Holidays and Christmas: when you think of this time of the year, what comes to mind? Do you jump up with joy, like a little kid waiting for Santa, and tap into that inner child who would count down the days, surrounded by family and loved ones? Or do you, like some, dread the feelings and stress that comes with all the excitement?

This time of year isn’t just rainbows and butterflies for those in or out of recovery. I am not saying it’s a negative time by any means – we all love the joy, strangers paying good deeds forward and love all around. I think the message here, though, is that with all the consumerism, media and high expectations we are bombarded with, we often ignore those who feel alienated and struggle with addiction and mental health issues.

Those who love Christmas and holidays get to show up and be part of their families’ lives – they can experience and share love and time that was lost for many years. The gift of presence means more to their loved ones and family than anything else. But along with this excitement and joy, there can be many stressors and triggers too. It can be a quite a challenging time for many people. Some may experience loneliness, trauma, grief, loss, sadness, sense of emptiness and possibly even thoughts of drinking and using.

With all the hype around the holidays, those feeling lonely and disconnected may find themselves disconnecting further and unable to talk to someone, or they may reach out for the help they need. Some may experience anxiety, depression or heightened feelings with the inability to cope when around family or social gatherings. The pressure and triggers for drinking and using can also heighten as it can bring back memories attached to holidays.

After a few years clean, Westminster House Alumni Meghan S shares her experience of spending time with family during the holidays. “Being around my family members who drink, creates thoughts in my head like why can’t I be normal, and have the eggnog with the rum or Baileys first thing in the morning with my coffee.” Meghan stresses the importance in those moments of using the tools she has learned, to be in recovery. With a few Christmas holidays behind her, Meghan finds each year she is more comfortable around her family, however, she is powerless over the thoughts that come into her mind. She reaches out, tells someone how she feels, shares honestly and hits a meeting. “These feelings subside eventually but having someone to talk to is key,” she says.

Alumni Jacqueline M shares: “When you’re around a family member who drinks, you can easily start to feel the addiction kick in, you might start letting your guard down, boundaries can start to diminish.” Jacqueline is grateful that she has friends in recovery who she can always reach out to, and no matter where she is traveling for the holidays she can find a meeting to attend and keep herself safe. Recovery is portable!!!!
Addicts in recovery need to keep themselves safe, just like anyone who is still in active addiction. We don’t get a free pass or exempted from these stressors or feelings. As many of us know, addiction is sneaky – it will show up when least expected.

Here are some tips to keep yourself safe and connected throughout the holidays.

  1. Connection/Support Group

    A connection to someone is vital to our recovery, it’s what keeps us safe during times like the holidays. Addiction robs us of the ability to have relationships with people around us. It allows room for addiction to live and push people out. It’s important to stay in contact with your support group and always share honestly how you are feeling. Often, others can relate to the way you feel or may have been through a similar experience. For those of you who feel disconnected from a support group, challenge yourself to pick up the phone and call a few friends to make plans with, instead of isolating yourself during this time. There are also many organizations that are looking for volunteers and providing things to be part of, check out

  2. Safety Plan

    Always have a safety plan and share it with someone prior to attending social gatherings. If you know you are attending a social event for work or with family, and feel uneasy about it, take someone with you. Buddying up and having support is a safe zone for everyone. Sometimes family can be triggering and cause anxiety. A friend can listen and help you work through your feelings without having to reach for a drink.

  3. Self Care

    Taking care of your mind and body is vital during the holidays. Get an adequate amount of sleep, physical activity, and nutrition. When our bodies and minds are not getting the rest they need, we are more likely to feel irritable, sad and out of place. These feelings can trigger thoughts of using or drinking to change the way we feel. Finding ways to meditate, deep breathing, journaling or unplugging can help reset your focus.

  4. Routine & Structure

    It is important to have a routine and structure in place during this time of year. It can be hard with all the social gatherings and events, but you don’t have to be everywhere every time. Ensuring that you have time to make a meeting, or getting together with friends in recovery is essential. If you are someone who enjoys the gym, yoga, or your favorite activities make some time to incorporate them into your schedule.

  5. Practice Boundaries

    Boundaries are an essential part of recovery and often need to be used repeatedly. During the holidays, boundaries are a key component of staying safe. We cannot always control our surroundings, people, places, and things that our family members say to us. We need to find the confidence to voice our needs and wants and learn to say NO when things don’t fit for us. This may mean asking your family not to drink around you, leaving right after dinner or declining social gatherings that might be triggering. Boundaries are in place to keep us safe and have little to do with the other person. They allow us to honor our worth, and to know what we want and don’t want.

Be kind this year to yourself and those around you, reach out to those that may need you, invite people into your circle and tribe. If you are experiencing any feelings of sadness or loneliness reach out to someone or seek professional help at a local emergency helpline, or click on this link to access some support from the Vancouver Mental Health and Substance Misuse Resources.

Post written by Vindi Sekhon, [email protected]