Staying Sober During The Holidays

By and large, winter festivities are meant to be a time to relax and unwind. They can afford us a crucial opportunity to rest, recharge, take stock of our lives, give thanks, and plan for the next year. However, for some, staying sober during holidays can seem like a Herculean task.

It doesn’t have to be. Those who are afflicted by substance use disorders or mental health conditions of any kind may have at least 2 options when the holidays roll around: choose to spend time with family and/or friends in as healthy a way as possible, or elect to go one’s own way — and in so doing, potentially make the most of this important period of rejuvenation and reflection.

Ideas about how to pursue either course most effectively are below. No matter your faith or lack thereof, your country of birth, or your personal history, you deserve to enjoy a well-deserved break.

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Tips For Family & Friend Gatherings

The most strongly-held resolves and most closely-protected recoveries can seem to shatter when you are around potentially triggering elements like people you knew while you were using, the stressors of having to plan or attend large social gatherings, and/or environments where a lot of alcohol is being consumed.

Following some of the advice below may not only help you with staying sober over the holidays, but may also lead to feeling — if not “merry and bright” — far better than you would have otherwise.

  • Make a plan. It’s been said that no plan survives contact with the enemy. But by outlining a few key things — like when you’ll arrive and leave, what transportation you’ll use, which words you’ll select to say “no” to a drink or a drug (“no,” by the way, being a fine option) — you can give yourself a strong foundation to lean on when the “enemy” of relapse rears its head.
  • Get a Trojan horse. Grab a soda water with lime, a mocktail, a non-alcohol beer, a glass of fruit juice, or whatever you need to feel (and look) like you’re drinking while keeping your BAC on the ground floor. It might relieve the social pressure — and it might even taste good, too.
  • Have a buddy. Let a sponsor, friend, relative, neighbor, or trusted coworker know that staying sober during holidays can be tough for you. Ask them if they wouldn’t mind your calling during the festivities to vent, check in, or ask for advice. If your list of contacts is short these days — and no one could blame you for that — then consider taking a break to spend time with a good book or a movie; additionally, thinking of a role model you have and imagining what they might do in the situation could be beneficial.
  • Find a way to move. Sitting still can make us anxious and facilitate cravings. Get a reason to shuffle your feet and get your blood pumping: it can be dancing, cooking, cleaning, going for a walk, playing a game, or even just stretching. By getting into your body, you mitigate your mind’s ability to tell you stories you’ll regret believing tomorrow.
  • Remember to HALT. You’re certainly at risk of not being entirely yourself when you’re peckish; additionally, anger, loneliness, and tiredness can make us act in ways that are out of character and maladaptive. Remember, when you’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, it’s time to halt — take no action until you meet those needs fully and have time to process what the “real you” really wants

Choosing To Do Your Own Thing

Sometimes, no matter the coping strategies available, being around others just isn’t on the menu; if that’s what you need to accomplish staying sober over holidays, so be it.

That could be a blessing in disguise; it’s possible that spending time alone or with new, likeminded people can be immensely beneficial. Here are some ways to do just that.

  • Volunteer. Contact a local food bank, visit the Salvation Army’s website, consider charities like the Linus Project or Give Kids The World. Identify a cause that’s important to you, or people you care about, and go help. As a result, you might think about yourself less — and feel the warm glow of having acted out of compassion for no reason other than compassion’s sake.
  • Get a room. Book a hotel room for yourself. Fill it with whatever you want: favorite movies, books, trinkets, photos, or memories. Be wary of being too isolated, however, and consider talking over the phone or videoconferencing with someone you know — or at the very least, making some chit-chat with the staff. But if you want to get away from it all until the hubbub is over and lock yourself away in sheets you don’t have to wash, you have that right.
  • Attend a group. Support groups meet both in-person and virtually; holidays are especially important times for these groups, and they know to expect new visitors concerned with staying sober over the holidays. Alcoholics Anonymous (based on the 12 Steps and a higher power) and SMART Recovery™ (based on self-efficacy and less concerned with faith or belief) are 2 great options — they’re easily searched for online, and they’re free.
  • Get out in nature. This may not be feasible everywhere! If you can, though, consider going for a hike or another activity that allows you to surround yourself with the great outdoors. If you’re somewhere frigid, bundling up as tightly as you can and going for a walk — provided it’s safe — could still be a good way to clear your head.
  • Create your new year. Sit down with a pen and paper, or just your imagination, and draft your “mission statement” for the new year. Outline goals. Consider personal values and boundaries. Act like you’re the CEO of a company and you’re implementing a strategic action plan to increase the bottom line (your happiness). Visualizing helps. If you can see the possibilities, they’re already within your reach.

Staying Sober During Holidays And Beyond

You’re not in this alone (unless you want to be — and even then, just know isolation can be hazardous and that we’re all rooting for you.)

If you want more advice or more help on staying sober during holidays and beyond, consider learning some new traditions for a new year (and a new life) inside of a treatment center or via outpatient care.

Contact a treatment provider now, for free, for more information.

In the meantime, happy new year!

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William Henken

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  • Will Henken earned a B.A. in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Central Florida. He has had his work published in the Orlando Sentinel, and has previous experience crafting copy for political action committees and advocacy groups dedicated to social justice. Addiction and mental health are personal subjects for him, and his greatest hope is that he can give a helping hand to those seeking healthy and lasting recovery.

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