Opinion: Set Boundaries to Maintain Recovery During Holidays

By Cristina Rivera, LICSW

The holidays can be a wonderful time of the year. For some, they mean seasonal gatherings and reconnecting with loved ones. For others, however, they can be emotionally and physically challenging, and this is especially true for many who are in recovery from substance use.

Having a plan for self-care and adhering to strategies that keep one healthy are key for all of us in enjoying the annual celebrations fall and winter bring.

I encourage people to not feel pressured to say “yes” to every obligation, whether that means attendance at a social function, family gathering, or work event. Individuals in recovery often know what environments will assist them in maintaining sobriety or allow the space to not use substances. Set boundaries and choose events that support your goals.

If you attend an event where substances may be easily accessible, prepare in advance. What’s your escape strategy if needed? Plan your arrival and departure, whom you will spend time with, and whom you will not. Having your own transportation allows you to leave if you are feeling uncomfortable. Having someone along to chat with helps if you are feeling the need for extra support.

If you opt out of an event, remember that you can still enjoy time with friends and loved ones. Plan to meet where you feel both comfortable and safe in maintaining your recovery goals.

The holidays may also bring feelings of loneliness as well as negative thoughts that could lead to using substances. I stress with my clients the importance of maintaining contact with people who support them in their recovery. This may be a mentor, therapist, friend, or fellow members of a support group — anyone in their life who is a positive influence and supports their sobriety. A supportive network can mean the difference between remaining substance-free or using a substance again.

It is possible to celebrate the holiday season and maintain your personal goals in recovery. Keeping to your routine and seeking support when needed are going to be very important. The gift of life is invaluable, and during the time of giving, the greatest gift to give yourself is decision making that maintains your recovery goals.

Cristina Rivera is director of Outpatient Services, Substance Use Disorders at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center in Holyoke.