Ah, the holidays. A time of joy, celebration, family, and festivities. Yet for so many of us, the holidays are also a time of stress, sadness, frustration, and grief. For those of us who are newly sober, or even for those of us with many years under our belts, the holiday season can come with a lot of added pressure and heartache. This time of year can make it seem like the entire world is imbibing or using some form of substance, making sobriety an increasingly challenging thing to uphold. It can be so tempting to “just have one glass” or “maybe just a little hit” when others around you are doing so recreationally.
If you find yourself nodding along as you read, then we wish to offer you some comfort, and even a hopeful feeling. Staying sober during the holiday season may seem like a daunting task, but with the right preparation, support system and solid intentions, it is absolutely something you can achieve. Once accomplished, staying sober for the holiday season can even become something to take with you into the new year, fortified by your own ability, strength, and commitment to your ongoing well-being.
To provide you with a little extra support during this tricky season, here are 10 tips to help you maintain sobriety during the holiday season, and all year ‘round:
1. Increase Support
Tis the season for maxed out social calendars, work deadlines and frenzied holiday shopping. Add to that lingering COVID fear and/or financial woes, and you have yourself a recipe for relapse. Support is one of the most important aspects of recovery and should be a top priority to plan for in the coming weeks. Consider committing in advance to more 12-step meetings, scheduled calls with sponsors, sober friend check-ins, and if you’ll be traveling, sourcing local meetings in advance of your trip wherever you’ll be staying. Let your inner circle know that this is a hard time of year for sober folks, and to please be mindful and supportive as much as possible. It is always okay to ask for help, especially when anticipating challenging times ahead.
2. Strategize Self-Care
A wonderful way to celebrate the holidays is to celebrate yourself. We cannot pour from an empty cup. Give yourself the gift of rejuvenation, replenishment, and rest: consider joining a yoga class, scheduling massages, acupuncture treatments, and make sure you build in intentional time each day for meditation or prayer, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Nourish your body and soul with outdoor nature hikes, gentle movement, and warm salt baths. Eat fresh, healthy foods and drink plenty of water. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep every evening, and most importantly, be extra gentle with yourself.
3. Plan, Plan, Plan
The holidays can be disruptive to our daily rhythms and routines. Make sure you have transportation to and from events, and if possible, bring your own vehicle so you can leave if triggers become too difficult to manage. You can also bring a sober companion with you for additional support. And feel free to skip any event that you feel may be too risky to attend.
4. All in the Family
We all have them… family members or friends who are inappropriate, insensitive, or simply unaware of the negative impact they may have on us. It’s so important to be realistic and honest with yourself about what you can and cannot manage during this time and govern yourself accordingly. It can be stressful to have forced exposure to folks who trigger us, so do your best to limit conversations with these individuals, and try to surround yourself with loving, supportive friends and family who can help you maintain sobriety. To that end, this is a good time to lean into and celebrate the family and friends you have who truly have your back. Use holiday events to focus on these folks (instead of drinking or using) and head into social settings with the mindset of building on positive relationships and forging new connections.
5. Come Prepared
When you first get to social events or gatherings, it can be helpful to prioritize getting a non-alcoholic beverage and keeping it in hand as much as possible. Whether it’s a Shirley Temple, pressed juice, or carbonated soda, having a mocktail in hand will inhibit others from perpetually being hospitable and offering you that drink.
6. Say No to Known Triggers
This one may seem obvious, but it is so important it bears mentioning… regardless of whether you are in recovery, the holidays are well established as one of the most stressful and hectic times of year. Sobriety can take a hit from an uptick in social obligations, family interactions and financial woes, which can lead to added frustration and stress. Be mindful of what sets you off, and limit these as best you can. This may mean planning gifts in advance, or simply saying no to anything that feels like it may ultimately be triggering. Remember, “no” is a complete sentence.
7. Stay Spiritual
It is so easy during this time of year to get lost in holiday sales, keeping up with the neighbors, and material wealth. The world we live in can have us convinced that our happiness can be wrapped up in bows, booze, and bargains at our favorite big brand stores. Ultimately these endeavors are short-lived in their ability to provide us with real feelings of meaning or peace. Regardless of your beliefs, religious practices or faith, the holidays are a great time to tap into the real meaning of the season: gratitude, generosity and giving to those less fortunate. When we can shift our attention to these values and practices, we can enrich our holiday season with real joy, and stave off cravings to use that may be borne out of feelings of scarcity, resentment, or fear.
8. Be of Service
Too much focusing on ourselves is never really a good thing, but it can have disastrous results during the stressful holiday season. Being of service is not simply one of the fundamental elements of any 12-step program, it is a wonderful and enriching way to live, especially during this time of year when so many are in such need. Consider volunteering at a local food bank, meal delivery service for impoverished folks, or local shelter. Donate what you can, provide a friend with support, sponsor someone who’s new to recovery. Focusing on how you can improve the lives of others is such a powerful way to inoculate against relapse.
9. Build New Holiday Traditions
Recovery means rediscovery. Of yourself, your relationships, your goals and dreams. The holidays are a perfect time to take this process of rediscovery into the space of traditions. This is a good time to celebrate this rediscovery and reconfiguring a life that is truly worth living. Remember that you have chosen a path of self-love, courage, humility and growth. Consider taking this into new annual traditions that commemorate this path. It may mean hosting an annual sober holiday gathering for your friends in recovery, or speaking at a local 12-step group, or simply writing down your goals and dreams for the coming year and incorporating them into a vision board.
10. Prioritize SOBRIETY.
Remember, your sobriety is your safety, your sanity and your survival. Making it your number one priority isn’t just your right, it is imperative if you want to maintain it. You have license to avoid events that are too triggering, conversations that are too activating and social settings that are too risky. Consider making alternate and safer plans with loved ones as needed and remember, your recovery is your responsibility. Hold it dearly.
There’s no question that staying sober during the holidays, although sometimes challenging and difficult, is possible. It can even be fun, inspiring, and meaningful when we move through the season with a clear mind and solid intentions. From everyone here at Positive Recovery, we wish you a safe, sober and healthy holiday season.
If you or someone you love is grappling with addiction and is in need of treatment, call Positive Recovery Centers at 877-476-2743. We are experts, we are here to help, and our treatment teams are committed to the ongoing health and safety of all our patients.