With the holidays nearing, we can only imagine how difficult it is for individuals in recovery to navigate these hectic times. There are many things to be cognizant of when attending family events and holiday parties. To better understand getting through the holidays while in recovery, medical director Daniel E. Brooks and faculty physician Christopher L. Peterson are here to offer some advice.
How do people recognize their triggers and avoid them?
Dr. Brooks: I think the holidays are always a stressful time with money, travel and family. It’s important for people to acknowledge what pushes their buttons and how they must react to those triggers. Understand that issues are a part of the holiday process, and it is important for individuals in recovery to have expectations for these things to happen and prepare accordingly.
Dr. Peterson: People may not know their triggers. Certain situations might make an individual get caught up in their addiction so much that they don’t even acknowledge their triggers when they come, so external input is greatly helpful, such as a counselor or family member. A lot of people can sit down, look at past experiences to pinpoint their triggers and write them down. Common triggers can range from certain people, places and things (commercial, bottle opener, syringe and needle, tin foil, etc.). Your emotional state, such as feelings of depression, anxiety and stress, can also be an obstacle to your recovery. These feelings are all most certainly present during the holidays. During the holidays, consider extra journaling and writing down your triggers. How during the holidays are you going to run into these? Your mother, for example, might be a trigger to you. At holiday events, you’ll most likely be around her, so think of coping strategies prior to attending. Another trigger around the holidays is boredom from being off work and outside of a normal schedule, which can lead to less productivity. It’s important for an individual in recovery to fill that schedule with activities, meetings, sponsors and an accountability person to help with sobriety.
How to attend social events without feeling uncomfortable?
Dr. Brooks: That’s a skill, for sure. You must go slowly and focus on what makes you comfortable. Focus on relaxation techniques, meditation or whatever you know makes you comfortable. It’s important that these individuals don’t challenge themselves or take it too far. Stick by people who are understanding and will help you feel safe in the environment you’re in.
Dr. Peterson: Ask yourself if you really must attend the event. If parties trigger you and alcohol is going to be there, you may just not want to go. It depends on the person’s level of recovery. Avoid these situations completely if you are just entering recovery. The first question is, “Do I expose myself to this right now?” The second question is “How do I manage the situation if I do go?” Be open and honest with yourself and someone at the event – addiction can be lonely, so part of the solution is community and social support, especially in triggering situations. Recommend a person or a support person—sponsor, coworker, or friend–to attend the event with you so you can enjoy the time but stay sober. Don’t forget that you’re still in recovery, so surround yourself with people who support and understand you.
How to say no to drinking but still attend social events with friends?
Dr. Brooks: Individuals must make up their mind to not drink. Make a plan and stick to it–this is key. If you are feeling pressure, drink a nonalcoholic beverage, so people don’t bother you with questions about a drink. Really just stick to a plan and hold yourself accountable.
Dr. Peterson: Sometimes people take the route of saying they are staying away from alcohol because they have a procedure or are taking a specific medication, but it is recommended to be truthful. Instead, try to say something like: “I don’t drink” or “No thank you” or “I’m not drinking anymore.” Or you can always just be straight up: “No thank you; I’m in recovery,” which shows a lot of strength. I would like for society to be in a place where people can accept recovery and allow it in public. It is a very empowering mindset to be in to be public about recovery, but it is hard to get to that point.
How can a person in recovery prevent relapsing?
Dr. Peterson: Actively manage the people, places and things that are triggering to you. Actively avoid places and things that are triggering. Be honest with yourself and others whenever possible. Be your best self and do things for yourself that are not based on external validation. If it’s too much to be in the presence of a person, place or thing this holiday, think of going to an AA holiday event. Be honest with your loved ones and colleagues that have invited you. If they drink a lot, be honest and say that you think it would be better and healthier for yourself to stay away from alcohol. Always do what’s best for yourself.
If you are struggling with addiction, resources are available.
Don’t face your addiction alone. We’re here to help you find the resources and support you need to manage your condition and recover. When you need us, there’s a Banner Health facility close to home.
To reach the Arizona Opioid Assistance and Referral (OAR) Line, call 1-888-688-4222 for 24/7 confidential advice and services free of charge. The OAR Line is managed and staffed by certified providers at the Arizona and Banner Poison & Drug Information Centers. Visit www.oarline.com for more information.
Daniel E. Brooks, MD, is the medical director of the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix.
Christopher L. Peterson, DO, is a faculty physician in the Family Practice Clinic at Banner – University Medical Group Phoenix.