Recovery and the holidays. For many, this is a joyous occasion. For others, not so much. For those of us in recovery from addiction, the holiday season can be even more trying. Many of us came from troubled families riddled with conflict, violence, anger, addiction…. the list goes on. Consider having a Recovery Holiday Safety Plan to help you not only get through the holiday season, but actually enjoy it!
I remember one Christmas when I was in active addiction. My brother and I were arguing outside our parents’ house in the pouring rain in our new Christmas sweaters that Mom gave us earlier that morning. As I weighed a sexy 120 lbs at the time and my brother outweighed me by lots more, a Christmas brouhaha was not something in which I wanted to engage. With my now wet sweater hanging droopily off my bony frame, the solution to this argument seemed obvious. I chose to run away from my brother. It seemed as though the argument was not over for him as he followed in hot pursuit. I don’t remember how far my brother chased me through the neighborhood, but we put on some kilometers that night. Once we were all tuckered out, the solution for me at that time was simple. Get high! Today, I don’t have that kind of conflict with my family. In fact, when I go for a run in the rain, nobody is chasing me anymore. I have also developed some better coping skills that don’t lead to an outdoor performance for all of our neighbors to see.
Perhaps you can relate, perhaps you can’t. I just remember the first few Christmas’ under my belt were tough as previous holidays in active addiction SUCKED! I was terrified of the holidays in early recovery as I wasn’t sure how my family would react to the new me and I had no idea how the new me would react to them. It turns out, my family is pretty swell and that I was actually a significant part of the problem in previous years. Who would have thought?
Regardless of who was the bigger jerk over the holidays, I found it valuable to have a plan in place just in case the old dynamics came into play. It was important for me to develop some awareness of triggers and slippery situations that could lead to disaster. Next it was important for me to have some strategies to get me out of trouble if need be. The following are some things to consider when developing a holiday safety plan.
Recognize who activates your triggers. Which family member says something in just the right way that makes your blood boil? Is there an unsafe place where you may feel obligated to make an appearance over the holidays? What about the dreaded Christmas party at work where many people may be really intoxicated? In years past, you may have been one of those drunk people and now they may all seem really intolerable.
2. Plan Ahead
If you are aware of who or what triggers you, creating a plan with someone in your support system is an effective way to show up prepared. Talking to people in your support system leading up to the event where you will spend time with the challenging people or situations in your life will give you a sounding board. Your support system might have some suggestions that have yet to cross your mind. Even role-playing challenging situations can give you the opportunity to practice what you might want to say when you are in an uncomfortable situation.
3. Time Out
All the role playing and planning ahead will not always prepare us for what may be in store over the holidays. Letting family members know that you may need to step out for a bit to take a breath is one way to create some much needed space. There is nothing wrong with retreating from a battle. One of the gifts of recovery is that we don’t have to fight the way we used to.
Know who you can call when you have an emergency. Who is going to answer your call no matter what time you call? Perhaps you have arranged for scheduled check in times to make sure that you are staying on track.
5. A Way Out
In some cases, an escape plan may be necessary. You may have lined up a number of people to support you in your time of need. You may have practiced all the right things to say. You may have taken a number of time outs to regroup. Your best efforts may not be enough if the situation becomes too chaotic for your newly acquired coping skills. At this point, you may need to throw in the towel and start working on next Christmas. Remember that your family deserves the best version of you, and so do you. Reverting back to an old way of being only strengthens the old way of being.
Your holiday season might go very well as many families are just happy that you are not going to fall out of your chair at the dinner table. If that is the case, bravo. Enjoy this special time with your family. If your family has other plans for this time, come prepared so that your holiday does not end in disaster.
– Terry Ketteringham, Counselor