Tips for a Sober – and Happy – Holiday Season

Tips for a Sober – and Happy – Holiday Season

This Holiday Season

‘Tis the season…for family, friends, presents, and lights. Unfortunately, as most in recovery and those trying to support a sober friend or loved one well know, the holidays can also bring stress, overindulgence, parties and pressure to fit in, as well as lots of emotions and memories associated with holidays past – either romanticized visions of drinking and partying or painful reminders of mistakes we likely made in active addiction.

It’s a lot to process and navigate.  And, all of these things can add up to significant triggers for people trying to stay sober during a festive, but sometimes tricky and anxiety-ridden, season.

5 Most Popular Drinking Days

Research shows that Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve consistently rank as three of the five most popular drinking days of the entire calendar year. Add to that powerful feelings and constant motion, sometimes trying situations and interactions, and the tendency that many of us have to “review” our year and take stock and it can feel more like a pressure cooker than a time to relax and enjoy.

But while the holidays can be a uniquely challenging and stressful time for anyone trying to stay balanced and healthy – and a brand new set of experiences for some who are newly sober – there are things we all can do to make sure that they remain sober, safe, and fun!  It’s all about having a plan, getting or providing proper support, and creating new contexts and traditions.

Tips for Family Members and Friends

  • Make sure friends or family members in recovery are comfortable at holiday gatherings. Have a conversation with them ahead of time and ask if there is anything you can do to help them feel at ease.There is nothing worse than having a loved one feel pressured to imbibe, feel out of place, or sense that others around them are “walking on eggshells” because they don’t know how to engage with or treat them.
  • Model responsible behavior at parties and get-togethers and ask that other friends and family members do the same. Let your guests know that you are committed to creating a responsible, healthy environment and that substance abuse will not be tolerated at your gathering.
  • Create new family holiday traditions that do not include alcohol. Play games, sing carols, share stories. There are lots of fun and festive things to do besides eating and drinking. This will allow you and your family to make new, sober memories and create a new context around the holidays that will help those staying sober view them differently in the future.
  • Be supportive. Approach a friend or family member in recovery and let them know you’re glad they are sharing the holidays with you and that they are sober.

Tips for Those in Recovery

  • Spend plenty of time engaging with your sober network – and others who support you and your recovery. Call your 12-step sponsor if you have one, but also have a list of 10 people who you can call when you need extra support or get in a “dicey” situation.
  • Plan out, and attend, meetings regularly. In most communities, 12-step and other sober support meetings are offered more frequently – sometimes around the clock – during the holidays. Have a meeting schedule handy when you travel and make daily meetings non-negotiable – something you won’t miss even when days are busy.
  • Don’t feel pressure to stay late at events. It’s a big change for many of us who used to be the “last one standing” at many parties, but consider going to gatherings early – before drinking usually gets started – and try to leave once you’ve had some positive, rewarding contact with family and friends.  After all, enjoying good company, conversation, and laughs is the real thing we should be looking to enjoy at events and holiday get-togethers in sobriety.
  •  Have an exit plan when attending holiday parties. Make sure you know how to get out of a risky situation. And, if possible, bring a sober friend along with you.  Feeling as though you have a “partner in crime” who understands your disease and your needs can decrease feelings of loneliness, minimize awkward moments, and allow you to feel connected and supported.
  • Stay away from slippery situations. Don’t test yourself. Old drinking or using haunts can bring up powerful associations, and friends who still abuse substances are simply not safe for most to interact with. Play it safe.
  •  Avoid H.A.L.T. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired). Practice selfcare. It’s more important than ever when things are busy and potentially stressful. If you are hungry, get something to eat. If you are angry, talk to somebody about it.  If you are lonely, go to a meeting or call a friend. If you are tired, get some rest. And exercise. It always releases stress and improves mood.
  • Write out a daily gratitude list:The quickest way to get out of the holiday blues if they should strike is by counting your blessings and being grateful for what you have every morning.
  • Help others and be of service. The holidays are a great time of year to do volunteer work and there are many people in our communities who are less fortunate. You will be helping not only the needy but yourself!
  • Get in touch with your spirituality.The holidays can also be a good time to evaluate your spirituality and find a personal way to draw support from the spirit of the season. Be intentional about returning the holidays to a spiritual center and focus on the power of unselfish giving.
  • Live one day at a time and enjoy your sobriety. Stay in the moment and live one day at a time. Never mind about what happened or what could happen. Enjoy today. Stay in the moment and appreciate a new chance to be there with, and for, those who are important in your life.

Need Additional Help?

If you feel that you might need additional help during the holidays, or know someone who does, call us at 540-535-1111 to discuss how alcohol or drugs may be having a negative impact and how our unique approach and range of programs might help. The most amazing and transformative journeys all begin with a single, determined step.

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