We know the common saying, “If you fail to plan, plan to fail.” And this applies perfectly to our lives in recovery, especially as we prepare to march through the holiday season. Sobriety and recovery don’t just happen; they’re the result of intentional effort and even planning. For those of us accustomed to living by the seat of our pants, this can be a hard concept to grasp.
When we sail into the rush of the Christmas season without any sort of plan, we might be steering right into the choppy waters of temptation and relapse. Aside from the pace and the food and alcohol-centered activities, there’s also the dysfunctional-family stress, travel, the circuit of feasts, parties and gatherings, the financial strain as we buy gifts we really can’t afford and the pressure to execute a perfect Christmas start to finish, just to name a few.
If this time of year drives even non-addicts to overdrink, overeat and indulge in any number of maladaptive coping mechanisms, then we, as addicts, are especially susceptible to pitfalls between November and January. The good news is, there are actions we can take to help guarantee our Christmas season is not only joyful and festive, but also clean, sober and healthy.
Focus on the Reason for the Season
When we conceive of Thanksgiving and Christmas as a time for unbridled festivity, complete with food and drink, then we naturally feel deprived going into this time of year without the substances and behaviors we associate with a good time. Recovery doesn’t begrudge us fun and enjoyment, but when we look at the real meanings behind these holidays, it might change the way we choose to observe them.
Maybe it means we take the day of Thanksgiving to really focus on gratitude and to express our thanks to God for our many blessings—especially the gift of salvation and recovery. Can we remember that, more than cocktail parties and presents, Christmas is an observance of the birth of our Savior? When we slow down and intentionally focus on the reason we celebrate these feast days, we naturally start to think more about what we have than what we aren’t having.
It’s easy to get pulled into the rush, and soon we’re losing track of ourselves, speeding around to get that last gift before heading across town to a party while trying to prepare for out-of-town guests. If we’re new to recovery, and even if we’re not, the frenzy can set us up for a slip.
When we look at the five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, we have to have a plan, and usually that means scaling back. Maybe we outsource some of the cooking to relatives or a local bakery or deli. Perhaps we simplify the gift giving or order everything online to avoid the shopping mall craziness. Scaling back could mean that we attend only one Christmas party in a weekend rather than the two or three we’ve been invited to.
Don’t Put Your Program on Hold
When we’re in the middle of the busyness, we tend to eliminate anything that doesn’t feel immediate or urgent. It’s our meeting night, but it’s cold and we have mountains of presents to wrap. Will anyone really notice if we’re not there? It’s tempting to skip the meeting or to cut corners with our program practices until we get through the holidays. But in doing so we fail to take into account that it may mean we don’t make it through the holidays sober. Our program work and participation at meetings is more urgent now than ever. We may get all the presents wrapped and host the perfect dinner, but if we slip, will it have mattered?
The holiday season can mean a lot of time with family. And if our families are less than functional, perhaps with a few active addicts mixed in, we can feel lonely and even attacked as we try to stay sober. Reaching out to program friends and fellow church members can be the antidote. We need the support of people who “get it,” who are committed to seeing us stay sober and who can pray for us and provide wisdom and friendship during high stress moments. Get the phone numbers of people who will be in town and who are open to receiving phone calls during the holidays. Then pick up the phone and get the support you need. Be ready to provide support to others as well.
If you anticipate pitfalls and challenges, start talking about them now—discuss the resentments and the established family patterns that tend to make you crazy. Working through the issues before the event can help you get the support and the suggestions that will make the actual day not only bearable, but even joyful.