For many people struggling with alcohol and/or drug addiction, the holidays come with a considerable burden. Alcohol is flowing at holiday parties, families tend to bring stress as well as solace, and the family gatherings may lead to more anxiety than one might hope to endure. Once the holidays are over, it’s time to embrace life on life’s terms.
Often people wait for the new year to reset and refocus on various goals. This practice can be harmful because it places too much expectation on a certain date. It is also a recipe for feeling like a failure, for this day can come way too fast.
Learn how to carefully handle New Year’s resolutions without compromising your recovery.
1. Recognize Relapse Triggers
The number one factor that helps people sustain recovery from addiction is to recognize triggers and employ healthier coping strategies. Most people use drugs or alcohol as a way to numb physical or emotional pain. The emotional response to seek mood-altering substances to control feelings, usually becomes a habit that perpetuates itself.
Break this harmful cycle by making a New Year’s resolution to be better at recognizing your triggers. Triggers might include hanging out with a particular group of friends, being alone at a specific time of day, or simply finding yourself at the same physical and/or emotional place that may have led you to desire drugs. Once you know- your triggers, you can find healthy ways to fight cravings. There are a number of new and effective non-addictive medications that can help physical cravings. For the emotional cravings, try pleasurable physical activities, setting a productive goal, or engaging socially. These are all great options that can help you immensely in getting through not just the holiday season, but any other challenging moment.
2. Maintain Structure and Routine
When life gets hectic, we often return to bad habits that worked in the past. Resolve to keep a better routine this year. Begin by sitting down with a weekly calendar and working out a schedule. Plan time for work, socializing, healthy activities like exercising, and family time. Then, stick to it! The more you build structure and routine into your life, the less stressed you will be. Organizing yourself in this manner translates to fewer possibilities to feel anxious and overwhelmed; the main triggers for relapse. If you find that your schedule isn’t working after a few weeks, don’t throw it out completely. Make small changes, until you find the routine that works for you.
3. Practice Self-compassion
Pay attention to the thoughts you have about yourself. Are you hard on yourself, calling yourself names or blaming yourself for bad behavior? This negative way of thinking affects your self-esteem and make it that much easier to use drugs or alcohol. After all, your mind might wrongfully tell you, you are a terrible person, and nobody cares anyway, right? Wrong.
It’s time to set one of the most important New Year’s resolutions, to be kinder to yourself. Practicing self-compassion means giving the care and love you need, to create self-worth. It also allows you to feel deserving of happiness. Happiness comes when one engages in productive and healthy behaviors. Even if you slip up and use drugs or have a drink after you’ve quit, it does not make you a bad person. Instead, it makes you a human being who sometimes makes mistakes. Rather than throwing away the rest of your life, forgive yourself, identify the triggers, and get back on the healthy path. If you struggle with engaging back in recovery, try to remember to respond to yourself the way you would to a friend or loved one. It takes time and practice to love and care for yourself, but remember, you deserve the effort.
4. Take Action to De-stress
Stress is one of the most significant factors that perpetuate addiction. There are reasons people end up using opioids and alcohol repeatedly. Both substances are central nervous system depressants, meaning that they slow down your brain responses and numb pain. Unfortunately, drinking or using drugs are terrible ways to de-stress because they can cause major chemical imbalances. It is important to know that continuous substance use, rewires your brain which makes you feel more distressed and upset.
To get into healthier habits, think about the things that make you feel most relaxed (aside from drugs or alcohol). Ideas include:
• Get some exercise
• Light a candle
• Take a bath
• Practice deep breathing
• Step away from your computer
• Listen to music
• Get a massage
• Turn off your cell phone
• Read a book
• Practice yoga
When you find yourself getting overwhelmed, resolve to do one of these things. Even 5 or 10 minutes of relaxation can change your mindset and make it easier to get through that moment.
5. Use Your Support System More Effectively
In many ways, our modern society makes it tough to stay meaningfully connected with the people we care about. Busy jobs and geographical distance keep us apart from our loved ones. Social media may make it seem like we’re staying in touch, but nothing replaces good old-fashioned one-on-one connection. Social support is critically important for people struggling with addiction. In fact, research studies show that people with lower social support have high rates of depression and are more likely to relapse.
Make a New Year’s resolution to strengthen your social support system this year. Spend time with people that love you, find a good therapist you can share your feelings one on one, also look for healthy friends who share your interests. Build your network of people who have and are willing to give you time to strengthens your core. Inner strength is your most important tool to retain a healthy and happy lifestyle.
6. Seek Help When You Need It
Our culture places such shame and stigma around emotional and addiction issues; many people feel too embarrassed to seek help when they need it. Yet, everyone needs assistance from time to time. If you are struggling with addiction or emotional issues, is ok to ask for help. Admitting you need help to solve a problem, is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of being wise. More and more we understand that chemical changes and untreated emotional issues are the reason why most people relapse. Changing your habits, triggers and way of thinking is not an easy task, but one worth taking on. Having a professional you can bounce ideas and goals with, is also a great way to share the weight of so many responsibilities.
Maintaining Sobriety Throughout the Holidays and the New Year
The early stages of sobriety are a vulnerable time when many realize they need more help than they thought. You may experience strain in interpersonal relationships, shifts in your friendships, mood changes, and stress as you adjust to daily life without drugs or alcohol. Remember, this is an excellent time to ask for help. There are also recovery centers like Domus Retreat, which offers one-week programs to those who just don’t feel strong enough to handle holiday stressors without relapses.
In a private recovery program, you will have professionals that understand your fears and goals. This type of program can additionally help you identify the issues that are causing you fear and anxiety. In this way, next time a similar situation occurs, you can better navigate through it.
If you have undergone a successful detox but feel the old habits are creeping back, reach out to your therapist or a recovery center such as Domus Retreat. If you feel your wellbeing is in jeopardy, don’t wait to seek help. We’re here to make the process a little easier. More importantly, always remember that you deserve a healthy and happy life and there are people out there to help you achieve it.