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Sobriety During the Holidays

The Specter of Relapse

The biggest holiday season of the year really starts when we take down our jack-o-lanterns and start planning our Thanksgiving dinners. From the beginning of November through the twelfth night of Christmas—which is actually January 6—we struggle with ways to maintain alcohol sobriety. Besides the Ghost of Christmas Past and his sidekicks, we also struggle with the Specter of Relapse.

Let’s take a minute to talk about what relapse means. Addiction is a medical diagnosis, just like diabetes or high blood pressure. If you have diabetes and your doctor prescribes a medication or puts you on a special diet, he will need to check it periodically, because there’s a good chance the therapy will need to be readjusted. The same applies to addiction. Maybe you need to look at the combination of therapies that you’re using to achieve sobriety.

Most people feel very frightened about the specter of relapse. The possibility of relapsing haunts them day and night while they work on their recovery. They go to 12-step meetings and work the steps faithfully, but they live in constant fear that they will fail. You should know that relapse happens to many people. If the worst happens and you find yourself using drugs or alcohol again, the important thing to remember is that you can use it to make your recovery stronger.

If you relapse, the important thing is to immediately stop using and call one of your supports. Always have not just one name and phone number but several you can call—because what if the one person you need most isn’t available. But in the meantime, to avoid relapse over the holiday season, try putting these preventative measures into place:

  • Do you really have to go to every party? Some of them are probably safer than others. You may know that your Aunt Ginger’s holiday party will be less likely to offer alcoholic beverages, or at least a combination of some people who use and some who don’t. It’s wiser to attend her event than to go to your Cousin Wayne’s house, when everybody there drinks like crazy and then laughs about it for a week. Do you really think your sobriety has a chance at Cousin Wayne’s?
  • Carry a glass. Let’s assume that you’ve gone to a party, whether it’s Wayne’s or Ginger’s. Your best chance of warding off alcohol is if people see you with a filled glass. It can be water with a twist or lemon or whatever kind of Shirley Temple you’d like—a glassful of ginger ale or Sprite with a handful of pink cotton candy makes a festive-looking beverage. But if you’re holding a glass, people won’t want to shove one into your hand. If someone asks, “Why are you drinking that Diet Coke,” tell them: “Because that’s what I like.”
  • Drive yourself to the parties you attend. What if you go to a party with your friend Elsie, and then you find out that Elsie is drinking? You won’t want to leave with her, and if you don’t have your own way home you don’t have much other choice. Also, you are under no obligation to be anybody’s Designated Driver. If your friends plan on getting sloshed and they think since you’re in recovery you’d be a good one to drive them home, just say no. It isn’t fair to put yourself into such close proximity to people that will trigger your cravings.
  • Go to 12-Step Meetings. You can find as many 12-step meetings as you need during the holidays. It doesn’t matter whether you go to AA, NA, or some other recovery group: Most groups schedule extra meetings around the holidays. Talk to the people there about how they intend to maintain drug and alcohol sobriety over the holidays. You can stay sober, too. 

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