The holidays can be the toughest time of year to stay abstinent from an addiction. Relapsing with drinking, eating disorders, and over-spending are at high risk during this time. The added stress of preparations, family relations, and feeling alone can trigger thoughts about your addiction. As a result, some people find themselves going backward without ever realizing they are at risk. But even though it might be the toughest time of year to maintain a recovery program, it doesn’t have to be difficult. A few simple steps can keep you safe from being at the mercy of addiction and keep you in charge of your hard-earned recovery.
Most relapses seem to occur magically. Suddenly, without warning, a person is swept into the thought of unwanted behavior and finds themselves doing the very thing they swore they’d never do again. Relapse doesn’t happen by chance. It starts with a lack of self-care, then creeps in little by little through added stress, disappointment, hurt, or any other typical life challenge.
There will be moments in life, that overwhelming feelings can sweep you into the tornado of forgetting all your hard work. But, to stay committed, you must be proactive and put self-love above all else so that when tempted, you have solid armor to protect you from defeat.
Whenever you think of the addiction, pause and take a deep breath. The thought of reengaging in your addiction is a warning signal that something is out of whack in your life. Be aware of what’s triggered these thoughts. Are you doing too much? Are you isolating? Have you mixed up your priorities? Have you withdrawn from your support system? Are you following a good orderly direction? Are you feeling over-confident that you’ve got the addiction licked?
Once you review your behavior, you can correct it and reboot your thoughts and make healthier decisions before it’s too late.
If all else fails, say this: “I might (drink, spend, eat sugar, gamble, etc.,) tomorrow, but not right now. Instead of acting out the thought, remember the last time you engaged in the addiction and what happened; the hangover, throwing up, feeling sick, overwhelming guilt and shame, the disappointed look in your loved one’s eyes. Was it worth the pain?
People who plan for disaster are prepared and don’t get destroyed by it. Recovery is no different. If you have a survival kit, you’ll be able to protect yourself from addiction. Instead of listening to the lie, “It’s no big deal, if I slip, I’ll get right back on the program right after the holidays.” If you’re honest with yourself and look back, this never happens. If you never get off the wagon, you won’t have to chase it down the road to get back on – an endless, exhausting process.
If you know that you’re entering a situation that could trigger you, do your best to avoid that activity. But if the priority is that you must be in a shaky situation, have a plan ready. A glass of champagne or chocolate cake on the tray swooping in front of you didn’t just jump into your hand. That credit card didn’t fly out of your wallet. Those temptations were patiently waiting for you in your moment of weakness.
The plan must always include an alternative behavior and an exit strategy. The alternative behavior is self-love. This means instead of doing the addictive behavior, you engage in a loving action. For example, call a support person, go for a walk, listen to your favorite music, get to a meeting, ask for help, take a hot bath, journal your feelings, reach out and love someone.
If you’re going to be in a situation that might trigger you, pre-plan how you will remove yourself as quickly as possible if you start to feel tempted. The best exit strategy is to plan your escape ahead of time. If you’re with someone, let them know that you may have to leave abruptly and make sure they are alright with this. IF they are not supportive, find someone else who is. The last thing you need is someone urging you to stay just a little longer when you’re already slipping through the ice.
Alcoholics Anonymous teaches that there could come a time that the only thing between abstinence and the next drink is a higher power. The same applies to any addiction.
You don’t have to believe in God to have a higher power. In fact, you don’t have to believe in any deity at all; you only must be willing to believe that prayer will work. And it does. A prayer such as “Higher power, whatever you are, please help me right now. Take away this urge, help me make the right decision.” If you consistently do this before things are too far out of control, you will find that you can replace peace with turmoil and strength with weakness. Then, of course, it’s up to you to either try something regardless of your belief system or refuse to give it a chance. If the latter, you might want to question why you are resistant. Perhaps there’s something you don’t want to give up, and you haven’t let go completely?
Instead of succumbing to an addiction, you can build inner strength and self-love in place of weakness and self-defeating behaviors. But you must be the one to take the next right step instead of the path to relapse, pain, and suffering. Whether it’s a person, place, or thing —when you want it with all your heart, the help will come. You simply must ask. Then, when you get in the habit of loving yourself instead of destroying yourself, you’ll forget all about the addiction. You’ll be too busy doing things that are genuinely fulfilling and that give your life meaning and purpose.
If you want to keep feeling good about your recovery, think how important it is and when tempted to throw it all away remember to, pause, plan, and pray.
Join Our Movement To Save Millions Of Lives From Addiction.
Donna Marks believes that the models for diagnosis, treatment, and addiction have failed. Her mission is to help save at least one million lives by 2030, through education and prevention. She has been an author, consultant, educator, public speaker, licensed psychotherapist, and addictions counselor in private practice in Palm Beach, Florida for more than thirty years. In 1989, Dr. Marks developed a chemical dependency treatment program at Palm Beach Community College, that has since grown into a four-year degree program, and for which she was granted an Award of Appreciation. She became licensed as a Mental Health Counselor in 1987. In 1989, she earned a Doctorate Degree in Adult Education, then became a Certified Addictions Professional, Certified Gestalt Therapist, Certified Psychoanalyst, Hypnotherapist, and Certified Sex Therapist.
Dr. Marks is the author of the 22-award winning book, Exit the Maze: One Addiction, One Cause, One Cure.
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