Holiday Triggers for Those in Recovery

While most people enjoy the holidays, we all know how stressful they can be. The demands of our jobs, our families and more can bring physical, mental and emotional anxiety to us all.

That’s also true for those in Recovery from an addiction. The holidays can be overwhelming to people who are in short- or long-term Recovery. An individual’s stress level is often heightened by trying to maintain their Recovery, calling their sponsor, attending meetings, and guarding themselves against holiday triggers.

What Are Holiday Triggers?

These triggers can come in all forms — including sights, sounds, smells, traditions, family members, etc. We all have triggers, but for those in Recovery, sometimes holiday triggers bring them back to a memory of which they aren’t particularly proud.

It’s important for both those in Recovery and their families to be aware of how to handle these holiday triggers. Some are avoidable altogether, by simply saying “no” to events, dinners, parties or other activities that you know may be compromising.

Coping Techniques

However, some triggers are unavoidable. In these instances, we refer to a technique called “bookending.” Bookending is talking to your sponsor before and after any event you attend — discussing the feelings, emotions and triggers that might come along with it.

Another important way to manage holiday triggers is to build Recovery Capital and to keep the lines of communication open. Recovery Capital includes family and friends as a support system, as well as the support of meetings, sponsors and other activities that are around you. Those who are taking the time to involve themselves in how you’re feeling and what you’re going through are very important to your Recovery. Express your concerns to your support group when you feel uncomfortable and, in return, let them ask questions.

Family Awareness Is Important, Too

Family and friends of those who are in Recovery also go through an adjustment period as they try to cope and support, so they also need to be able to identify possible holiday triggers. Sometimes as a family member or friend, you must make adjustments to your own holiday routine to create a more comfortable atmosphere for the individual in Recovery. That bottle of wine on the dining room table or the six-pack of beer that accompanies the football game can easily be replaced with non-alcoholic alternatives like juice, soda or water.

Instead of focusing on what you have to give up, focus on all that you will gain in return from your loved one in the form of spending quality time with him or her — laughs, memories, etc. Take the time also to create new traditions with your loved one and embrace a new start for both of you.

Along with the holidays, there may be additional factors families and loved ones should be aware of regarding those in Recovery. This includes emotional mood swings and the need to connect often with their outside support group (meetings, sponsors and other activities).

Neither of these reactions reflect negatively on the family and friends and the recovering addict’s desire to spend time with them; it’s quite the opposite. The holidays are an emotional time for everyone, and for those in Recovery they can bring a lot of memories to the surface. By seeking help, your loved one is being responsible by finding the specific support he or she needs to succeed — a positive development that should be encouraged.

So whether you’re going through Recovery yourself or have a loved one who is, know that the holiday season can be stressful. But the holidays can also be enjoyable if we strive to be mindful and prepared. We can easily become caught up in great reflection during the holidays and the New Year. Regardless of our circumstances, this year, let’s also take the time to enjoy present experiences and be thankful for each moment spent together.