October is coming to a close, which means the holidays are getting started. Soon, we will all be in the thick of it. For those of us in recovery from addiction and/or mental illness, the holidays can be notoriously difficult. It’s not just the fact that alcohol appears at many holiday gatherings. Holidays are also typically associated with family gathering and bonding, which can be a touchy subject for those of us with addiction or mental illness histories.
Mental illness is so heavily stigmatized in our society that if you have anything but the most well-educated, open-minded, and compassionate family members, you have probably experienced some share of stigmatizing from the people who are supposed to protect you. Even if your family is lovely, your own erratic behavior during an active addiction or symptomatic flare-up may cause you to feel shame and embarrassment, whether or not your family did anything to contribute to those feelings.
Relapse doesn’t just mean taking drugs or drinking alcohol. It can also mean relapsing into a dangerous depressive episode, mania, or other symptoms of your condition that were in remission. It would be impossible to specifically address every single potential holiday trigger for every single mental illness. Instead, I’ve put together a list of ways to avoid having a major breakdown during the holiday season. It doesn’t matter what holiday it is–this can even be applied during your birthday–any time when you have extra social, familial, financial, and emotional stressors burdening you is dangerous. Hopefully applying some of these tips can help.
So many people left comments telling me that I should “read the literature” before making this commentary. Well, of course I read the literature. It is insulting that anybody thinks I was just spouting off my opinion without doing actual research. And the fact is, this wasn’t a blog post. It was published by a respected third-party. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that STAT is in the business of publishing random stuff that isn’t researched. I had a conversation with my editor about some of the more controversial points made here, and we verified everything and were careful to word statements intentionally. This was not written on-the-fly. I did a good amount of research for this piece, and anyone who believes NA does not have an official stance on medication-assisted treatment (MAT) should read Bulletin 29.