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Celebrating the holidays can be challenging for those new to life in recovery. Both the internal and external pressures to drink can be strong at this time of year. Such relapse triggers can dampen the celebratory spirits of anyone trying to stay sober.
The notion of celebrating the season while in rehab can seem even more daunting. Those in inpatient treatment may wonder how to celebrate the holidays without the presence of family and all of the familiar traditions that they associate with “a jolly time of year.” If a day in rehab sounds hard, a Christmas or New Year’s Day in rehab may sound like an eternity.
Thankfully, there are numerous ways to celebrate the holidays while in recovery, and to experience more of the fun and joy of Christmas and the New Year. This article will offer some ideas to anyone in early recovery, from those celebrating the holidays while in rehab to those in their first year of sobriety who may be struggling to find the celebration in “sober.”
Celebrating the Holidays in Rehab
Many people struggling with a substance use disorder will end up spending the holidays in rehab out of sheer necessity. This season of the year is often when professionals can take extended time off from work more discreetly and with less worry about job security, for example.
There are others who end up in treatment over the holidays because of a relapse during early recovery (when the risks of relapse are the highest). As a result they may be dealing with feelings of depression and disappointment, and they may find the prospects of a genuine holiday celebration dim, to say the least.
But celebrating the holidays in rehab is possible. It can even be an opportunity to savor the true spirit of the holidays. The following suggestions illustrate how:
- Give yourself the gift of better health. It turns out that some gifts are priceless: one of people’s biggest regrets at the end of their lives, according to an article in Business Insider, is not prioritizing mental and physical health. People wish they had taken more time and effort when younger to address issues that were keeping them from living to their full potential. Savor the fact that what you are doing right now in addressing an addiction means you can cross this end-of-life regret off your list. You are giving yourself the gift of better health this Christmas and New Year and for a lifetime.
- Take full advantage of more time to connect with yourself and your Higher Power via reflection and meditation. Being in inpatient treatment means not having to contend with the added stress of dysfunctional family dynamics and countless commitments at this time of year. These can often be distractions that get in the way of connecting meaningfully with oneself and one’s Higher Power around the very reasons to celebrate in the first place. Residential treatment offers a rare lifetime opportunity for more time and space to reflect and meditate on the things that matter most to you and give you joy, health and happiness. Even a sense of loneliness or sadness about being separated from your family or friends over the holidays can be a way to experience greater loving connection with yourself and your Higher Power.
- Think up a fun and playful, out-of-the-box way to celebrate the holidays with your residential peer group. You may not be doing a traditional gift exchange, but you and every person in residential treatment has something to give one another. Consider a more unorthodox “gift exchange” and what that might look like. Or, organize a carol sing. Research at the University of Berkeley has found that singing with others releases the hormone oxytocin, the presence of which correlates with greater self-reported happiness and deeper connections with others—two surefire ingredients in any celebration.
- Do something kind for someone else. Service to others is one evidence-based way that circuits in the brain affected by addiction can heal. Find at least one small way each day to serve someone else, either another residential client or a staff member working over the holidays. That may involve getting them a cup of coffee, cleaning up a shared living space or setting up chairs before a group meeting.
Celebrating the Holidays in Early Recovery
Others in early recovery may be out of treatment but new to the concept of sober holiday celebration and what that can look like. Here are some tips for embracing the joy of this time of year while sober:
- “Schedule regular ‘breath stops.’” That’s the recommendation of an article in Forbes magazine. Whenever you’re feeling hassled or stressed out by the end-of-year rush, press the pause button by taking a few deep breaths and recalibrating your emotions. Or, as you breathe, focus your mind on a time when you felt really connected to someone else. Those feelings you experienced—love, joy, peace—are what make for true celebration. Taking time to savor these moments will ensure you have more of them over the holidays.
- Join in a sober holiday event with your local recovery group. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step or other recovery support groups often schedule fun or recreational events at this time of year. Get involved.
- Do what you can to prevent cravings by taking care of yourself. The acronyms “HALT” and “TAMERS” can help you remember how to do that. “HALT” stands for the four inner states that can trigger cravings: “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.” These feelings can be a cue to take care of your needs: for example, if you’re hungry, eat something; if you’re angry, get some vigorous exercise; if you’re lonely, call a friend in recovery or do something kind for someone else; if you’re tired, catch up on sleep.
“TAMERS” is another sober holiday tip. (This list from The Recovery Book contains many more ideas for celebrating the holidays sober.) TAMERS stands for:
- Think about recovery, Talk about recovery
- Act on recovery, connect with others
- Meditate and Minimize stress
- Exercise and Eat well
Engage in acts of service to others. Helping others reportedly has proven health benefits. Consider how you might put others first this holiday season. Maybe that is serving a meal at a soup kitchen or sharing your story of recovery with others. It could be something as simple as inviting a friend going through a rough time to Christmas dinner. Whatever it is will lift your holiday spirits.