For people in recovery, the holidays can be tough.
Seeing family, visiting old friends, having unfulfilled expectations, maybe missing a loved one you lost this year — it can all lead to tension and sadness, as well as thoughts of using. Plus, temptation seems to be everywhere…given all the holiday parties you might be expected to attend.
Don’t let those fleeting feelings sneak up on you!Start planning now for how you’ll get through the holidays happy and sober.
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Sober Holidays Tip #1: Remind yourself every day how good it feels to be sober (and how great it will feel come January 1).
Plant that thought in your mind right now, and think about it every day. Stick a note on your bathroom mirror to remind yourself to think about it every day.
Sober Holidays Tip #2: Keep your expectations realistic, so you don’t set yourself up for an emotional letdown.
Just because you’re sober, that doesn’t mean life will suddenly become a bowl of cherries. Other people in your life probably haven’t changed, and many of the conflicts and rivalries that customarily crop up at family reunions will doubtless crop up again. Accept that this is so, roll with the punches, and rein in the urge to manipulate everything and everyone. It will be enough for you to just take care of and control yourself.
Sober Holidays Tip #3: Limit the amount of time you spend with relatives who make you crazy.
If everyone is gathering for the holiday, including your brother who drinks like a fish, plan on an overlap of just a day or two. If he arrives on Christmas Day and stays a week, you can arrive a couple of days before Christmas, help your hosts prepare, enjoy a quiet Christmas Eve, and leave the next day.
Sober Holidays Tip #4: Plan activities other than just sitting around and gabbing.
In many families, getting together for the holidays means sitting around and drinking. Investigate other options now. Movies, museums, holiday concerts, skating, walks, sledding, sports events can all help fill the time and limit stress. If weather keeps you inside, suggest activities that will keep everyone busy and focused, such as decorating holiday cookies, board games, or old movies.
Sober Holidays Tip #5: Keep up your recovery routine. Don’t skip your regular meetings. And if the holidays mean being away from home and your home group, be sure to attend meetings wherever you are.
Locate a meeting even before you get there. This will give you the booster support shot you’ll almost certainly need at this difficult time—the chance to say, “Sure, I love my family, but sometimes they drive me up the wall,” or to talk about whatever else it is that almost drives you to drink at the old homestead.
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Sober Holidays Tip #6: If the holidays mean visiting your old hometown, take time to see old friends you enjoy; avoid those you used to drink or use drugs with.
Make plans now for how you will occupy your time while there, so you don’t find yourself with time to kill and fleeting thoughts of visiting the people who are still drinking or using.
Get plenty of rest, watch what you eat, get your usual exercise, and take time for meditation. Maintain your recovery routine as much as possible.
Sober Holidays Tip #8: If you’re flying and feeling vulnerable, ask the flight attendant for help.
Planes don’t have “no alcohol” sections, so the person sitting in the very next seat might order something alcoholic. What do you do? Ideally, fly with someone you know, someone who knows you are in recovery and will avoid drinking during the trip. If you’re flying alone and feeling vulnerable, explain your situation to the flight attendant. Ask if he can help you change your seat if anyone seated next to you orders anything stronger than tomato juice. Even on a crowded plane, swapping seats is almost always possible. If you do get stuck next to a drinker, close your eyes and meditate. Put your headphones on and zone out to music or a meditation recording, or watch the movie. If you have Wi-Fi on the plane, email or text your sponsor or a friend in recovery for support.
Another idea: If you worry you’ll be tempted to stop at a bar on the way to the airport or inside the terminal, have a friend or your sponsor drop you off at the airport and then stay in touch with you via phone, text or video chat until you get on your plane and the cabin door is shut.
Sober Holidays Tip #9: Bring your own beverage.
If a holiday celebration includes the use of alcoholic beverages (such as wine at Passover), make sure in advance that there is an adequate supply of a substitute (such as grape juice) for you and anyone else who doesn’t want to drink the harder stuff.
Sober Holidays Tip #10: Plan your own celebrations.
If you aren’t going home for the holidays, plan to celebrate with AA or NA friends. If you haven’t been invited, do the inviting yourself. Follow old family traditions or start some of your own.
Sober Holidays Tip #11 Be sure there is plenty of light in your life.
Keep the lights bright at home, try to get out when the sun is shining, light a cheery fire in the fireplace. Winter solstice darkness and drabness can be psychologically (and physiologically) depressing.
Sober Holidays Tip #12 Don’t romance the drink or drug.
If everyone starts talking about the “good old days,” leave the room. You don’t want to change your focus to thoughts of your drinking or using days. That can lead to preoccupation and obsession, and then to cravings. Keep your focus on your life right now, your life in recovery.
Sober Holidays Tip #13 Be very careful about what you eat and drink.
Alcohol doesn’t come only in a glass or a bottle. It can come in bowls and plates, too. And what you don’t know can hurt you.
One reason, of course, is that even a small amount of alcohol can trigger a relapse. How much does it take? A tiny drop? A small glass? There is no definitive answer, so it’s best to avoid all alcohol and keep your risk as low as possible. Another reason is the psychological risk: the taste plus the “thrill” of knowing that you’re consuming alcohol could turn on a compulsion to drink. Remember, the addiction is in the person, not the substance; it’s critical to stay away from that slippery slope of guessing what might be risky for you.
Sober Holidays Tip # 14 Make a plan for dealing with cravings.
Write up a list of what works for you: calling someone, reading recovery books, a quick workout at the gym, prayer. Think about what has worked for you in the past, and be sure you are ready with some solutions.
Can’t think of anything? Try to stay sober for just one minute. Then two minutes. Then start doing something (wash the dishes, read the newspaper), and set your alarm for five minutes. When you’ve managed to get through the first five minutes, try for ten. Keep increasing the time. Tell yourself you only need to focus on not drinking right now, this minute, this hour, this day.
Sober Holidays Tip #15 Remember that being in recovery doesn’t mean instant heaven or a perfect life.
Coming to grips with the idea that sobriety is not instant heaven is an important step in recovery. Most people with addiction expect their upside-down world to immediately turn right side up. That rarely happens. If you’ve been misusing alcohol or drugs for a while, your brain may need several months or even longer to set itself right. Give yourself time to build a happy new life.