The holidays conjure up different feelings and expectations for everyone. For some, it may bring joy, relaxation, and bliss. For others, the feelings may be more like anxiety, stress, and fear. Then, for anyone who is sober (or trying to stay sober), the holidays can be full of multiple emotions both good and bad. When you’re new to sobriety, the holidays can be a real test of your sobriety.
Being newly sober—days, weeks, months, etc.—during the holidays can bring on a number of fears and worries. One of the biggest questions someone new to sobriety will ask themselves as the holidays approach is, “how do I stay sober through the holidays?”
And while staying sober through the holiday season may seem daunting and downright impossible—it’s not. Thousands of others just like you have faced the holidays with the same trepidations and not only survived but stayed sober. Often the first holiday and holiday season sober is the most challenging. But, you, like many others, can do it.
3 Things that Make Staying Sober Through the Holidays Challenging
Everyone in sobriety has different challenges, varied family backgrounds, different family backgrounds, and different holiday expectations. These expectations may be from one’s self but also are many times from other family members and friends. Despite these differences, there are a few challenges that remain the same for most everyone trying to stay sober during the holiday season. Here are a few:
- Holiday Celebrations
No matter which holidays you celebrate this time of year, there’s no doubt that most will have some sort of liquor present. If you are in recovery from alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcohol addiction, this can be a very difficult place to be. And, if you are in recovery from a substance use disorder (SUD), being around alcohol and a party-like environment can also be extremely challenging. If you are new to sobriety and this is just your first or second holiday season sober, it can be even harder. Your traditions and habits may be to indulge in alcohol with family and friends this time of year. Imagining yourself without that drink in hand to ease anxiety and have fun can cause fear. You may think, “how can I possibly do this?” but the good news is you can.
Additionally, there are usually holiday office parties where many celebrate with alcohol and food. You may be used to being the life of the party and always having a drink in hand. Facing this holiday party without that comfort can seem impossible but it’s not. Remember thousands of others have been in your exact place and gotten through sober.
Tip 1: Be prepared and set a plan for each event or celebration you will attend. It is often suggested to plan to be at an event for a set, short amount of time. For example, if you’re attending an office party, you can get there on time and stay for an hour. It’s okay to make up an excuse ahead of time as to why you have to leave. It’s vital to put your sobriety first, especially in these vulnerable situations. If you are at a family event, plan the same and stick to it.
Tip 2: Additionally, you should plan what you will be drinking and how you will respond if someone asks why you aren’t drinking and also if someone tries to buy you a drink. A seltzer with lime is a go-to for many in recovery. No matter what you choose, plan a nonalcoholic drink ahead of time. When it comes to being asked why you aren’t drinking it’s also okay to either tell the person the truth or have an excuse. There are multiple reasons why someone chooses not to drink alcohol at a party. They range from having to drive to being on medications that prevent drinking alcohol.
Tip 3: Another important part of your plan should be to call a sober friend if you are struggling at the event or just need some extra support. Sober friends you’ve met in rehab or 12-Step or other recovery meetings are a great source. They too, are trying to stay sober and can relate to and support you. Having this lined up ahead of time will help to ease anxiety about the event. Tell your friend ahead of time that you may be calling them so they can be available, and have a backup if possible.
There’s no doubt that getting through the holidays sober can be tough but it can (and does) happen. Just keep remembering you aren’t alone. According to The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, about 30% of the United States’ population doesn’t consume alcohol. You are in good company when you aren’t drinking or using drugs.
- Holiday Stress
Sadly, today we have gotten away from much of the true meaning of the holidays. Instead of taking time out to relax and enjoy our families and friends we often race around (sometimes beginning months ahead) to prepare for company and buy gifts to impress and wow. However, this is really not what the holidays are about. This running around and trying to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list can cause a lot of stress.
This year it may be even more true. With limited inventory and delays in shipping, it may be even harder to find the perfect gift for everyone this year. And, when it comes to being new to sobriety, you may feel even more pressure to get the perfect gifts. Often, when someone gets sober, they begin to see the harm they may have unintentionally done to family and loved ones. Many times, we then want to try to ‘make up’ for that pain that was caused. In our society, we have often come to expect presents and gifts as ways to repair the damage. However, this isn’t how real healing and repair happen. While buying a nice gift is great, how you treat the people you may have harmed moving forward is what matters.
