Holiday Relapse Triggers: Safeguard Your Sobriety This Thanksgiving

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I used to dread making the 100-mile drive to visit my family for Thanksgiving. I loved the food, but I was always triggered by the company.

The anxiety would kick in at least a week before – sometimes two depending on how professionally overwhelmed I was at the time – so I’d head to the store to purchase an ample selection of my favorite red wines in preparation for the four-day weekend festivities.

I loved any reason to buy more so I could save 30 percent off, nevermind the fact that I ended up consuming every bottle well in advance of the holiday.

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Making Excuses for Holiday Relapse Triggers

“It’s not like I’m buying handles of vodka,” I’d unconvincingly reassure myself as I added six more mix-and-match bottles to my shopping cart the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Deep down, my unhealed inner child was on the verge of a full blown meltdown. She knew what was coming.

At the time, the only way I knew how to help her was to sedate her with excess amounts of alcohol. Of course, I now realize that method only ended up causing more problems in the long run.

Overt boundary-pushing. Passive aggressive nitpicking. Intentional gaslighting. Unreasonable sympathy-seeking guilt trips.

At the time, the only way I knew how to help her was to sedate her with excess amounts of alcohol. Of course, I now realize that method only ended up causing more problems in the long run.

It took getting sober to realize what my triggers were, and it came as no surprise that spending extended periods of time in the company of judgmental family members with their own unresolved trauma triggered many of my anxieties that dated back to childhood.

4 Tips to Effectively Manage Holiday Relapse Triggers

Getting sober changed my life in myriad ways. But it took a lot of hard work to get here.

If you’re anything like me, you know all too well that holiday celebrations (and holiday relapse triggers) can be a slippery slope.

Whether you’re new to sobriety or COVID threw a wrench in your long-term recovery, here are four of my favorite go-to methods for staying healthy, sane, and sober this Thanksgiving.

#1 Establish a consistent, healthy routine.

I cannot stress this enough: prioritizing your well-being is not selfish, it’s an absolute necessity. If you don’t have a regular self- practice in place, set one now.

I get up at 6:30 every morning so I can have an hour of alone time to meditate, journal, stretch, and eat a nourishing breakfast. Whether I’m at home or traveling, this is my routine. No ifs, ands, or buts.

There’s no problem treating yourself (big fan of pumpkin pie, I hear you), but if all you’re doing is gorging on junk food and not making it a priority to get up and move your body, you’re on the fast track to failure.

Self-care is especially crucial when it comes to the holidays. So, make a commitment to yourself. If you don’t have an hour, 10 to 15 minutes is all you need. Remember, it’s all about consistency.

#2 Stay grounded in the present.

Feeling anxious about the thought of heading back to where it all began? Headed for a downward spiral thinking about ghosts from holidays past? Get grounded.

A daily meditation practice has been paramount to my success. Another way to quickly cultivate mindful awareness of the present moment is the 54321 technique (learn more here.) And if you like to journal or write, an activity I highly recommend for anyone who is newly soberis to spend 5-10 minutes writing a daily gratitude list.

Keep it simple. If you’re grateful for the smoothie you had for breakfast, write that down. If you struggle with the idea of putting pen to paper, verbalize it; list five things you’re grateful for when you’re brushing your teeth every morning or at night before you go to sleep.

#3 Speak kindly to yourself.

Since getting sober, I’ve done a lot of deep inner child work. I’d argue it’s one of the most powerful tools for addiction recovery because it allows you to become your own parent by consciously working with the trauma, abandonment, neglect, and/or abuse you experienced as a child.

One of the key aspects of inner child healing is the reinforcement of positive self-talk. I’m a big proponent of daily affirmations combined with EFT tapping, a form of self-help therapy that assists in reprogramming old thought patterns and beliefs.

If stress levels are high, I recommend taking at least 10-15 minutes out of your day to speak to both your present self and your inner child in a kind, loving, non-judgmental way.

Here are some powerful affirmations to get you started:

  • You are safe, secure, and protected.
  • You deserve to feel joy and happiness.
  • You are worthy of love, respect, and support.
  • I love you. I care about you. I accept you as you are.

Don’t wait Until It’s Too Late.

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#4 Know your boundaries…and don’t be afraid to say “no.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from getting sober, it’s this: I don’t owe anyone an explanation for the way I live my life.

And neither do you.

If you need to limit the amount of time you spend with loved ones, set boundaries and stick to your guns. Likewise, if you feel like spending even five minutes around toxic family members this holiday season could send you over the edge, don’t do it. It’s as simple as that. Sometimes the smartest thing you can do to protect yourself is to say “no.”

Remember, it’s not selfish to put your needs first. After all, sobriety itself is an act of self-compassion. Don’t let others fool you into thinking otherwise.

For information about treatment options for you or a loved one, call (800) 407-7195(Who Answers?) today.

the Take-Away

I used to dread making the 100-mile drive to visit my family for Thanksgiving. I loved the food, but I was always triggered by the company. The anxiety would kick in at least a week before – sometimes two depending on how professionally overwhelmed I was at the time – so I’d head to the …