It’s Christmas Day, and the kitchen air is heavy with the sticky, sugary aroma of ham in the oven. Though this is a familiar scenario for most of us, that same smell can trigger something different for everyone. For example, dessert lovers might get excited for homemade sugar cookies, while grandparents may only be thinking about playing the kids and their new toys. Or maybe you start to itch for the bottle of find red wine that traditionally accompanies this dinner. If this is because you love wine, it only enriches the experience, but if it’s because you’re in recovery from addiction, it could potentially mean relapse.
The distinctive smells, sparkling sites and jingling sounds of the season are powerful triggers for all kinds of emotions, memories and behaviors. If you’re treating substance use disorder, or addiction as it’s commonly referred to, managing all of the social situations that include alcohol throughout December can be cause for derailment if you’re not being proactive in your treatment.
“Don’t let those holiday triggers sneak up and surprise you. This season can be very stressful emotionally, financially and all of the demands on our time. Be intentional with a plan to stay sober,” Erin Ford, Outpatient Services Manager at Central Wyoming Counseling, said.
Ford manages the Outpatient Substance Abuse Team, a group of counselors trained in treating addiction. Many of these professionals are in recovery themselves, so they empathize with the unique challenges of this time of year. To help you stay sober, Ford and her team have strategies to keep you successful into 2019:
- Communicate with your sober support group. Be in regular contact with your sober contact. Build up strength by attending more meetings throughout November and December, and keep your contacts informed of challenging situations. Touch base before and after every event during which there’s a chance you could relapse. Not only does this give you outside support, but it also helps keep you accountable.
- Have allies at an event. Whether it’s a family dinner, office Christmas party or another social gathering, inform one or two people you trust that you’re staying sober. They can help you through the situation as well as act as a buffer between you and other people in attendance.
- Keep a nonalcoholic drink in your hands at all times. This makes other people less likely to offer or bring you an alcoholic drink.
- Have an escape plan. Some events might just be too much, so you need to be able to leave right away. Bring your own transportation or have a reliable ride ready.
- You don’t have to go to every event. Select opportunities that will keep you successful, and remember that it’s OK to say ‘no,’ especially if it’s at a place or with people that you think you’ll find stressful.
- Manage your expectations. Many people with substance use disorder find that the holidays are especially difficult, so be prepared. It’s easy to romanticize this time of year as magical, but disappointment and sadness are both powerful triggers for relapse. Understand that the commercialized version of the season might not be what yours looks like.
- Embrace holiday cheer. Just because your reality isn’t the stuff of made-for-TV Christmas movies doesn’t mean that it can’t be special and full of reasons to be excited and things to look forward to. Consider hosting a sober event so that you can control the environment and still be surrounded by loved ones. Make a goal to create at least one new sober holiday tradition this year.
“It takes work to readjust to the holidays. You have to purposefully protect your sobriety, but you can still have a memorable season. Never come at it from a ‘we’ll see how it goes’ standpoint, and work to respond instead of reacting to your emotions. There’s a big sober support network here, so you don’t have to try and grit it out alone,” Ford said.
That sober network includes Central Wyoming Counseling Center. The Outpatient Substance Abuse Team is available for walk-ins with no appointment necessary during open access hours Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:00-11:00 a.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00-4:00 p.m. Appointments are also available during regular business hours.
If you need support when Central is closed including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day or any other time outside of regular business hours, Central has on-call therapists available 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Just call 307.237.9583, and you will be connected to a therapist through the answering service.
As you begin your 2018 holiday season, remember that staying clean and sober is the best gift you can ever give your loved ones, and more importantly, yourself.