The Holidays in Recovery

For people who recognize having Addiction or problematic relationship(s) with people, places, or things, the holidays come with a unique set of challenges to navigate through. Many people get annoyed by their obnoxious uncle who won’t stop talking about politics or holiday music that starts playing in public spaces right after Halloween, but for some people these situations create a tornado of thinking, feeling, and behaviour that impacts their health and wellbeing. Some people can shrug off the annoyed feelings, others get stuck in these feelings and find themselves turning to behaviours or substances for escape, relief, or numbing. This is the condition of Addiction.

As you can start to see, the holidays can become a bit of a minefield for those who are trying to engage in healthy recovery and prioritize sobriety, self-care, and health. So how do people in recovery healthily navigate through the holiday season? Some tips and suggestions are included below.

  1. Prioritize your self-care and recovery plan. Whatever you are typically doing to look after yourself (e.g., journaling, mutual support groups, meditation, physical activity, hobbies, the arts, music, connection) you will need to continue doing this + more during the holiday season. It may be tempting to put your recovery on the back burner and return to it in the new year, but by then a lot of unhealthy thinking, feeling, and potentially behaviours will have built up that can make it that much more difficult to re-engage. Grab onto your plan like a life preserver!
  2. Use boundaries to your advantage. It can be uncomfortable to say no to certain invitations or people, but this may be a necessary step in prioritizing yourself. Reducing exposure to people, places, and things that you know trigger you will support you not taking on a backlog of feelings as you go through the next few weeks.
  3. Reduce exposure to unhealthy environments, unnecessary exposure, and stress. Sometimes people get it in their heads that it’s okay to take a break from being vigilant about the environments they hang out in or being exposed to substances. This will have an impact at any time of year, your brain will not hit the ‘pause’ button simply because it’s the holidays. Even if you historically did not struggle with substances, the more you hang out around alcohol or drugs, the more likely you will be to pick up that or other substances. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.
  4. Have (healthy) fun. You may have some ideas of what this is for you and you may not. If you know what is fun and non-triggering for you, do it! Build it into your recovery plan for the holiday season. If you don’t know what is fun and non-triggering for you, then cautiously experiment. You will need to explore what works and what doesn’t for you and analysis alone will not provide clarity, but thoughtful, prepared action will.
  5. Lastly, have an exit plan. If you are finding yourself in some unfamiliar situations it is important to have a plan. Have a self-care plan for before and after, as well as an exit plan if you start to find yourself triggered or the situation becoming an unhealthy environment. There is nothing wrong with saying good-bye and leaving an event, though your brain will tell you otherwise.

Most importantly, take the holidays as another day in your recovery. One step at a time, day by day.

If you find yourself in need of some professional support, there are many practitioners out there, including myself. Online therapy is available.

By Paige Abbott, Registered Psychologist at