most useful tools within therapy is the practice of mentally exploring potential outcomes. When it comes to a holiday gathering, there is a good chance that you already know what to expect from the people who will be there. You know that aunt likes to nag, and that your uncle will be drunk before dinner time. You know that you and your sibling are not going to see eye-to-eye about certain topics, or that your mother will be expecting you to give her a rundown of your love life.
Rather than putting off the thought of these stressful interactions, take some quiet time to actively think about them before the holiday. Use your imagination, and put yourself into the interaction scenarios which typically cause you the most stress. Imagine what they will say and do, and then imagine yourself reacting to it in your usual manner. Then, reimagine the situation, but with you responding in a more healthy way. You can imagine yourself deciding to just drop the conversation, or you can come up with deflecting phrases and responses. This type of mental exercise is also useful for realizing where it is that you, yourself, may contribute to the relationship strife.
Ready Your Coping Skills
Most of us who have done the work of getting sober have done so through the development and employment of useful coping skills. The interactions which occur during the holidays may call for every coping mechanism in your tool box, and more. Have these coping skills ready long before you utter your first holiday greetings to your loved ones.
Many people find benefit in utilizing small time-outs or engaging in deep breathing exercises as a way of calming down during a stressful interaction. You may also find benefit in carrying a small stress ball or a fidget spinner, which can be manipulated as a distracting technique. Wearing comfortable clothing and bringing along a favorite scented item can also help to stimulate a positive environment.
If your coping skills rely on you getting away from people for a few minutes, make sure that you have a space to go and be alone. A long bathroom break or a quick walk around the block can serve this purpose. If you are worried about the responses of others toward your excusing yourself, you can preempt the circumstance by altering them to the fact that you are trying out some new wellness techniques that you have picked up along your journey.
Find Things to Be Genuinely Thankful About
It is a fact of life that it is hard to be in both a positive and a negative mindset at the same time. It is almost as difficult as trying to feel too hot and too cold, simultaneously, or to be both dry and wet. Polar opposite states of being are difficult to accomplish.
Taking advantage of the theme of the holiday is a great way to make sure that you remain hovering near the positive end of the mood spectrum. The holiday is designed around being thankful, and the fact that you are here and able to consider remaining sober is just one thing to be thankful for. Proactively identifying other blessings can become a great way to interact with family members who are typically not the easiest to get along with.
Try genuinely thanking a grumpy person. It tends to work like magic. Make a fun game of finding ways to extend your thanks to each person you encounter at this Thanksgiving gathering.
Spending Thanksgiving Alone
Up until this point, most of the suggestions apply to those who are intending to spend this holiday with friends and family. For some, this isn’t an option. Family members may live too far away, or there may be issues between them which haven’t yet resolved enough to warrant a holiday spent together.
Unless you are someone who purposefully chooses to spend holidays by yourself, there is likely the temptation to wallow in self-pity about the circumstances. It is important to be proactive about not allowing feelings of loneliness to dominate your mind. Try viewing the holiday as a special time for you to indulge in your own self-care. Pamper yourself, in sober ways, through engaging in activities that you normally don’t have the time for.