While this may be the season of giving, loving, and celebrating, it can also be a long six weeks filled with pressure, loneliness and depression. The interesting thing about recovery is that it doesn’t matter how far along you are on your journey of healing, there’s something about the holidays that makes them a recipe for relapse. Consider taking this special time as an opportunity to fire up your approach to long-term sobriety. Here are some tips to help you stay sober through the holiday season.
#1 – Listen for hints in your self-talk
Dr. Shad Helmstetter, author of the book What to Say when You Talk To Yourself talks about the positive side self-talk, specifically on the power of repetition. He suggests that the stories we tell ourselves become our reality. This is a great thing when we’re considering the power of neuroplasticity and reprogramming our neuro-pathways, but what happens when our ‘old stories’ of addiction creep back in? Pay attention to your self-talk, which on a difficult day could sound like this:
“Everyone is going to think I’m a loser. Why do I bother? I don’t belong here. The holidays suck. I never buy the right gifts. Everyone forgets me. This is so fake. Why am I here? I shouldn’t have even tried.”
We can hear the signs that the wound inside of us has been triggered. Noticing and responding to the trip-wire is like choosing to drive slowly over a speed bump instead of speeding up and breaking something. When you start to hear diminishing self-talk simply change the focus of your eyes (this is a right brain/left brain shift), breathe, and replace the old thoughts with new self-affirming ones such as: “I belong here. I am loved, and I deserve to be loved.”
#2 – Notice the way your auto-pilot doesn’t ask for help.
Many of us pull the ‘stiff upper lip’ thing over the holidays thinking that we just have to ‘get through them’ and then everything will be fine. Or we want to keep the peace and fly under the radar of our loved ones because we don’t want to be the cause of upset, or draw unwanted attention to ourselves during this special time. Notice when you start to fall into the habitual patterns you lived before recovery. This is your ‘auto-pilot’s’ way of coping with stress. It might look like:
You find yourself having the same conversation you always have with your mother that leads to the same, familiar disagreement. You feel obligated to see some old friends whom you haven’t seen in years, but they don’t know you in your recovery self. You laugh at the same old jokes. You fall into familiar family triangles with your siblings. You have an urge to stay up late like you used to… and on and on…
Consider changing it up this year. Choose to avoid certain conversations, get up early and go to bed early too. Change it up for change’s sake. When we adopt new patterns our brain doesn’t have any ‘stories’ attached to these actions and that allows us to stay free from painful cycles that can hurt our recovery. Asking for help, finding a 12 step program nearby, or associating with people who see you in your ‘health’ are great ways to trick your ‘auto-pilot’ and enjoy the holidays.
#3 – Notice “racing”
Moving fast, thinking fast, and talking fast are often signs of detachment. While it’s true that some of us (a lot of us) process information quickly, that’s quite different from racing through the moments of living. The thing about ‘fast’ is that it often means we’ve stopped listening, and that means we’re not relating, and that means we’re now spinning, and spinning leads to… well, you get the picture.
If this happens to you, considering going outside for a walk in nature. Go where there are trees, even if it’s just a tree-lined street. Walk, breathe, and hold onto something. The spinning will stop when you reach out and touch something that is rooted in the ground. As well, consider rooting yourself by planting your feet, breathing deeply into your belly and reminding yourself that you are part of this world. Walk back slowly and deliberately. You’ll be amazed at what a 2 minute walk can do to your racing heart and mind.
#4 – Notice a desire for nostalgia.
Reflecting can invite re-living even if you’re wanting to go back to ‘happier times’. Let the past live where it is. Notice when you want to ‘go back’ and remind yourself that today is your promise of this moment and tomorrow is your possibility for tomorrow. Recovery is a journey of healing and integration that we walk daily. If friends and family start to dig up old stories, consider bringing a novel, or a project to occupy yourself that signifies a future of health. You can excuse yourself and cozy up on the couch with something that fills your soul instead of questioning your past.
#5 – A strong desire for a New Year’s Resolution
Deciding to ‘just let go’ for a few weeks and then start your recovery again on January 1st is a recipe for disaster, never mind dangerous to you and those around you. Remember that for someone who is serious about changing their life, the time to start is today, and only today. Ground yourself into the power of surrender. Remind yourself that true power comes from your willingness to be honest and simply keep showing up day after day after day, practicing humility and acceptance.
The holiday season is littered with relapse traps, but you can find your way, even experience joy and love and hope by staying mindful, breathing in consciousness and always returning back to your ‘self’.