For some people in recovery, the holidays can be tough. But you can make it to January with your sobriety intact. You don’t have to let unfulfilled expectations, stressful family dynamics, or crazy in-laws threaten your recovery. Not to mention all those holiday parties. You just need a bit of preparation. Start planning your sobriety strategy now, with these tips:
Sober Holidays Tip #1: Remind yourself every single morning how good it feels to be sober (and how great it will feel come January)
Plant that thought in your mind right now, and think about it every morning. 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
Getting sober doesn’t mean life is instantly perfect. Other people in your life probably haven’t changed, and many of the conflicts that crop up at family reunions will doubtless crop up again. Accept it, roll with the punches, and rein in the urge to manipulate everything and everyone. It will be enough for you to take care of and control yourself.
Sober Holidays Tip #3: Plan activities other than 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, and 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 #4: 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 #5: If you’re traveling, go to meetings wherever you are
Find a meeting long before you get there. This will give you the booster support shot you’ll almost certainly need—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.
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’ll 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.
Sober Holidays Tip #7: Remember what Recovery Zone you’re in
If you’re following the Recovery Zone System, remember where you are in recovery. If you’re in early recovery, the Red Zone, you are bound to be a bit shaky. Don’t push yourself or leave yourself open to temptation. It’s okay to have a quiet holiday season.
Sober Holidays Tip #8: Do a Recovery Zone Recheck before the holidays get started
Think about the events coming up in the next few weeks. What situations could possibly set you on the road toward relapse? Seeing your ex-husband at a party? Having a fight with your mom? Having dinner with friends who drink? Make a plan now for how you will deal with these events; maybe you’ll go to some extra meetings before you travel, and plan to call your sponsor or a fellowship friend if anything does happen. Or maybe you’ll investigate online meetings now, before anything happens, so you can go to a meeting at a moment’s notice. Remember, it’s okay to retreat to an earlier Recovery Zone for a few weeks.
Sober Holidays Tip #9: If you’re flying and feeling vulnerable, ask for help
Planes don’t have “no alcohol” sections, so the person right next to you 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 next to you orders anything stronger than tomato juice. 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, contact a friend in recovery for support. 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 #10: Plan your own celebrations
If you aren’t traveling for the holidays, plan to celebrate with local 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: Take it easy!
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 #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 start thinking about 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: Bring recovery reading when you travel.
Get eBook versions of The Big Book, The Recovery Book, and other recovery literature on your phone or eBook reader before you leave town. Download some inspirational recovery talks as well.
Sober Holidays Tip #15: Practice TAMERS every day
Don’t let up on your brain healing activities. Practice TAMERS every day:
• Think about recovery, Talk about recovery
• Act on recovery, connect with others
• Meditate and Minimize stress
Sober Holidays Tip #16: 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 news), and set your alarm for five minutes. When you’ve managed to get through 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 #17: 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.
Sober Holidays Tip #18: It’s okay to tell people you are now in recovery
There is a lot less stigma these days to being in recovery. Nearly everyone knows someone who is in recovery and very open about it. It’s your choice whether or not you want to tell people. One good reason to be open about it: If your friends don’t know you’ve given up alcohol, they may lead you into temptation without intending to. Another reason: When you let it be known that you don’t drink, you offer support and encouragement to others who are thinking about sobriety but are afraid to take the leap. You just might be the catalyst that gets someone else started on recovery.
Sober Holidays Tip #19: Make a plan for staying sober at parties
Decide in advance that there’s no way in the world that you will drink or use drugs at the event. Ask for help from your Higher Power, because you may need it. Know and rehearse exactly what you will say if someone asks, “Would you like a drink?” or “Want to do a line?”
Sober Holidays Tip #20: Stay sober at the party-serve yourself
If you can, bring your own water bottle or glass full of soda, so you don’t even have to go near the bar. If you don’t bring your own, when you arrive head straight to the liquid refreshments and help yourself to a safe option. Keep your beverage in your hand for the rest of your time at the party (refill as needed). That way you won’t have to keep turning down offers of something to drink. People won’t be asking you and unknowingly tempting you. If you set your drink down while dancing or when you step into the bathroom, get a new one when you return. Don’t take a chance on anyone having accidentally switched drinks or good-naturedly topped yours off, or even worse, slipped a drug into it.
