Southerlan: Give yourself the gift of recovery this holiday season |

Southerlan: Give yourself the gift of recovery this holiday season

The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, at least that is what we are told anyway. The reality is the holidays, combined with the challenges that 2020 has presented, can be a difficult time for many individuals struggling with alcoholism and other addictions, and for those in recovery.

This holiday season looks and feels much different than previous holidays. Understandably, this is likely to produce a wide variety of thoughts and feelings for all of us. For someone with a substance use disorder, these thoughts and feelings can lead to continued use of a substance or begin the process of relapse for someone in recovery.

Irrational thoughts, that someone with a substance use disorder often has, tell the sufferer that the drink or the drug will help, or that they need this substance to be able to function or cope with the uncomfortable emotions they are experiencing. These are known as cognitive distortions, or errors in thinking, which fuel a person’s denial and the active disease of addiction.

The reality for someone with a substance use disorder is that what the individual is actually getting as a result of drinking or using is the opposite of what they are craving. The drink, for example, may help initially to “take the edge off” but for someone with an alcohol use disorder, what happens when the drink wears off is an increase in anxiety and depression, an increase in irritability, the opposite of what the individual is craving, not to mention the continuation of the cycle of addiction.

There are potentially additional and more serious consequences as a result of continued use, such as loss of relationships and jobs, loss of freedom, life-threatening seizures, permanent irreversible brain damage/permanent cognitive impairment, cirrhosis of the liver, and death.

Recognizing the thoughts and other triggers that could send someone into relapse is key in arresting the relapse process. And, relapse is a process, not an event. The relapse process happens long before someone picks up the drink or the drug. Thankfully, relapse is something that can be reversed at any time.

If you are in recovery, I strongly encourage you to identify your triggers that may lead you into relapse. These may include things like not going to meetings, not calling your sponsor, hanging out with people that drink and use, and engaging in thought patterns that rationalize or justify use, to name a few. As we are all unique individuals, it is critical for each individual to recognize his or her own specific triggers. Once you recognize a trigger, and you are willing to take action, you will be back on the road to recovery.

And, one thing I am certain of is that recovery from addiction is possible. Substance use disorders are among the most treatable illnesses that exist.

A huge barrier for many is being able to afford the help that they need for treatment of a substance use disorder. In response to this barrier, A Way Out was formed. A Way Out is a nonprofit organization that has helped over 1,000 people and family members in Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties since 2013 with partial scholarships for access to inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment programs, a year of free clinical care and family support, transitional sober housing, specialized peer support and a community engagement alumni program.

Treatment gives individuals a potential to build a solid foundation of recovery, allowing the healing process to begin. I think it is important to explain that support beyond the primary phase is critical for long-term recovery. Treatment is a valuable and sometimes necessary part of recovery, and continued support is essential when the individual is out in the real world and not surrounded with the support and structure of inpatient rehab. The aftercare that A Way Out provides helps to keep individuals motivated to stay sober and engage in their recovery.

Support groups like AA and NA have helped millions of people worldwide, and these can be an invaluable source of support. Eagle County has a number of support groups available, and many of these are available seven days a week and are located throughout the valley.

Additionally, there are a number of therapists in the Vail Valley available to assist and support individuals and families through addiction and recovery. The Eagle Valley Behavioral Health website,, has information on many therapists in the valley.

For those struggling with an active addiction or for those in recovery from addiction, the holidays can be a difficult time of year. My hope is that you give yourself the gift of recovery or continued recovery this holiday season.

Dena Southerlan, LCSW, LAC has a private practice in the valley, Rocky Mountain Counseling, and is Eagle County’s A Way Out provider. She can be reached at 970-445-2700. A Way Out is a nonprofit organization and needs support to meet the rising number of requests for scholarships to access treatment, sober housing and a year of free ongoing clinical and peer driven support. If you are able to support or would like more information, please visit the A Way Out website at or email A Way Out at

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