Tis The Season For Triggers + Cravings During Recovery - Coping Tips

The long holiday season can be challenging for individuals who are working to maintain sobriety and their families. It's the season of excess and plenty of messy emotions everywhere, for everyone. The pressure to indulge, in addition to all the big emotions and feelings that accompany the season can be triggering. If you are moderating with Moderation Management or MM or in a harm-reduction program, this presents an opportunity to practice your skills. If you are sober or newly sober,  relapses happen, but can be avoided! Even if you don't know what's behind your struggles, here are some practical tips to help you manage it all:

  1. Acknowledge the risk of the season -- food, people, music, familiar places, festivities and emotions can be triggers. Not everyone understands how challenging this time of year is for someone in recovery.
  2. Be aware of the stress -- trying to maintain your regular life, in addition to your sober life, along with the frenetic activity, the relatives,  extra demands, shopping, cooking and so on =  STRESS. Go easy on yourself. You're doing the best that you can. 
  3. Give up on perfection -- keep your expectations reasonable, otherwise the disappointment of it all can be a trigger. There is often a disconnect between the illusion of holiday bliss and reality for most families. The idealized togetherness is rarely more than a fantasy -- each person is often trying to manage their own experience.
  4. Have an exit plan in case things go wrong. It is often safe to arrive early and leave early. Keep in your awareness these five W's:   

Who -- Who might compromise my sobriety? Can I bring someone to help me, or have a buddy back-up to call or text if I need support?  

What -- Anticipate possible triggers and excuse yourself if necessary. 

Why -- Do I need to go? Is this a situation that supports my recovery and wellbeing?

Where -- Am I ready to handle this environment?  What's my exit plan if I experience cravings?

When -- How long should I stay? (as stated earlier: arrive early and leave early)

Learn these helpful strategies:

Say NO. Practice this. Not just to alcohol, substances or food, but to people, environments and activities.

What does NO look like? Practice these examples:

  • I won't be able to make it.  
  • Sounds great, but no thanks.  
  • I have another engagement.
  • Thanks for the invite, but I'm going to take a pass.
  • I won't be able to help this year.  
  • It's not a good idea for me right now.  
  • My plate is too full at the moment, but thanks for the invite.  

(saying no takes practice but assertive communication gets easier the more you do it and know that it's okay to protect yourself)                                                                                                

No matter what types of addiction-related challenges families or individuals in recovery face during the holiday season, they won’t be well-equipped emotionally or physically to handle these challenges unless they make self-care a priority.  Good self-care strategies include eating nutritious foods, getting adequate sleep, engaging in regular exercise, and taking time for relaxation and quiet restoration. The nervous system needs to rest. Many family members find it helpful to attend meetings where they may have an opportunity to reach out to others in a similar situation and share their stories.

This is the perfect time to Lean on your support system, which includes sponsors, sober coaches, therapists, meetings, designated buddies and so on. Do NOT skip meetings or avoid talking about cravings -- isolating and going underground isn't helpful.  DO go to meetings (if that's what you do) and reach out for help. Counselors, psychotherapists and individuals in the addiction field understand the challenges of the holidays -- they really get it!. Tell your friends and family how important it is that you attend meetings and lean on your support system. 

Look beyond the festivities and find the TRUE meaning of the holidays. Find the gratitude in all moments, even the crazy ones. If it helps, keep a daily gratitude journal or list in your wallet. 

Forget the gifts. The beauty is in the experiences with those who love, encourage and support you. Seek out these rich experiences. If you are alone, honor yourself for all that you've been through, this includes: the complexities of your life that led you to the addiction, your attempts to cope in the best way that you could at the time and your triumphs thus far. Acknowledge that your personal celebrations and even the setbacks are part of the human experience. Show yourself some measure of compassion. Celebrate the fact that each moment or day is an opportunity for a new beginning and a fresh start.

Love and peace this holiday season, Kim

NYC Therapist Kimberly Seelbrede, LCSW is a skilled Psychotherapist, Relationship and Stress Reduction Expert in New York City. She provides therapy, EMDR & Coaching to individuals and couples. Her expertise includes: anxiety, panic disorder, social anxiety, self-esteem, trauma, addictions, self-esteem, loss, transitions, crisis therapy, stress management and goal attainment. Kim Seelbrede's post-graduate training includes psychoanalytic psychotherapy, CBT, DBT Skills, EMDR, life coaching, mind-body integrative therapy with the Urban Zen Foundation and couples training with The Gottman Institute. Her private practice is located in New York City or thera-coaching and remotes sessions online via Skype.