Sober Holidays Tip #2: 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 are substitutes (such as grape juice) for you and anyone else who doesn’t want to drink the harder stuff.
Sober Holidays Tip #22: Stay sober at the party-don’t go it alone
Bring along an AA buddy or a hired sober companion. Or take someone at the party into your confidence (the host, a friend, even a waiter); candor will serve you better than pride, embarrassment, or guilt. Tell them that you can’t drink, and enlist them as bodyguard. It will make the event easier for you, and will keep you from winding up in a relapse. If you can’t take someone with you, arrange to text with someone throughout the evening. Or make a plan to call your sponsor every hour on the hour. Build in some accountability, however you can.
Sober Holidays Tip #23: Stay sober at the party-curb resentment
You’re almost sure to run into someone who’ll say, “Do you mind if I have a drink?” Your automatic answer will most likely be “No, I don’t mind.” The truth is you probably do resent it. You’re as good as the other guy. If he can drink, why can’t you? If you feel resentment building, make your excuses and find your sober buddy, slip out to a meeting, or call or text your sponsor. Pull out your phone for a quick check-in with an online meeting or recovery forum. Or head home and immerse yourself in an online meeting.
Sober Holidays Tip #24: Stay sober at the party-be ready to leave
Keep your car keys or taxi fare in your pocket. Should you suddenly feel overwhelmed by temptation, leave immediately. Do not try to test yourself.
Sober Holidays Tip #25: Stay sober at the party-take inventory the next day
The day after you go to an event with alcohol you may well fall into self-pity mode. “Why can’t I have fun like those other people?” Don’t let those feelings and ideas simmer; they can push you right over the edge into a relapse. Plug right back into your recovery program. Call or text your sponsor, double up on meetings, and read recovery literature. Be honest about any feelings that arose from being around the drinking and using scene.
Sober Holidays Tip #26: Try not to stress about holiday gifts and expenses
Try not to worry too much about giving the “right” gifts, or having enough money to buy gifts. For the people who matter, just your love (and your sobriety) will be enough. Really. Try not to get stressed out about spending lots of money on travel and other holiday expenses. Set a budget and stick to it.
Sober Holidays Tips #27: Be ready to return to your regular routine
Schedule time to decompress after travel. Try not to feel let down by a return to the normal old routine. Remember that you have another brand new year to have a wonderful, sober life.
Sober Holidays Tip #28: Stay in touch with sober friends
Make sure your phone is filled with the numbers of AA members and call them frequently to stay in touch.
Sober Holidays Tip #29: Find a meeting!
Okay, we’ve said it before. But it bears repeating. Because it works. Find a meeting. If holiday gatherings with family or friends become drinking parties, head for the nearest meeting. No one will miss you and the social drinkers will understand. Many AA clubhouses even have round-the-clock meetings on holidays.
Sober Holiday Tip #30: Give thanks
Stop by a church or some quiet area like the beach, a lake or a park, and spend a few minutes thanking your Higher Power for your sobriety and your new way of life.
Sober Holidays Tip #31: Wish others Happy Holidays
Even if you’re a bit shy, smile and wish those around you happy and healthy holidays. It will lift your own spirits and create a warm glow inside.
Sober Holidays Tip #32: Reach out to newcomers
Take a newcomer to lunch or dinner and then to a meeting. If you’re a newcomer, take a newer newcomer. If you can’t afford lunch or dinner, how about just coffee?
Sober Holidays Tip #33: Remember your last drink
If the thought of a drink occurs, first think it through. Remember your last drink. Then call your sponsor or AA friend.
Sober Holidays Tip #34: Don’t get hungry, angry, lonely, or tired
Don’t let those feelings creep up, no matter how long you’ve been sober. Addiction is cunning, baffling, and powerful. Again, constant watchfulness will help.
Sober Holidays Tip #35: 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 darkness and drabness can be psychologically (and physiologically) depressing.
Sober Holidays Tip #36: Recite the Serenity Prayer-often
Make sure you have copies of the Serenity Prayer in your pockets or purse and on your phone. Paste it on the mirrors in your home. Pause for a moment and read it. Repeat.
Sober Holidays Tip #37: Go to a meeting
Reprinted from: Tips From The Recovery Book: Answers to All Your Questions About Addiction and Alcoholism and Finding Health and Happiness in Sobriety