The holidays are supposed to be this magical, happy time for getting together with friends and family, but it’s not always twinkling lights and warm and fuzzies for everyone. Time with family can often be fraught with tension and conflict, and if you are adding travel into the equation, things can be even more stressful.
Even if you have the most loving and supportive family and friends, there are still situations you can encounter that can shake your resolve to stay sober. Without support, the urge to turn to old vices can become overpowering.
Luckily, there are ways you can minimize some stress and prepare yourself to handle whatever stress you can’t alleviate. Planning how you will handle difficult encounters in advance makes it easier for you to make healthy choices and avoid relapse.
Here are 12 tips for getting through the holidays while staying sober.
1. Make a commitment
Make a commitment to yourself before the holidays that you will stay sober. As added insurance, let someone in your sober network know about your promise to yourself. Envision yourself having a good time while clear-headed, and don’t let your mind question this as your reality.
2. Reduce stress wherever possible
Come up with a plan to reduce or eliminate stress wherever you can before the holidays arrive. Allow yourself plenty of time for shopping and travel, and pad your time. Have a plan for each day ahead of the holidays so you know exactly what you’ll be doing, and don’t stray from the plan. Add some relaxing meditative time to your day; if you meditate, stick with it and perhaps add some extra time for your practice. If you don’t, allow extra time every day for something else that brings you peace: yoga, petting your dog or cat, a walk in nature, exercise, or curling up with a hot cup of tea and a good book.
3. Stay in a safe place
If you are traveling and you have a choice of where you can stay (with family, friends, or a hotel or rental), choose to stay where you will have the most support, the least temptation, the fewest bad associations, and the least chance of conflict. Consider the time and space you might need to reset at the end of a long day, socializing with people that might cause you stress.
4. Lean on others
Let your sponsor and sober network know of your holiday plans – they can offer advice and support. If you know someone without holiday plans in your network, you can even see if it’s okay to bring them along to holiday gatherings. No one has to know your connection if you prefer to keep that to yourself.
5. Make plans to avoid boredom and loneliness
Free time with no purpose can quickly devolve into boredom and feelings of loneliness. Boredom and loneliness can spiral into cravings. Friends and people in your network might be out of town over the holidays, so prepare for that in advance by scheduling more meetings ahead of time and making some new sober connections. Spend some time doing volunteer work and really fill your day with a schedule so you can anticipate what will happen next. It’s great to have a few activities that you can drop into your schedule in case plans fall through. Get out into nature and try something new, like snowshoeing. Explore a museum. Spend time with elderly friends, neighbors, or extended family. Do something for them around the house or make them a meal and spend an evening reminiscing. Helping others is a great way to keep occupied and get out of your head. Make a list of ideas before the holidays so it’s there for you to pull from if you find yourself with nothing to do.
6. Know how to respond to “What would you like to drink?”
Be prepared to know what you will say when someone asks you what you’d like to drink. Know in advance that you’ll ask for a soda, tea, water, or whatever you like. You can even bring your favorite nonalcoholic drink to the party. If you’re offered an alcoholic beverage, a simple “no thank you” should suffice, but be ready for the “oh, come on, why not?” or “oh, just one!” You don’t have to tell someone why, but it’s a good idea to have your response ready in advance. You can even practice it beforehand so it rolls off the tongue and doesn’t feel awkward. If you find yourself face to face with that uncle who just won’t let it go, politely move to the next room and don’t let it rattle your calm. You can tell people ahead of time that you don’t plan on drinking and disclose only as much as you’re comfortable with. Your sobriety takes priority – you do not owe anyone your story.
7. Attend meetings
The holidays can be hectic, but it’s helpful to stick with your regular routine of support group meetings. You might even want to attend more meetings than usual to manage any unforeseen stress that comes up. Plan out the meeting schedule you’ll follow at your destination in advance if you’re traveling. You can even reach out to support groups where you’ll be staying so you have contacts there. This helps with accountability, too — if someone is expecting you, you’re less likely to let things slide.
8. Tend to your basic needs and stick to your regular routine
Routines go out the window over the holidays, but it’s essential to try to make sure you’re sticking to the basics of caring for yourself. Hunger or fatigue can cause frustration that can chip away at your defenses, so be sure to eat healthy foods regularly and prioritize good sleep. Bring along energy bars if you’re out and about so you can stay fueled even if you’re stuck in traffic or out finishing up last-minute shopping. If you exercise or meditate, keep those practices going, even if they can’t happen at the times they usually would. Try to keep attending meetings even if you need to find new groups that work with your holiday schedule.
9. Avoid people and places you associate with using
There are likely a lot of places and people tied to memories from your addiction. It’s not like you can live your life in avoidance, but over the holidays, when times are a little chaotic and you’re flapping in the breeze a bit more, leave a wider berth around temptation. Decline the invite to your cousin’s party if you know things might get a little wild. Avoid bars and any restaurants that might tempt you to drink. There are plenty of safe places to meet up with loved ones: find a cozy coffee shop, a smoothie place, a bookstore, or a local park.
10. Use role-playing and visualization
Visualization and role-playing can help to cement your responses to situations in your mind before they happen, so your response feels more natural in the moment. Before your trip, think of all the scenarios you might encounter. Think of exactly how you want to react in each situation, then either act it out with a friend or someone in your support network and visualize it in your mind. Preparing what you will say and how you will behave and practicing your response will help you be ready if the situation presents itself. It might feel weird, but the preparation will empower you. “Seeing” your behavior in your mind and acting it out will boost your confidence and help you to make what you’ve practiced a reality.
11. Start new holiday traditions
If your holidays used to revolve around boozy get-togethers, change things up. Find your holiday spirit in the joy of being with others. If being with your family brings more stress than good cheer, that’s okay; you can limit time spent with people who erode your calm and spend more time with people who support you. If you don’t have a strong support network, don’t let loneliness break your resolve — spend your free time volunteering and going to meetings. Eventually, you can build relationships with people who help you refill your cup, and together, you can create new holiday traditions.
12. Use technology
Download apps and recordings of motivational talks for help and inspiration. There are many Alcoholics Anonymous and related apps available. Attend online meetings if you can’t get to one in person. Use the calendar app in your phone to schedule out all your days so you have a good plan and make a list in your phone you can refer to in emergencies. Include contact names and numbers, mantras that you can use for an emergency meditation, things to do when you’re bored, and positive notes to yourself that will remind you to stay motivated.
Finding Grace in Change
While everyone else seems to be so holly-jolly, it can be even harder to navigate an already-difficult time. You might feel “othered,” and ambivalence might be amplified. It’s okay to feel a bit of discomfort when you’re surrounded by happy families, full of the joy of the season.
Instead of getting stuck in discomfort, grant yourself some grace and accept that the holidays will be different now. You’ve changed as a person and worked hard to rewrite behaviors and beliefs that no longer serve you. There is a peace in knowing that things are different, that change is constant, and you’re doing all this because you’re growing into your most authentic self, moving closer towards to true peace and happiness day by day.
Get the Support You Need
If you need more help with your efforts to stay sober, All Points North can help. Our staff of world-class clinicians can create a treatment plan customized for your needs. We’re here for you during the holidays, either at the Lodge in Edwards, Colorado, or from the palm of your hand with telehealth offerings in the APN Connection App. Get the support you need to navigate this holiday season with ease. Reach out to us at 855-510-4585 or contact us online or via .