Sustaining Sobriety and Thriving Through the Holidays

HOLYOKE — Sara Harpin, a clinician in MiraVista Behavioral Health Center’s Opioid Treatment Program, counsels her clients that staying on the path of recovery during the holiday season, especially for those early in recovery, can be particularly challenging.

This is because the days between Thanksgiving and the New Year usher in activities that can be triggers for those in recovery with substance use. These range from parties with an abundance of alcohol, as well as access to other drugs, to family gatherings where old conflicts may surface.

Harpin says they don’t have to serve as triggers. She advises those in recovery to think ahead and have an exit plan for events.

This may mean taking a friend along with an agreement to leave after a certain period of time, and also reflecting on who else may be present, such as a likely person to compromise one’s recovery. In both scenarios, it is advised to think out in advance what to say when you want to leave and how you will refuse offers of alcohol or other drugs.

Harpin notes that it’s OK to say ‘no,’ as preventing relapse is the priority in recovery. Declining an invitation by saying you are grateful to be included, but have a prior obligation, is one option.

Harpin says unrealistic expectations contribute to relapse in the form of disappointment when people assume this holiday will be better than last year’s. Clinicians such as Harpin remind those in recovery that recovery is all about staying connected to one’s supports outside family and friends during the holidays and beyond to prevent relapse.

Tips for managing recovery and preventing relapse during times of holiday stress and indulgence include:

• Make new memories that involve supportive connections and sobriety.

• Don’t isolate, as holidays can be lonely and trigger thoughts of loved ones no longer here. Consider extra therapy sessions and more time with friends in recovery to avoid relapse.

• Limit contact where encounters are likely to be toxic for you.

• Be realistic and grateful for how you can positively connect to the joy of the holidays without overspending, overstressing, and overindulging.

• Find the holiday sprit by looking beyond the traditions of the season and rediscover the real purpose and joy of the holidays.