I remember bringing bottles of coffee syrups to a 12-Step meeting, thinking they'd be well received by my coffee chugging friends. But, when I started pulling the caramel and clear liquid-colored bottles from my tote bag a woman ran over and pleaded with me to take them away saying, "They're triggering me!"
They actually do look like liquor bottles I have to admit.
I brought them back home.
Triggers are anything that brings back memories, feelings or thoughts of addiction. They can be external; people, places, things (like the coffee syrup bottles) habits and routines. Or internal; depression, anxiety and stress. Triggers unfortunately can lead to relapse and should be avoided, when possible, in early recovery.
Holidays, unfortunately, are loaded with triggers! They are full of tradition (habits and routines) and involve people (family, coworkers, friends), places (childhood home, restaurants) and things (eggnog, caroling with friends while drinking eggnog…) And then we get stressed and anxious!
So, what can you do to enjoy the holidays and avoid triggers?
First - Identify your holiday triggers.
The first step of preparing for triggers is knowing what yours are. My sister used to meet me at my parents' door every Thanksgiving or Christmas with a glass of wine saying, "You're going to need this." Think of what has happened in your past holiday gatherings. Once you figure out what triggers lay ahead, you can make plans to circumvent them or handle them differently. Knowing your trigger is half the battle!
Second - Notice your stress signals.
When I got out of rehab, my husband and I went on a day trip and decided to go to a popular restaurant for lunch. It was a week before Christmas and the place was packed! The hostess said the only tables available were in the bar. My stomach clenched and I felt my heart skip a beat. I looked at her and said, "I'm early in sobriety and can't sit in a bar." Her head jerked up from her ledger and she gave me a warm and kind look as she told a passing server, "Find them a table upstairs." The point being I listened to my body, and I took care of myself. My husband and I relaxed at that upstairs table and had a wonderful lunch - stress free!
Third - No/or lower expectations
My roommate in our sober living house used to say, "Expectations lead to resentments." I can add, "And resentments lead to relapse." Holidays can be really hard because of expectations! We all want a Hallmark Christmas, don't we? But how often are our dreams out of whack with reality? And then... disappointment and resentments happen. My main secret to happiness is I've let go of expectations and live in the moment. Life isn't perfect, but it's fun and full of wonder and surprises if we just let go of trying to control everything or expect perfection. I recently cooked the WORST Thanksgiving meal (burnt rubbery vegan tofu turkey anyone?) and laughed my butt off in the kitchen with my cousin Lizzie. I threw out most of the meal and we went right to dessert laughing the whole time!
The holiday season is here and can be unpredictable, just like life. So, be prepared as much as possible. Have backup plans and good friends for support. Go with the flow and relax. You might just find out how much fun it is being sober!
Tomorrow is Tip Six of the 21 Sober Holidays!