Avoiding Relapse during Religious (and Hallmark) Holidays

By Toshia C. Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

The holiday season can wreak emotional havoc and challenge the sanity of everyone, regardless of a pre-existing mental illness. So, of course, it brings about significant challenges for those of us in recovery. In fact, a great deal of relapse occurs during religious (and Hallmark) holidays. As such, it is important for us to take steps to avoid trading in Santa Claus for Santa “Cause.”

There are 5 important life skills to remember and employ during the holiday season to assist in avoiding relapse:

  • Clear and effective communication—speak your needs, clearly and concisely
  • Conflict resolution—work to resolve conflict, rather than avoiding it
  • Setting personal boundaries—protect yourself and your recovery by setting and keeping emotional (and physical, if necessary) boundaries
  • Respecting other’s boundaries—be respectful of any boundaries set by others, even if they seem absurd
  • Careful confrontation—employ gently confrontation to hold others accountable, using assertive behavior rather than aggression.

Additionally, during the holiday season, it is important for those of us in recovery to increase our daily recovery efforts, in the same way athletes might expand their training in an effort to counteract the holiday indulgence. There are 5 important aspects of recovery we must strengthen to avoid relapse:

  • Contact with recovery community—remain in contact with individuals within your recovery community throughout the holiday season
  • Recovery meetings—attend recovery meetings, as usual, and increase attendance, if necessary, through the holidays
  • Communication with a sponsor—maintain communication with your sponsor, and express your concerns, fears, and other difficult emotions and needs regarding the holiday season
  • Group meetings—attend group meetings, as usual, and communicate with group facilitators about holiday group meeting schedules and opportunities
  • Individual counseling—attend individual counseling sessions, and request the opportunity to meet or communicate with your counselor throughout the holiday season

Religious (and Hallmark) holidays can surface unresolved issues. For those of us who are survivors of religious abuse, these holidays can overwhelm and exhaust us. But, rather than allowing these to become causes—or excuses—for relapse, we must see them as cues for further advancement in our own recovery process. Remember, relapse begins in the mind. As such, self-awareness is vital to successful recovery, especially during the holiday season.