Unless you’re colour-blind or live under a rock, you’ll notice that this weekend features St Patrick’s Day, when the 80-million strong Irish diaspora (and the 4 million Irish people back home in the isle of saints and scholars) celebrates their patron saint, and their shared heritage. If you can get past the plastic paddy trappings of barrel tables and shamrocks carved into beer foam, St Patrick’s Day offers a chance for Irish people to celebrate their culture and history, and for interested observers to learn a bit about one of the world’s oldest surviving cultures.
In between general green-wearing revelry and the endless jigs danced across the world, St Patrick’s Day, like many other cultural holidays, often features copious amounts of drinking as a stalwart of the annual celebrations. Bottle Shops will advertise specials on Guinness, Kilkenny and various Irish whiskeys, pubs will run drink-based promotions, and alcohol brand merchandise will be given out at parades the world over. Amongst such an overwhelming press, it can be difficult for people in addiction recovery to maintain their motivation over the course of a weekend, particularly when friends and family are indulging themselves.
Here’s our top five tips for staying motivated and in control of your behaviour around alcohol this St Patrick’s Day.
- Remember your priorities
If you’re attending SMART Recovery Australia meetings, it’s likely because you came to the realisation that your behaviour around addiction was having negative impacts elsewhere in your life. For many people, the choice to stop drinking, or reduce their intake to a controllable level, is a choice to prioritise their family, their job, or their health, over continuing with the addictive behaviour. So if you choose to go out and enjoy the craic this weekend, make sure you remember what your priorities are. Some people make a picture of their kids their phone background, or carry their business cards with them as a reminder of what’s really important when temptation strikes.
- Organise other activities
Often, social pressure is the greatest pressure we can feel. When everybody else is enjoying themselves, we can think “why don’t I get to join in?” Feelings of isolation or loneliness are almost universally correlated with harmful addictive behaviour. One of the best ways to avoid these feelings is to make sure you have other meaningful activities to turn to. You might want to organise going to the gym, or brunch with a friend or family member for Sunday morning. You could even make Paddy’s Day plans with other people going through recovery so you can enjoy celebrations together without overindulging. Many of our participants living on the coast head to the beach first thing in the morning. Plans with people create social pressure to reinforce the behaviour you want to engage in, and can help you stay motivated when you feel pulled in the opposite direction.
- Helping other people struggling with addiction
“How can I help someone else if I’m struggling with this?”, you might be asking. It seems a bit counterintuitive, but helping someone else, reaching out and providing a friendly ear can be an enormous help to you in your own recovery. By lending your experience, expertise and advice to another person, you can reaffirm your own position and values, and see the positive change you’re having on another human being.
- Maintain your routine
Holidays and celebrations can hugely disrupt your normal routine and habits, particularly if you’re relying on that routine to remain in control of your behaviour. Something as simple as getting out of bed an hour later or earlier than is normal for you can disrupt the flow of your entire day, so it’s critical to keep things as familiar as possible. If you normally do the garden on Saturdays, don’t make this Saturday an exception. Your habits are what got you this far with your recovery – trust yourself to keep them up and stay focused on what’s really important to you.
- HALT – Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?
This technique, like many in the Irish diaspora, has one foot in one realm, and one foot in another. It’s part maintaining motivation, and part urge control. If you feel compelled, pressured, or encouraged to drink more than you should, take a quick stocktake of your emotions. This is particularly important for people who choose moderated intake over total abstinence: you need to be very much in tune with your own emotions and reactions to them in order to stay in control of your behaviour. If you feel like overindulging, ask yourself four questions:
Am I hungry? If so, go eat something. Hunger impairs your judgement. Anyone who’s been around teenagers knows that hungry is a real thing.
Am I angry? Anger can be a powerful emotional, and if you channel it in a positive way anger can motivate people to achieve great things. However, falling back on destructive habits in anger is a guaranteed way to make your situation worse.
Am I lonely? Loneliness is devastating to experience. If you’re feeling lonely, call someone – anyone – rather than trying to drown your loneliness in drink or poor decisions.
Am I tired? Drinking or drugging when you’re tired will only exacerbate your body’s exhaustion. You can’t outrun exhaustion, so your best bet is to make sure you get a good night’s sleep – even if it means you miss out on the tail end of a party.