Early recovery from addiction involves a lot of firsts. In October, the most significant first is getting through Halloween without drinking or using. If this is your first Halloween in recovery (or even if you have successfully navigated a few) it helps to have a plan.
A good plan considers what types of people, places and situations might trigger you. By “trigger” we mean anything that nudges your thoughts or feelings in a direction that isn’t healthy for your recovery and could lead you towards a slip. Claudia Black, M.S.W., Ph.D. compares the process of being triggered to the building momentum of a roller coaster. “Once the roller coaster car gets to a certain spot in the track, a threshold is met,” she says in The Triggering Effect. “There is no turning back, and it starts the downward loop – a relapse.” Planning strategies for avoiding or confronting triggers ahead of time is key.
Some forethought to how you will manage upcoming special occasions can go a long way to keep your recovery on track. “Take a moment to ask yourself, ‘what’s my motivation?’” says 1835 House Addiction Counsellor Jason L. “If you are honest with yourself about why you are taking a certain action you may do a better job of avoiding situations that put your recovery at risk.”
Suppose your ex invites you to a costume party she or he is throwing. Before accepting or declining, take a tally of the potential triggers you will face. Is there a heavy focus on excessive drinking and drug use? Will you run into drinking or “using buddies” who don’t support your recovery? You might decide that you are at a point in recovery where having easy access to substances and brushing off the expectations of others isn’t the challenge it once was and you feel confident. However, in this situation you may also be dealing with potential stress and discomfort related to emotional dynamics that exist between you and your ex, or with others. That combined with the other triggers may be too much. You may decide to pass on this one.
“There is always somewhere to go to have fun that doesn’t involve drinking and using,” says Jason. “Hanging out with family or friends and carving pumpkins. If times are tough – go to a meeting. Surround yourself with people who support you.”
Staying Sober When Others Drink
There will also be times when we want to spend time in social environments where other people are drinking. It helps to have some healthy parameters for making these kinds of decisions. 1835 House Program Manager Steve Chisholm draws the line this way. “If there is valid reason to be around alcohol, then plan to do it, but have the needed supports in place.”
A valid reason might be that a family member who plays in a band is performing at a pub. You decide to attend so you can see a set. The supports needed might be taking a friend who is also in recovery – ideally someone who has more experience than you do in living sober.
Listen to your own cues. Leave when your mind becomes bored or restless – before it heads into dangerous territory. Dangerous territory is any thought that doubts or downplays your need for recovery. Be especially watchful for thoughts that give you permission to drink or use, or join triggering people who are drinking excessively or using.
Confront unhealthy thoughts with a countering statement. You have a plan and you will honor your recovery. Discuss what you are experiencing with the friend you brought for support. It’s good to bring unhelpful thoughts out into the open where they lose their power. Give yourself permission to leave if you become uncomfortable. “Don’t depend on someone else for a ride,” says Steve. “They may not want to leave when you do, and it is important to be able to leave if necessary.”
We can’t live in a social vacuum. Use your recovery tools, sober friends and networks to help you make decisions that both support your recovery and allow you to enjoy special occasions.