By Sarah Allen Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC, AADC
The Holidays can be a challenging time for those in recovery, particularly for individuals in early sobriety. But why? There are a variety of reasons and this time of year can prove to be emotionally charged even for non-alcoholics. COVID-19 has brought unique challenges to the Holiday Season this year. Typically this can be a bittersweet time of year- bringing joy and celebration while magnifying unhealthy family dynamics. Therefore, if drinking alcohol or using other substances was the way in which families coped with the heightened emotions of holidays past- it can be a difficult transition when a family member enters into recovery. Alcohol purchases and drinking rates have increased greatly during the pandemic and it can be presumed that this will continue throughout this season. Some individuals will feel more isolated, while other families may have smaller and more intimate events.
This time of year has typically been one of socializing, work parties, excessive amounts of food, celebration and inevitably drinking. Even Zoom and video events this year have included work and friend Happy Hours and “virtual” socializing with substances. Many family Holiday celebrations will be different than previous years and many events and gatherings have been cancelled all together.
The In-Home Addiction Treatment (IHAT) Model is able to prepare clients to navigate this time of year. Treatment is conducted in the home environment and therefore, the family system is involved in a parallel recovery process. The model also includes a Family Wellness component that provides family education and Family Systems Therapy that can increase the awareness and behavior of family members interacting with a sober loved one. This model also provides additional Care Team members that can be available to support clients at various times outside of scheduled sessions.
The IHAT Institute is training healthcare professionals how to effectively implement this innovative treatment model. Given all of the changes in healthcare over the past year, it is important to be able to deliver a model of care that can support both the client and family, as well as be conducted in person and remotely depending on logistics and COVID-19 restrictions.
The following is a suggested sober Holiday “survival guide”::
- Have an escape plan by bringing your own vehicle, Uber or other transportation that will enable you to leave if you are feeling tempted to drink or uncomfortable.
- If needed, use COVID-19 concerns as an excuse not to attend Holiday events that may be challenging in terms of emotions or substance usage.
- Ask another sober alcoholic to be “on call” for you to check in with during the event for additional support.
- Let someone whom you trust at the Holiday event know that you may need additional support during this occasion or time of year.
- Find a tasty non-alcoholic beverage you can drink that will give you something to hold and may prevent people from offering you an alcoholic drink.
- Come up with a standard response as to why you are not drinking that may vary depending on the type of holiday event and if you want those in attendance to know you are sober: “I am doing a Wellness Plan that excludes drinking”, “I am not drinking tonight”, “I am taking a break”, “I am the designated driver tonight,” etc.
- Be choosy about the in person or remote Holiday events that you attend and avoid “people pleasing” by saying “yes” to events that you don’t need to nor don’t want to be at.
- Take care of yourself prior to these events: get enough sleep, eat regularly, exercise, relax, etc.
- This is a great year to find new holiday activities and traditions that you may never have tried in the past which do not involve drinking alcohol (volunteer at a soup kitchen, do an outdoor activity, have a sober get-together or “Zoom” event, have a movie night, etc.)
- Remember to create structure for yourself if you have time off (volunteer, exercise, make plans, attend mutual-help group meetings, therapy, etc.).
- Work extra hours if needed in order to distract yourself.
- Learn to say “no” if you do not want to attend an event.
- Put your sobriety first and realize that others may not understand what this entails, but that it is your number one priority.
- Attend in person or “Zoom” extra mutual-help group meetings during this season (ie, A.A. has “alcathons” that involve 24 hours of meetings, food, socializing at designated locations on Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day- contact your local A.A. Intergroup for more information: http://www.aa.org/lang/en/meeting_finder.cfm?origpage=29)
- Be honest with loved ones if you are having a hard time and let them know how to support you.