Veterans and the Holidays: How to Stay Sober Through Difficult Times
Veterans & the Holidays
Staying sober during the holidays is complex for many people with addiction. For Veterans, it’s even more challenging because the holidays may not feel the same as they once did. It’s hard to face people you may not like or attend events you find stressful. The holidays may also bring on symptoms of depression and anxiety. All of this can put pressure on you to use. How do you avoid a relapse during the holidays?
Recognize That Your First Holiday Could Be Difficult
The first holiday after working through drug and alcohol addiction treatment is often the most trying. You’re not sure what to expect, especially if others are sharing wine or having a beer while watching the big game. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Be patient with yourself. Your feelings are real and need to be considered. It’s not going to be simple, but you can enjoy (or at least tolerate) the holiday with support and the right focus.
- Don’t wait to ask for help. If you find yourself thinking about returning to alcohol or drug use, reach out to a mentor, a sponsor, a recovery support group, or a treatment center.
- Chances are good your family isn’t sure what to do either. Be patient with them. Enjoy the season without the pressures of what everyone else is doing. Focus on what you and your family find important.
During that first holiday, don’t be afraid to say no. You don’t have to go to every family function, especially those that make you feel very apprehensive. You can decide to host your own event, one without drugs or alcohol present (and without the people who make you feel at risk).
Use the Holidays to Rebuild What’s Important to You
As a Veteran, you may hold yourself to a standard of being “tough”: not sharing how you feel, not showing weakness, not asking for help. During the holidays this year, let some of that toughness go. Consider being open about your addiction and mental health needs. Talking to others about what you’ve been through may help save their life. Reach out to that cousin, friend, or other relative that needs some support. Encourage them to get help, too.
Remember that the holidays are meant to be about family. Surround yourself with people who support and love you, not those who pull you down. If a family member regularly causes you pain or stress, step away. You don’t have to confront them, but you also don’t have to be around them.
Ask your loved ones to honor and respect your needs. That may mean asking them not to bring substances to your home. It may also mean asking them for more privacy right now as you work through things. Some people ask many questions and want to know about every day of your service. Others are afraid to even ask if you’re okay. In these situations, make the call for them. Tell them you don’t want to talk about things or engage with them first, based on what’s right for you.
Do Something More with Your Time, for Veterans this Holiday
Veterans have devoted much of their lives to helping others. The holidays are a good time to find new ways to do that.
- Go back to your treatment center and serve as a mentor to current residents.
- Reach out to a Veterans’ organization to find out what type of support they need during the holidays. Could you serve meals to those in need? Could you help with packaging groceries?
- Connect with another Veteran, someone you suspect might share your struggles. Have a meal together to talk about your lives.
- Volunteer at a local substance abuse clinic or at an AA meeting.
- Reach out to other Veterans in your church, community groups, or other organizations. Start a group for those who want to have substance-free social options.
The more ways you give back, the more power you gain over the addiction. Staying sober is easier to do when you’re focused on helping other people.
Know When It’s Time to Get Help
Trying to stay sober during the holidays requires a lot of work. If you feel at risk, reach out to a trusted loved one or counselor immediately. Go to your recovery support group meetings more often, or step back into residential or outpatient treatment.
Our team at Victory Addiction Recovery Center is here to help you through it all. Learn more about our Veterans’ treatment programs that can change your life this holiday season.
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