By: Tom Shanahan, Personal Trainer and Sports Nutritionist
In my book, Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Nourish and Strengthen Your Recovery, being published in January 2019 by Central Recovery Press (CRP), I go into great detail on how your nutritional and lifestyle choices are interrelated with your sobriety.
If you are reading this holiday guide, CRP and I thank you! We’re excited for you to join the Spiritual Adrenaline community, home to the quickly growing active sober movement.
This is a guide that offers suggestions on how to approach the holidays in a way that allows you to participate in the festivities in a manner consistent with your recovery goals. This guide is not intended to replace the Twelve Steps or other recovery program you follow. Rather, it’s a self-care lifestyle you can practice with your existing program during the holiday season.
For many, family is often a trigger, especially in early recovery when you may already be struggling one day at a time.
If there is a history of your family being a trigger for you or of dysfunction that impacts you emotionally, turn the holiday season into a “me holiday.” Spend it away from family and friends who you perceive as putting your sobriety in jeopardy and instead spend it with others who are in the program, support your goals, and respect your sobriety. This is a gift you can give yourself and an example of an important self-care tool that will benefit you immeasurably in the years to come: putting your needs over the needs of others while staying away from the people, places, and things that are not healthy for you.
Given the holiday overload of parties and other functions, I recommend you preplan your week to make sure you have early nights either before or after your late nights and when and if possible, be able to sleep in the morning after being out late. You should look at sleep as not only a necessary bodily function but as a recovery tool that will help insulate you from relapse. The times that I have come closest to relapse have one thing in common—I was exhausted. I wasn’t getting enough sleep, or sleeping well, and a drink and drug started to sound appealing.
I had to get help and relearn how to sleep in early recovery. I had substantial trouble sleeping and asked for help from professionals who specialize in that issue. You are not alone if you have trouble sleeping so ask for help. Keep in mind how well you sleep can be directly impacted by what you are eating and drinking and when. My advice is to try to avoid eating major meals two to three hours before going to bed and avoid sugar and caffeine as both can make sleeping more difficult. Lastly, avoid going out too many nights in a row as that will wear you down and make relapse more of a possibility.
Breath and yoga positions are incredibly helpful in a relatively short-amount of time to enable your body to de-stress, release anxiety, and enable you to “breathe through” holiday stressors. The great thing about these yoga positions is you don’t need any experience to use them properly. They take only a couple of minutes and you can do them anywhere.
Go into your office and close the door or an empty conference room to breathe and regain your composure.
Head to a bathroom, close the door and breathe and stretch.
The yoga positions that follow are designed to put pressure on internal organs. Each position is different and focuses on a specific organ. The pressure denies the organ fresh oxygenated blood and then as the body changes position, floods the organ with fresh oxygenated blood, cleansing the organ and assisting with the detox process. Correct position is critical to get the intended benefits of each position. You can find a number of online videos that demonstrate the proper way to do each pose.
It’s a proven truth that a grateful alcoholic or addict will not drink or use. The holidays may get you down, but you can pick things back up by staying in gratitude. I highly recommend you consider writing a holiday journal about holidays past, present, and future.
Write about what was positive and problematic during past holidays, your feelings about how this holiday season will be (especially if it’s your first holiday season sober), and how you foresee your holidays in the future. One other way of staying in gratitude during the holidays is to send thank you or “just thinking of you” notes to people who have been there for you all year long and helped you with your recovery. If that doesn’t work for you, take a holiday service commitment at a meeting, homeless shelter, or rehab.
Balance is critical to success both in life and recovery. It’s also critical to have balance when integrating lifestyle changes into your recovery. Do not torture yourself. In the context of food, if you see a dessert or something else that looks absolutely delicious and you’ve been on program all day, have it! Enjoy it and don’t feel guilty for doing so. This guide is not intended to make you miserable; it’s intended to help you avoid self-sabotage and prepare you to thrive among the stressors and triggers of the holidays.
Please, look out for my next blog. I will be sharing a Holiday Food Guide that will highlight which foods and ingredients to eat during the holidays as you work toward a healthier and sober holiday.