Recovery is a ‘one day at a time’ endeavor that requires constant effort. This is especially true around the holidays when temptations are endless. Rest, relaxation, joy, and family connection is what holidays promise. However, for people in recovery the holidays can be a stressful time when difficult family dynamics pop up or old wounds arise making it hard to stay sober. Sometimes the expectations of others weigh us down and we forget to think about our own sanity…to put it bluntly. However, this is a crucial time to put recovery at the top of our list.

Here are 7 proven ways to make your recovery a priority and avoid relapse during the holidays.

1. Have a Plan

Founding Father and inventor of swim fins (for real) Benjamin Franklin said it best: “If You Fail to Plan, You Are Planning to Fail.” When it comes to your recovery, having a plan can make the difference between sinking or swimming. Which gatherings will you attend? How will you handle risky situations like being offered drugs or alcohol? Deciding how you will turn down an offer and having an exit strategy will prepare you for success. It helps to remember that your recovery is more important than offending someone. If they cannot accept your ‘no’ they are manipulating you or have selfish motives. If you have a sober friend or sponsor, bring them along for support. Consider ways you have relapsed or used at similar events and determine how you will handle things differently this time. If it is appropriate, let family and friends know about your recovery in advance so they won’t offer you drugs or alcohol.

2. Attend a Meeting or Talk with a Sponsor Before Hand

Do you have a particular recovery meeting you like to attend; or a good counselor, sponsor, or therapist? Set up a meeting before the holiday party or family gathering. This way you will be mentally prepared to protect your recovery. These groups or individuals will remind you that you are not alone in your recovery should a difficult situation arise.

3. Volunteer or Plan Other Activities

Forget the party and feed the homeless or volunteer at the local mission or shelter instead! Helping others releases dopamine, serotonin, and other feel-good chemicals. These are the same chemicals released when we ingest drugs or alcohol. Helping the hurting also reminds us why we are grateful and gives our lives deeper meaning. Gratitude and purpose are positively linked to recovery. Sober activities are plentiful around the holidays with plays, movies, musical events, and outdoor activities like tree lighting ceremonies, ice skating or skiing. These are awesome alternatives to parties filled with alcohol, drugs, and too much food!

4. Avoid Sticky Situations

If you know your uncle Jack likes to start family arguments and make inappropriate comments avoid sitting by him or interacting with him. If the invitation comes from your partying friends decline it. Some will be upset as mentioned above but true friends will want what is best for you. Remember that anyone trying to pressure or derail you does not have your best interests at heart. This is hard when it is a sibling or parent pressuring you. They may not be trying to sabotage your recovery deliberately. They probably just want the ‘old you’ back who used to party with them. This is why having a support network to help you with boundaries is crucial.

5. Be Mindful

How is your mental, physical, and psychological state? Check in with yourself frequently. This is always a good idea and especially important during holidays when family and friends can be overwhelming. Quickly shut down tricky thinking that says you need the substance because family is too stressful. Do not believe the voice that whispers: “I will only have a little bit,” or “I can handle it.” I have yet to meet anyone in recovery (including myself) who has not been duped by these lies. Checking in with yourself (thoughts and emotions) is key in recovery and relapse prevention. If you are tired or struggling with anger, anxiety, or depression, talk to someone and work through it before engaging in triggering situations.

6. Practice Self-Care

Mindfulness is a pre-requisite to self-care. It is not selfish to put your own health and recovery first. You cannot be helpful to those you care about if you are tired, stressed, or using. Getting enough exercise, healthy food, and sleep is essential to good mental health.

7. Gratitude

Gratitude reduces negative emotions which are correlated to relapse. Numerous studies show gratitude increases happiness, well-being, and boosts those feel-good endorphins like dopamine and serotonin. Gratitude increases self-esteem, physical and mental health, and helps us give and forgive more freely. Gratitude is also positively correlated with recovery because we will navigate hardships and challenges with a positive attitude when we are grateful.

There are many ways to make recovery a priority during the holidays and these are just a few. If you are struggling with an addiction, the holidays are also a great time for recovery and we can help. At The Life Change Center, we offer recovery services for heroin, pill, and fentanyl addiction. If we cannot help you, we can refer you to someone who can.