3 Tips To Navigate The Holidays When You Are In Recovery

It is hardly surprising that the holidays is a stressful time for many, especially those in recovery from an addiction. 

Even though Christmas is probably my favorite time of year, it can also be a very painful time in certain seasons of our life. Seasons of our life when things are not going quite as smoothly. 


Christmas is a time where everything becomes magnified - good or bad.

So many triggers can be set off simultaneously, emotionally and biochemically - fueled with anticipation and ideals of perfection. Perfect happiness must happen at 6 PM when we savor the dinner in all-together harmony.

No wonder those of us who strive for perfect bliss during this time get a bit stressed out.

When we can let go of control within a structured frame-work, happiness can occur as we go with the flow and enjoy the season without all the external expectations of shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Yes, this is a time where we need to map out a plan of how to navigate it, as best as we can depending on our current stage of recovery.

The end goal being, that we too will be able to enjoy this time of year once again.

However, for someone struggling with an eating disorder or addiction, the holidays are a struggle to survive without managing your emotions with food, drugs or alcohol. 

Obviously the food, alcohol and emotional pressure during this time all lay out the ground for a potential relapse.

Frankly, I have never met an addict who didn't have a relapse during the holidays, unless they consciously made an effort to make a plan ahead of time, in order to deal with the stress and potential triggers.

3 Tips To Navigate The Holidays When You Are In Recovery

1. Identify your triggers.

Is it the abundance of food that makes you obsess over food and awakenen cravings or disordered eating patterns to avoid weight gain? Is it the alcohol served, where you find that your inhibitions and rational thinking goes through the drain - that one drink turns into one too many or escalates other addictive patterns?

When you know your weaknesses, you can plan out how to handle them or even avoid the situations where they are present in abundance.

2. Visualize the scenario.

Imagine, smell, inhale and listen in your mind to the different places you are planning on going this holiday season. How does it feel? Does it make you anxious? Imagine yourself in those circumstances already. How do you react? Can you deal with the emotions and potential triggers? Map out a plan on how to handle worst case scenarios of stressful events that may occur so you are not taken by surprise. If you don't plan in advance on how you will handle the different possible scenarios, you are setting yourself up for relapse - because when you get surprised by the worst case scenario, you will tend to respond by your primary coping mechanism to stress - your addiction.

3. Keep a routine.

Keeping a set routine of self-care, meals, sleep is critical to enable us to be somewhat more tolerant to the many changes happening beyond our control - food wise and people wise. This is not a time to experiment with new diets, skipping meals, ignoring sleep or taking a vacay from your healthy habits - you will need these habits and daily routines that you have established earlier in your recovery in order to carry you through this time. If you take a vacay from your routine now, slipping will be inevitable. 

And lastly, identify the things that make you happy.

christmas angel

Not as your future you, but right now. Which things can you enjoy in your current situation? Focus on what you have and what you can get joy out of right now, and know that recovery is temporary - there will be a time where you have stability to truly enjoy this time without obsessing over perfection or being scared of relapsing.

It's a process, and you will get to the next level, when you embrace where you are at today - don't over-challenge yourself and ignore your current state of authentic vulnerability, but do plan how to handle the stressors that may arise.