Staying sober through the holidays has been one of the many gifts of recovery for me. However, the holidays are typically a dangerous time for relapse among addicts & alcoholics. Even though this time of year is supposed to be about joy and celebration it can just as often turn into a stressful time filled with anxiety, tension, resentments and loneliness.
It doesn’t matter whether you are new in recovery or have been sober for years, it is important to be aware of the issues that can crop up during the holiday season. There can be triggers for addicts like holiday parties where alcohol is served or added pressure with issues involving money and visiting with family. No matter what they are for you personally, having successful coping skills can mean all the difference.
I encourage people in recovery to embrace the holidays. It should be about making great memories, using the opportunity to be fully present and being grateful for friends, fellowship and family. It’s a blessing that shouldn’t be taken for granted. All you need to do is bring your best self and now you can.
My Sober Holidays
Staying sober through the holidays has made me aware of so many valuable truths. I discovered that I have the right to choose today where I go and what I do. I no longer people please, or do things because others say I have to. I don’t care what it’s for; if it’s going to jeopardize my sobriety I just don’t go!
I come from a very tightknit family so the holidays are something that I’ve always looked forward to enjoying. My family and friends have always wanted to make me feel comfortable and were super proud of my commitment to recovery. When I first got sober my wife even stopped drinking for a year out of solidarity and support for our new life.
Early on in my sobriety I was heavily involved in the entertainment industry and there were many events & parties around this time of the year. I navigated these by taking a sober companion with me and only going to the ones I felt comfortable and that had purpose.
I’m one of those guys who has never had an issue about saying that I don’t drink- in fact I’ve always worn it as a badge of honor considering where I came from and what I’ve been through. So if people asked me if I wanted a drink I would say “I’m allergic: I break out in handcuffs.”
I think that anybody else who’s been through similar hardships and challenges struggling with the disease of alcoholism should feel proud of their sobriety. Sobriety is cool and it’s sexy… way more sexy than getting wasted.
It’s my feeling that if we’re going to make a change in perceptions and attitudes about alcoholism and recovery that we’ve got to express our truths and not hide it.
I know it’s still a thing for many people and that’s one of the reasons 12 step programs are “anonymous”- people don’t want to be known as alcoholics because of the stigma that shockingly persists.
I say you can be vulnerable, be open and authentic. And you will be empowering!
Sober Holiday Survival Tips: Sober Is, As Sober Does
Stay sober and prevent a relapse this holiday season by identifying and avoiding triggers, planning ahead and taking certain steps at parties, family gatherings or events. Be selective – it is okay to say “no” to certain invitations or too many invitations.
People with any length of sobriety have heard about and used the acronym HALT: hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. Make sure you are not any one of those things, and put that into practice daily.
Here are some other great sober holiday survival tips:
- Have awareness around where you’re going and what you will be doing.
- Get to a meeting before your event.
- Call your sponsor before your event.
- Plan what you will drink in advance and if you can, make sure it will be there. I’ve even brought my own non-alcoholic beverage to events and parties just to make it 100% safe.
- Have a drink in hand: Make sure you have gotten yourself something non-alcoholic to drink to have in your hand. If you have a drink in your hand, others who are unaware of your situation are less likely to ask if you want a drink. In addition, the comfort of having something to drink helps remove the impulse to drink an alcoholic beverage.
- Don’t set down your drink and then mistakenly pick up another persons drink.
- Sober companion: take along a supportive sober friend, or sponsor who will help you in your recovery efforts.
- Have an exit strategy in case you feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable? Get out!
- Drive yourself so you can leave, or make sure you have a quick and safe pick up.
- The “minute or less trick”: If you must speak to someone toxic, do not engage in conversation for more than 60 seconds.
- Plan what to say: If you want people to know that you are sober, a simple “I don’t drink anymore” works well. If you don’t want to share your sobriety, you can always say, “I am not drinking tonight,” or, “I’m the designated driver.”
- Use your phone: identify your support person in advance and let them know you might be calling. Make sure you call them if you need to!
- Resist any urges to create drama, triangulate, use the event to stir things up or act out in some way.
- If there’s too much anxiety involved - don’t go!
A Holiday Gift: Enjoy The Present
They call it “the present” because it’s a gift. And sobriety is the gift that keeps on giving. Practicing being present and staying in the moment is such a wonderful habit to get into, especially for people in recovery.
When you do make it through that party, event or family gathering and you’ve managed to maintain your sobriety, be sure to give yourself a huge pat on the back and raise that self-esteem bar- because that’s huge! You now have a new sober experience and new muscle memory to build upon. If things start to feel funky try to use meditation, yoga, going for walks, exercising, reading recovery literature, journaling and taking care of your spiritual needs as a healthy way to cope with the holiday season. If things get really bad, “nothing saves the day like intensive work with another alcoholic… it works, it really does.”
Enjoy your holidays and the gifts that come with recovery by avoiding unrealistic expectations or trying to mimic those “perfect” images that you see on social media. Keep your focus on yourself, being of service and all the beautiful moments.
Most importantly, remember that it’s much easier to not pick up that first drink than it is to try to stop drinking all over again!
Wishing everyone a safe, joyous and sober Holiday.