Additionally, if you want to try to host one of the holiday celebrations to ‘make up for lost time’, this can add a tremendous amount of stress. Hosting a holiday celebration is a lot of work and when you are new to sobriety this may not be the best choice. Don’t feel obligated to make up for past mistakes by overextending yourself. This kind of stress is what can cause a relapse during the holidays. If you relapse, you won’t be able to make up for any wrongs you’ve done or harms you’ve caused.
Tip 1: Decide on and stick to a plan for the holidays and preparation. Ditch the running around and trying to get everyone the perfect gift. Consider talking to your family and friends and letting them know that you are trying to stay sober and are taking a minimalist approach to the holidays this year. In society today, we tend to overindulge in everything. Simplifying things will help to relieve some of the pressure around the holidays and gift-giving.
Tip 2: If you have a big family and many to buy for, consider suggesting doing a pollyanna or white elephant this year. With a pollyanna, you pick names from a hat, and then each person is buying just one gift. Putting a price limit on the gift is a good idea too. For a white elephant gift, each person in attendance brings a wrapped gift with them. Next, the first person randomly picks a gift and so on until all gifts are chosen. The fun part is that some white elephant games have the first person able to trade their selected gift with a better one that comes after them. There are variations to both of these but each helps take the pressure of buying multiple gifts away.
Tip 3: If you normally host a holiday dinner or event or if you are considering trying to do so this year maybe reconsider. Not only is there a lot of stress normally, when you are trying to stay sober this extra stress can be dangerous. If budget allows, you can order a prepared meal that you have to just heat up. You can also ask for others to pitch in this year and bring a dish. Or, you can kindly let everyone know you need to take this year off from hosting. While it may seem like you are breaking tradition, it’s crucial to keep your sobriety as your top priority. Remember, alcohol and drugs both kill and ruin lives, relapsing won’t help anyone.
- Financial Stress
As mentioned, our society has placed great emphasis on gift-giving and acquiring lots of ‘things’. This can weigh heavy on one’s pocketbook. Financial stress can really put people over the edge and cause them to reach for a drink to cope. Also, many who are newly sober have lost jobs, spent savings, and don’t have much money as it is. Being honest and explaining this to loved ones is important. While they may not fully understand, it’s important to let them know that this year, your number one goal is to stay sober through the holidays. Those who are worth having around will get it.
Tip 1: As mentioned, consider doing an alternative gift-giving approach this year. Pollyanna and white elephant are both great choices that can make for a fun exchange.
Tip 2: Consider making gifts this year. There’s nothing more memorable than a handmade gift from someone you love. There are a lot of inexpensive and easy holiday gift ideas online as well as on Pinterest. From a memorable picture in a hand-decorated picture frame to a jar of chocolate chip cookies, there are lots of things you can make that others will love.
Tip 3: Many people who have a drinking or drug problem have mismanaged their finances. This year set a budget for the holidays and stick to it. Yes, this may mean fewer gifts for others but giving gifts isn’t where the real love comes from. Being present and sober are the best gifts you can give loved ones and family. This year, don’t let the guilt or shame of past years make you go beyond your means. Give what you can and stick to a budget.
In addition to these specific tips, the holidays are a good time to practice your new, healthy coping skills. From going to support group meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous to taking hikes in nature and doing meditation, there are many ways to help reduce that overload of stress that so many feel during the holiday season.
When you are newly sober, these stresses can seem overwhelming. However, once you successfully navigate the holidays and stay sober, you’ll be so much stronger in your sobriety. Follow these tips and look for other ways to stay sober during the holidays. Remember, you’re worth it and you can do it!
If you or a loved one are struggling with an alcohol or drug use issue, Futures Recovery Healthcare is here for you. Many of our staff are in recovery themselves and know firsthand how hard it can be—especially to stay sober during the holidays. When you’re ready for help, we are here. You don’t have to suffer any longer. Recovery is possible. Learn more online or call 866-804-2098.