This time last year I wrote about the last few days having been a roller-coaster of thoughts and emotions, with a new wave of sudden and dramatic rolling Covid related developments bringing a very un-festive smorgasbord of anxiety, indecision, fear and upsetting last-minute changes of plans. Not sure about anyone else, but I've got an enormous sense of deja-vu. So here we go again.
Once again, we are facing an uncertain holiday season. And even if currently slightly more certain than last year, for me it's still tinged with anxiety and the foreboding sense of another "announcement" being just around the corner. A family trip to London was cut short by the sheer number of people in our orbit testing positive for Covid, in the face of elderly relatives coming to stay later this week (a visit that was cancelled by last year's Christmas lockdown.) As I write, we're not sure what will happen. We are planning "as if" but open to the possibility that things may not go according to plan.
For me, as an individual in recovery from addiction, being in this state of mind rings warning bells. A wise man once told me to get into good habits while things were OK, so I’d know what to do when they got tricky. So, I have been training hard for quite a long time for these kinds of situations, and I have the tools and instincts to manage – but only for a day at a time. If I believe I’m going to be OK without taking any action for longer than a day or two, I’m kidding myself. The minute I start to think I’m going to be fine, I’m in trouble. Addiction is a relentless condition that can strike at any time. Constant vigilance is required. In my experience of recovery, I need to make a new commitment every day.
Whatever your circumstances this Christmas, how you are feeling, and no matter how shaky your recovery might seem as a result, it is possible for you to hold on to it.
Christmas is just another day, and recovery is a day at a time. It’s just another set of hours during which your main objective is not to pick up a drink, drug, or engage in addictive behaviours. You’ve got this!
Here are 12 suggestions for looking after your recovery over the holidays that you might find helpful:
1. Try and stay as connected as possible. Connection with others is one of the backbones of recovery. There are literally thousands of online video 12 step meetings across the UK and across the world. Do some virtual tourism. Remember to connect with the meetings, open your mouth, introduce yourself. Put some meetings in your diary and stick to them.
2. Try and have some 1:1 conversations with as many people as possible – if you can, use video to give you that increased feeling of connection.
3. Always keeping Covid safe and following government guidance, change the way you feel physically – with some exercise. Go for a walk, run or bike ride. If you can’t get out, there are a million online exercise videos and classes, many of which are free.
4. Acts of kindness can really change the way you feel for the better. Do some service for others, whatever that looks like. For example, call someone in recovery who you know is struggling, an elderly neighbour just for a chat, or to see if they need anything. Think of ways you could help others to take your mind off yourself.
5. Try and remind yourself what you have in your life to be grateful for, focusing on things that aren’t possessions. Make a list. You might be surprised by how long it is. Then call someone and tell them about the list. Especially if they’re on it.
6. If you feel tempted to have a drink, drug, or act out in another way, “play the film through to the end credits.” Think about what will happen if you do have that drink or drug or make that bet. What will happen after 5 minutes, an hour, a day, a week? Where would you be in a month? What would you lose? How would you feel. Be realistic. Use real examples of what has happened to you in the past. Think about your “yets” – eg, what have I heard happens to other people, that hasn’t happened to me – yet? And how might I feel if I cross that next line?
7. Read AA/NA literature. If that’s not for you, listen to recovery podcasts. There are thousands of them. I particularly recommend “Hooked: The Unexpected Addicts”– they are truthful, funny, moving and very real. Also check out Bryony Gordon's amazing "Mad World Addiction Special" series of podcasts that we helped to produce for Addiction Awareness Week 2021. Podcasts are an amazing way to feel connected.
8. Remember that a thought is just a thought. You don’t need to act on it. You can acknowledge it, then let it go. Having a thought about drinking or using doesn’t make you “bad,” or “weak” and does not constitute a relapse – in fact, if you are someone who suffers from addiction, it’s perfectly natural. But it’s just a thought and does not need to lead anywhere else. I have heard it described that thoughts can be treated like looking at cars going in the opposite direction on the motorway - now you seem them, now you don't. You don't need to hang onto them. Or act on them.
9. Speaking of which, take some time out from the noise in your head with meditation. There are many great meditation apps like Calm and Headspace, as well as free guided meditations on YouTube and social media.
10. If you’re feeling lonely – tell someone! Be heard. It might sound silly, but I’ve even used radio phone-in’s before, when I’ve felt there was no-one else to speak to. There will be millions of people across the country feeling what you’re feeling. You are not alone.
11. Not everyone will be planning the traditional Christmas dinner – so if that’s you please remember to eat regularly and drink lots of water.
12. Try and make a plan – have a schedule and stick to it. Even if your schedule just includes an online meeting, phone calls, exercise, meals and bed, it’s a fantastic schedule. Tomorrow’s another day.
Together, these 12 points can start to build your insurance policy - but it expires every night when you go to sleep, and you’ll need to renew it at the beginning of the next day. Keep renewing the policy every morning by making a commitment to your recovery for that day.
Give yourself a break, take it easy. You didn’t get into recovery to give yourself a hard time. Remember that a day without a drink or a drug is a great day, and a roaring success in its own right.
Things are going to get better.again. But until then have a very happy Christmas and look after yourselves.
This blog was first published in the run-up to Christmas 2020 and has been updated for 2021.
If you need more help with your recovery or you are in active addiction, you are not alone, read our advice pages developed with Clouds House Clinicians to support you. And if you are experiencing severe symptoms these can be life threatening, call 999 or 111 and seek urgent medical care.