The holiday season can be really divisive. For some, it’s ‘the most wonderful time,’ while for others, it can be a real struggle.
For those living with addiction or mental health issues, celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa can be a time filled with dread and nervous anticipation because of the number of hurdles and triggers it can present.
The key to successfully navigating this holiday period is to be prepared to protect your recovery. That means being aware of some of the challenges the holidays can likely bring and planning to keep your health and well-being as your top priority.
Lots of temptation
The holidays are supposed to be fun. The expectation is that you’re meant to enjoy yourself and be seen as having a great time, even if it could be to your detriment.
One of the most ‘fun’ aspects of this time of year is overindulgence. With an abundance of work parties and family get-togethers, those struggling with substance abuse will face a lot of temptation.
Depending on the environment, there will likely be very easy access to drugs and, in particular, alcohol throughout December. With that comes a forced expectation to indulge in having a good time.
Being in such an environment can be very challenging for someone trying to stay sober and requires mindful navigation.
There’s always a lot of pressure around the holidays – not only when it comes to choosing the right gifts or outfit to wear – especially if money is tight.
The end of the year is often a time for reflection when we take stock of the previous 12 months. This can feel overwhelming if you’ve been looking to get clean, particularly if you haven’t achieved specific goals or think you’ve let down those who have been supporting you.
The holidays are typically a time when addicts will have to come face to face with those who have been willing them to do better. And these loved ones will doubtless be keen to assess any progress.
Putting on a brave face while under such scrutiny, when already anxious or under stress, can be really punishing, especially when exposed to multiple stressors.
Family, a significant stressor
In most cases, contact with at least some part of the family is an inevitable part of the holiday season.
Unfortunately, family dynamics often change when there has been substance abuse. This could be due to several reasons, including tension over finances, health or disagreements that may have happened in the past.
Though holidays tend to be a time when a lot of this goes out the window and people put their differences aside, for those struggling with dependency, many aspects of family interactions can still prove to be triggering.
One could be, for example, reliving disturbing memories evoked by setting foot in the childhood home, especially if it was that environment which shaped their addiction. Another could be seeing that relative with whom they had an abusive or unhealthy relationship.
Scenarios like these may trigger relapse for those in recovery or exacerbate substance use if you’re in active addiction. Think about how you can effectively limit (or calmly remove yourself from) any exposure that could lead to relapse.
Good intentions, unexpected consequences
Accepting an olive branch can be difficult for addicts. They may be reluctant to accept invitations to dinners or other get-togethers, especially if they’re struggling with feelings of guilt and shame over past behaviours and how they’ve affected those who’ll be attending.
Likewise, for the friends or relatives of those with dependency issues, this can also be a difficult situation to manage. While they don’t want to exclude their loved ones, they also have to be careful not to enable their harmful behaviours.
The needs and emotional safety of the other family members present, especially if there are any children, have to be a priority too.
In a bid to help, some hosts might decide, for example, to take alcohol off the menu. Others might take this opportunity to try to stage some sort of intervention (though this is not advised without the guidance of a trained interventionist).
However, many of these good intentions often lead to awkward or tense situations whereby, because of their issues, the addict can feel singled out and exposed.
Isolation can be just as damaging
While staying away from the stressors and the temptations of the festivities can be very appealing, the holiday season can be very long, especially if you’re braving it out on your own.
It’s very easy for recovering addicts to become isolated at this time of year. And let’s not forget that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is increasingly common at this time of year too.
While exposing yourself to stressors can exacerbate substance use, isolating yourself could have consequences that are just as bad – if not worse.
Isolation contributes to – and can increase – depression, anxiety, loneliness, and other mental health challenges that could put your recovery at risk.
That’s why you must prioritise your mental and physical health and set healthy boundaries when approaching the holidays.
It’s also important to understand that you’re not alone. Many support groups meet year-round, and plenty of like-minded individuals also find the pressures of the festive period tough to handle.
If you’re going to be away from your regular group over the holidays, find out in advance where and when meetings are held in the area where you’ll be staying.
Help is available at White River Manor
It doesn’t always have to be this way. You don’t have to dread the holidays.
This year, you might find that the ‘season of hope’ is the perfect time to seek the additional help and support you need. Admitting to having a problem and seeking treatment could be the first step towards enjoying the holidays and the New Year again in the future.
At White River Manor, our dedicated team of expert psychotherapists can help you to get to the root of your problems and equip you with strategies and life skills to free yourself from dependency and experience deep transformational healing.
We offer family therapy to all our guests because involving those closest to you gives you the best chance of a lasting recovery. Not only can you heal old wounds, but your relatives can also get a better understanding of your needs and how they can better support you.
If you’d like to find out more about our made-to-measure treatment plans, please get in touch!