Maintaining Sobriety During the Holidays

Merry Christmas from Bridging the Gaps

The holidays are a special time.  For most, it’s a time when we can look forward to that we can celebrate with loved ones and family; a time to give gifts, tell stories, cook and eat great food, and spread joy to others.  However, in sobriety, the holidays can be daunting.  Perhaps this is the first holiday you spend sober.  Maybe you even have a relationship with some of your family members that’s difficult to navigate.  For some, maybe you don’t have much family to celebrate with, but you have friends, other loved ones, or your “chosen” family you’d like to share your time with during the holiday season.  These relationships are just as important to maintain and nurture.  Regardless, you might be walking into a holiday celebration with family members or loved ones with high expectations of you and your recovery process.  This is a tall order, and often, these expectations aren’t the most realistic, especially when you’re looking to not only survive the holidays but enjoy your holiday season as well.

To steal some of the words of Tim Bambara, if you’ve ever seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (or any of the other National Lampoons movies, for that matter), you know the recurring story of Clark Griswold.  Everything that could go wrong during this family holiday, did go wrong.  Why?  Because the family’s expectations of him, and his expectations of himself, were far too high and unrealistic.  Did it make for good comedy for us as viewers? Yes.  But the reality is, for those in recovery, these high holiday expectations may be unattainable and can set recovering individuals up for significant failure and risk to their recovery process.

Sobriety During the Holidays

Moreover, holidays are a revolving door for the use of alcohol and other substances.  We often celebrate weddings, birthdays, Christmas, New Years, and other occasions with a drink (or several).  These traditions create a challenge for those who are working to maintain their sobriety.  Seeing your loved ones drinking or partying can be triggering.  Because of this, it’s important to be vigilant and not let your guard down.  But beyond that, it might be time to change how you interact with your holidays going forward.  Changing the pattern of use is changing the ritual, and sometimes changing how different life events and holidays are celebrated as you move through recovery. 

10 Tips for Holiday Sobriety

Throughout the holiday season, there are a number of things you can do in order to shake things up and keep the joy in your holiday celebrations.  Here are just a few!

  1. Make a detailed daily plan.  What meetings will you attend while on holiday?  What will you do if you become triggered while you’re on holiday? Who will you call and when? What support will you need while you’re on holiday?
  2. Connect with your sponsor.  If you have a sponsor, talk to them and check in with them daily while you’re on holiday.
  3. Connect with your community. Attend 12-step meetings and connect with your community; there are lots of 12-step meetings that occur during the holidays with the express goal of supporting one another during the holidays.  Use these meetings to your benefit!
  4. Communicate your feelings and ask for support. Ask your family members/loved ones for support and tell them how you’re feeling; communication is an important tool in your recovery process!
  5. Give yourself permission to leave.  If you’re at a holiday event that becomes triggering for you and you feel it’s unhealthy for your recovery process, give yourself permission to leave the gathering.  Just remember to seek out support!
  6. Express gratitude.  One of the major tenets of the holidays is to express gratitude for the things that we have or the “gifts” that we receive.  What sorts of gifts have you received as a result of your sobriety?
  7. Spirituality.  Don’t forget to engage with your spirituality, whether it’s through prayer, meditation, or some other means.  Connect with your higher power!
  8. Remember HALT.  Remember to pay attention to whether you’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.  If you are, make sure to eat, rest, seek out support, or pause and process your emotions.
  9. Service work.  Acts of service are beneficial not only to the community but to your own recovery process.  You spread holiday cheer while also upholding your principles of recovery.
  10. New holiday traditions. Change your holiday traditions to include new sober activities.  Maybe your new traditions or holiday rituals include different activities during the holidays than you used to do; that’s okay.  Try to keep your holiday traditions achievable and realistic.

We hope that you have a safe and happy holiday. If you need support during this holiday season, please reach out to us at 540-535-1111.

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