At different times over the years, as the holidays approached, when someone would say, “I love the holidays” I would half-jokingly say, “I survive the holidays.” This is particularly true when an individual is struggling with a significant challenge, like grief or addiction.
The holidays can encourage substance use, as some use substances to celebrate while others use them to escape the difficult feelings they experience during the holiday season. For many people with opioid or other addictions, the holidays can be a particularly difficult time to “survive” when it comes to their recovery.
It is good for those who are helping, or supporting someone struggling with opiates or in recovery, to remember the holidays can be a time of vulnerability. Several activities that can help with enjoying, or at least successfully navigating the holidays, include planning, preparation and follow-through.
By planning out the actions and steps you will take to avoid your triggers, you can greatly increase your chances of getting through the holiday season successfully. Everyone, whether in or out of recovery, has triggers. Standard holiday woes, such as dealing with the grinch-worthy boss or the lack of funds to buy loved ones’ presents, can lead to depression, anger, or emotional outbursts.
But recovery-oriented triggers can be a particular challenge as people and parties push buttons. You can plan to spend more time with the people you enjoy being around who support your recovery. Maybe there are certain activities that you want to make sure to make time for and other activities or places that you want to avoid. Planning is key to successfully navigating the treacherous holiday traps.
Preparation is another activity that can be very helpful as you think about the upcoming holidays. For many people there are a lot of concerns during the holidays. The concerns can include how much money to spend during the holidays, which parties to go to and who to spend time with. By preparing and deciding early what your priorities will be, you will be able to avoid some of the pitfalls that can come with the holidays.
Remember you can say no — especially to parties or activities where you know you will be tempted to use or not be at your best. You can also say no to people who expect too much from you, for example, children who expect gifts that don’t fit into your budget. By preparing you will have a better idea of where you are with your emotional energy, your finances, and your time, and you can start to let people know what you will and won’t be doing and paying for.
Finally, follow-through can be the most important aspect of successfully navigating the holidays. Similar to many recovery activities, holding the boundaries that you set for yourself is crucial to remaining in recovery or getting further into recovery. For example, if you know you shouldn’t attend a specific party, make other plans for that evening. Make it something you really enjoy so that your planning, preparation, and follow-through pay off.
Also, if you are sure you don’t want to do something or attend something, follow-through by holding that boundary even if someone is trying to put pressure on you. Follow-through might be the most important component of remaining in recovery or getting further into recovery during the holiday season.
Keeping those three things in mind — planning, preparation, and follow-through — can help with getting through the holidays with your spirit and progress intact. If you are helping and supporting someone, who is struggling or in recovery, encourage them to plan, prepare and follow-through. Ask them about their worries and their triggers and help them hold the boundary.
Also, plan to enjoy the holidays while holding true to your goals by looking ahead for potential triggers and problems. Prepare for upcoming problems, including deciding where and when to place your time and resources. Lastly, stick to your plans and make this holiday one in which you can find some joy. Here’s to hoping everyone enjoys the holiday season and continues to move forward with their goals.
Maren Wright Voss, ScD, is a professional practice extension assistant professor of health and wellness at the USU Extension – Tooele County Office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. She can be reached at 435-277-2409 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.