Ashley Brewer shared with Healthy Lombard that the holidays can be an extremely happy time of the year for most everyone, but for those in recovery from substance abuse and/or alcoholism, it can be a time of high stress and fear of relapse triggers. It is not uncommon for addicts/alcoholics to relapse during this time of year for a multitude of reasons, but generally, a relapse is linked to three main reasons:
- Lack of a plan/exit plan
- Overwhelming Emotions
In this article, I will share tips to help those in recovery from addiction not only understand the importance of maintaining their recovery programs but also, ways to be mindful of the ever-present triggers that surround us on a daily basis, not just around the holidays.
What is an Addiction Trigger?
“A “trigger” of addiction involves any high-risk situation or stressor that sparks off a thought, feeling or action to use drugs/alcohol. This spark, which is experienced as a temptation or desire to use, is called a “craving” or “urge”. So in short, triggers lead to cravings and urges to use.” – Dr. Chad Coren PsyD CAADC
With that being said, one can see how important it is to have specific tools in play, as pretty much anything can be a trigger depending on the person and can affect each individual differently. Whether it is external such as people, places, things, or situations, or internal such as thoughts, emotions, or physical issues, it is imperative for each addict/alcoholic to narrow down what triggers them specifically. I have outlined some of the tools below that will assist you in guarding yourself and your recovery program. I’m not an addiction professional, but I am a recovering addict and have definitely had my share of stumbles along the way. My hopes are that you won’t have to learn the hard way like I did, as we are never guaranteed another shot at recovery if we choose to go “back out there.”
Complacency is a huge trigger, especially for those that have been working a recovery program for some time. We get to a point where life is going great, we are feeling better physically and emotionally, and we forget why we got to that point of happiness, to begin with … working a recovery program. The scary part about complacency is that we often don’t even realize that is what is happening. It’s not an obvious trigger that happens out of nowhere, but more so the silent stalker that is patiently waiting to pounce. So, when a special time of year approaches – specifically the holidays – if we do not stay grounded in our recovery program, we are putting ourselves higher up on the relapse ladder. We must never ever take our recovery programs for granted, as a matter of fact, it has been proven that anything that we put before our recovery will be the first thing we lose when we relapse. Yes, I said when, not if, because if we let complacency take the lead, relapse is sure to follow. Stick to your recovery routine always. Whether it’s 12-step meetings, another form of support group, church, a counselor, recovery coach, use them!
Have A Plan/Exit Plan:
I have learned that having a DETAILED plan in play BEFORE an upcoming event/anniversary/holiday has played a vital role in my being able to maintain long-term recovery. The more detailed the plan, the better, in my experience. My first holiday was less than a month after I had gotten clean, so I was extremely vulnerable. My then-sponsor was amazing and really helped me make it through that first holiday clean and sober. Some important details that I implemented into my plan that you can implement into yours would be: Avoid high-stress situations, especially if you’re in your first year of recovery. Have three recovery friends on speed-dial that you can call if things start to feel tense or if you need to vent about something that has occurred. Bring a friend in recovery along with you to an event or party so you don’t feel like the only recovering addict/alcoholic in a room full of people. That person can also save you from a high-stress situation or conversation if need be. Know ahead of time what you will say if a topic of conversation gets brought up that makes you uncomfortable. Statements like “I have to use the restroom, excuse me” or, “I apologize, I just remembered I have to call home & check-in with the babysitter.” Whatever needs to be said to keep YOU safe, say it.
If you decide to go to one of your family member’s homes for the holiday and you are expecting there to be conversations you don’t want to engage with or perhaps family members partaking in things that you do not have room for in your “new life,” then stay busy. Help in the kitchen, play with the children there, assist with clean-up etc. A busy mind and busy hands will help triggers cease to exist. Don’t forget that you can also include an exit plan for if/when things get too tense.
The holidays can also be a time of extreme highs and lows in the emotional department. Maybe it’s guilt and shame over time lost with your children and family while you were in active addiction or a reminder of a prior holiday gone bad. Whatever the case may be, you are the only person that has control over your emotions. Don’t let anyone try to take that power from you. We all are human and make mistakes, and no one should be keeping score and using your mistakes against you. If talks of your active addiction make their way to the dinner table, it’s okay to say “I don’t live that way anymore” or “I’m not comfortable talking about this here/now.” If that is not sufficient, refer to your exit plan and leave the situation entirely.
With all of this being said, the takeaway being that awareness is key. This not only includes awareness of self and what you need to stay grounded in your recovery program but also awareness of others as well as emotions. Don’t go into a place or situation “blind” and without some sort of plan in play. Winging it is never the proper answer when dealing with recovery. We sought out recovery because we figured out if we stayed on the path that we were on in active addiction, we would surely die. When the choice is either life or death, it puts the importance of recognizing triggers and coping skills into perspective. Protect yourself and your program to the best of your ability.