Oxygen Mask Rule

Posted on December 17, 2013

An addiction recovery metaphor

Recovery FIRST!
My sister is really getting on my last nerve! Do I really have to to go to this party?! My Mother-in-law is visiting for a week!? Really?!

Ever hear of the Oxygen Mask Rule?

Every time we fly, we hear flight attendants sharing some variation of the Oxygen Mask Rule:

      “Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose

before assisting others.

Why put on our mask first? What could possibly be wrong with helping others first?

In the case of the airplane, oxygen masks are deployed in situations where the oxygen level has dropped dangerously low. Without our oxygen mask, we will quickly lose consciousness. Each of us is responsible for our own oxygen. If we don’t make putting on our mask our first priority, we are at serious risk of not being able to breathe at all.

So what does this have to do with addiction recovery? During the holidays family gatherings, cooking, baking, holiday parties, shopping, wrapping, decorating, and other challenges often act as oxygen thieves in our lives. They drain our energy. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the demands on our time and let our focus shift away from our recovery plan. Add to that all of our hospitable friends, co-workers and relatives who are urging us to join them in drinking, and our focus on recovery is likely to get even blurrier.

SMART Recovery teaches SELF-management and one aspect of self-management is learning when to manage or avoid potentially risky situations, especially in early recovery. It may feel awkward to give priority to our own needs for a drink free environment over the requests of well-meaning friends but it may just be the most important thing we can do for our recovery. It may feel wrong to decide to limit the time we spend with family and friends who have a knack for pressing all our buttons, but making that choice can mean the difference between recovery and relapse.

Airplanes have sensors to protect passengers and crew against oxygen deprivation. Fortunately, so do you: your friends, relatives, and support group members. If you hear people in your support network reminding you to “take care of you first” or reminding you of the Oxygen Mask Rule it could be that they are seeing signs of oxygen deprivation, signs that you may not have noticed yourself. Grab your mask!

5 thoughts on “Oxygen Mask Rule

  1. George A.

    Thank you for this. I made the desision to explore giving up alcohol this morning. how do i continue?
    This is IMPORTANT to me and in my life. Please help me.

    1. Admin Post author

      Hi George and congratulations on making a decision to make positive change in your life. A good place to start would be to visit the SMART Recovery website ( http://www.smartrecovery.org) . Use the drop-down menus below the logo at the top of the page to start exploring. Be sure to visit the Message Board (under the tab for Online Meetings & Activities).

      You will find many helpful people in our online community who will be happy to help you find your way around. 🙂

    2. Norah R.


      This reply is a bit late, but kudos to you. I’m struggling with my own alcohol addiction and when it came to the holidays I didn’t fare well, mainly because I spent time with family members whom I let push all my stress buttons. Keep reaching out to Smart Recovery buddies and your supportive friends and never give up.

  2. Lisa McD.

    I have been using this example in treatment group for a long time. It is also applicable when clients think they need to put others, such as their children, before their recovery. Just like on the plane, we cannot help others if we do not first take care of ourselves.

  3. Karen L.

    This is so true. My first Christmas sober, just 2 months, I didn’t attend my mother’s Christmas party. She belittled me, berated me, told me I was a #$%^ daughter because HER happiness was more important to her than my sobriety. It was awful.

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