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Triggers and Strategies for a Halloween in Recovery

If you’re in recovery, going to a Halloween party this year doesn’t have to be scary. Here’s some advice for navigating the spooky season while maintaining your progress.

At Halloween parties, it always seemed like I didn’t have to be on my best behaviour – unlike other holiday-themed get-togethers. I didn’t have to wear a suit. I didn’t have to watch my language as closely. Perhaps hiding behind a mask lets us lose control a little more.

As the Halloween season approaches, people will be throwing get togethers of the ghoulish variety for the first time in a few years. If you are early in recovery, this may be your first party to try out the new you. Whether you are comfortable with the notion of partying or not, there are two words you can keep in mind as October 31st approaches: triggers and strategies.

1. TRIGGERS

Triggers are basically the things that can put you on edge, mess with your mind, and transport you to a place where unwise decisions are more likely to occur.

For folks in recovery, parties, no matter what the theme, may always be a little bumpy. Difficulties with small talk, unhealthy comparisons, expectations, awkward reunions with family and friends – all of it, in the past, led us to take the edge off in unhealthy manners.

Triggers can be as simple as a song or smell, a person you know, or a chair you used to sit in.

As you develop time in recovery, you may want to look at the triggers of your own life.

If you are thinking about attending a party and worried about triggers, ask yourself these questions:

Are there certain people you associate with your using days? And what are the chances those people will be there?

What bars or houses did you consume in, and will you be expected to be there for that Halloween party you have been invited to?

What sorts of parties did you go to back in the day, and will this be just like that, except you will be abstinent? Will this set you up for feelings of inadequacy or insecurity?

Do you even know how to mingle without a glass of something mood altering in your hand?

You have a few weeks or months away from the old life, but don’t expect those uneasy feelings to be entirely gone when it comes to socializing. If you are bound and determined to face this important part of life, having a plan of attack is a really good idea.

2. STRATEGIES

Do some recon. How predictable is this get together going to be, anyway? Oh sure, you can expect plenty of Rocky Horror Picture Show Time Warping or Monster Mashing to be part of the scene. But if the dark side of the Halloween party is sure to be present, maybe you shouldn’t be there to greet it.

You can say “no.” The truth is you don’t have to go to any party – ever. Christmas, birthdays, Easter bunnies or Halloween goblins – it is your life, your recovery. You paid a heavy price to get to this point of your journey. Without your recovery, chances are you won’t have parties to attend. So, in the spirit of fighting or at least standing up for your recovery, know your safety level. Be accountable. If you are going to be triggered, then “No, thanks” is a valid response to any invitation.

Go with someone safe – a friend, a family member, someone with their act together. Someone who knows you are in recovery and, if you must leave right now, someone who has your back. No questions asked.

Take your own vehicle if possible. Do not force yourself to remain somewhere unsafe because you are at the mercy of someone else for transportation. It is an escape plan.

Keep your beverage in your hand. Do not allow someone the opportunity to spike your drink accidentally or purposefully by being too casual about it.

Say “No, thanks” if someone offers you something. Simple, to the point. You don’t need to be snarly about it. The truth is most people offering drinks or drugs will just shrug and move on, anyway. More for them. If by some fluke you do get pestered, “Seriously, I’ve had my share” is also a perfect response. And given our pasts, plausibly true.

And remember, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy Halloween. Hand out candy to costume-clad youngsters or watch a scary movie with friends. Just keep in mind that your long-term recovery is your priority.

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