10 Tips for Staying Sober through the Holidays

The holiday season is in full swing, and for many in recovery, it’s a time of great joy – there’s nothing like being sober, present, and really being able to enjoy the festivities, taste the cookies, and reconnect with loved ones. For some, however, it can be a stressful time. If family relationships are strained or nonexistent during a time when the focus is on family fun, and if there are no good plans to celebrate, loneliness can be stark for people in recovery during the holidays.

A few tips to help you enjoy the season and stay sober this year:

  1. Have a plan. If you don’t have many commitments to fill up your schedule during the holidays, make a plan for each and every day to keep yourself busy doing things that bring joy to your life. If you celebrate Hanukkah, find a synagogue and get involved in the activities they host each night. If you celebrate Christmas, connect with a local church and get involved with their celebrations. Both will also offer a number of volunteer opportunities and ways to get involved. Additionally, the sober community holds a number of events throughout December that can offer you a positive and sober way to spend time with others while enjoying the festivities of the holidays.
  2. Have an escape plan from your plan. If you show up to church and find that it triggers a host of memories you were unprepared for, or if you go to a sober event or a family gathering and end up feeling worse than when you came in, it can be helpful to have an escape plan for your master plan. This escape plan can include a safe place you retreat to, a book you read to help calm you, a mantra you repeat to refocus your energy on the positive, or a friend or sponsor you call to ground yourself and get back on track. This can be your relapse prevention plan throughout the season as well as a backup plan when your original plan isn’t bringing you the celebration you’d hoped for.
  3. Avoid potentially triggering situations and people. You may love your family very much or truly enjoy going to certain places when you visit people over the holidays, but because these visits involve other people, you never know how they will unfold. You can hope for the best, but if you know for sure that someone in your life is going to be argumentative, under the influence when you arrive, or make derogatory comments about your recovery, it may be best to avoid the situation entirely in order to stay sober.
  4. Create new traditions. If you find that your old traditions are no longer serving you well, take the opportunity to create some new traditions. Find a new favorite cookie to bake for the holidays or a new favorite local stop to hit each year. Connect with sober friends and create a new traditional celebration where everyone brings food, creates juice mocktails, and spends the day playing football or poker, or watching a movie marathon of all the most nontraditional holiday movies (think Gremlins and Die Hard). Whatever your favorite sober hobbies, indulge this holiday season.
  5. Connect with 12-Step meetings wherever you are. Even if you are traveling, you will be able to find a 12-Step meeting near you. Check in and extend your sober network.
  6. Write out a list of gratitudes every single day. No matter how bogged down you get with activities – or how empty your holiday season feels – take a moment each day to write out the good things in your life and spend some time focusing on all you have to be thankful for.
  7. HALT! Hungry, angry, lonely, tired: These are often the emotions or issues that turn low-stress events into high-stress events and potentially even a trigger for relapse. Throughout the day, check in with yourself and make sure you are well rested, eating good food, calm, and safe. If there is an area of need, meet it.
  8. Take care of yourself. Eating right, exercising regularly, seeing the doctor if you need to – all these and more are important parts of your holiday season just as they are every day of the year. This also means recognizing when you are uncomfortable in a situation or when you are just too overscheduled for the day. Prioritize your health throughout the holiday season.
  9. Give back to the community. More than at any other time of the year, there are a number of opportunities to give back to the community. Donate to toy drives, give food to the food bank, help out at the homeless shelter, gather coats for those in need – there is almost no end to the ways you can apply your resources, energy, and skills to help out the people around you.
  10. Ask for help. If you find that you are struggling with the urge to drink or get high, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Connect with people at meetings, talk to your therapist, or reach out to your sponsor or other people you have met in recovery who have offered their assistance to you. Just as you have supported people in recovery, others are there to support you as well.
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