Oh, the holidays! Don’t we all love this time of the year? Chestnuts roasting and so forth? Well, surprise. surprise, the holidays aren’t so merry when you’re used to spending them loaded. I’ll be honest: it’s hard staying sober during the holidays… Well, without a game plan, that is.
If you’re in recovery from substance abuse, you might find that the holidays are hard for you. Or (sometimes this is worse) they’re straight up boring! I mean, what the hell do sober people do on New Year’s Eve? What do you drink with Christmas dinner?
Well, I’ve got some clean years under my belt now, and I’m going to share with you some tips for success.
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First and Foremost:
Make sure you’re going to be with safe people. Now is not the time to “prove” yourself. Don’t agree to go to a party just to please people or to show yourself how strong you are.
Make plans with people who are not planning on partying or drinking. If your family isn’t supportive, don’t spend the holidays with them. You don’t owe them anything if they can’t agree to not drink around you.
Who Will You Be With?
One thing that makes holidays challenging is that they are pretty family-centered (Christmas more so than New Year’s Eve, but we’ll get to that). Now, your trigger might be your family, or it might be the lack of family.
If your family brings you extra stress, bring a friend! Take a friend who knows what’s going on and drag them along for the ride. This will help to keep you accountable as well as give you a sort of escape. When things are getting hard, simply take a break and chill with your friend. You could even create a safe word.
If it’s the lack of family around you that gives you urges to relapse, you’ll need to find some people to fill the void. It is usually a bad idea to be alone during the holidays. I can’t say always because I’m sure there’s someone out there that would do better alone than with people. But for most of us, alone is dangerous.
Talk to your friends and see what they’re doing. Personally, in this situation, I don’t think it’s tacky or weird to ask if they have room for one more. You’re taking care of you and that’s more important than being polite.
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Also, a lot of AA and NA programs have get-togethers during the holidays. Even if you don’t regularly attend meetings, I promise that they will welcome you with open arms. And I know it may seem weird to spend a holiday with strangers, but you’re doing it to keep yourself safe. There won’t be any alcohol (or drugs). So even if you’re uncomfortable, there won’t be any temptation.
You could always host your own shindig, of course! Invite people over that are supportive and won’t be bringing any contraband. Remember that the holidays are about being around people you love. People who will support you and be good influences on you.
Now that you have some idea of who to spend your holidays with… What do sober people do?
What Should You Do?
The name of the game is staying clean, so honestly, anything else you do is fine. But, I’ve come up with some ideas to get you thinking. The key, in my mind, is creating new memories and traditions. Pick a few things that you think would be fun to do year after year. Go do them!
Christmas Eve and Christmas Activities
If you’re religious, now is a great time to read the story of Jesus’ birth. Whether that be by yourself or passing the Bible around and reading it with your support system.
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If you and your friends are into acting, you could also perform the nativity story! Loads of churches will put on a live nativity, which could be fun to go see.
Watch a Christmas movie. Personally, I love Four Christmases, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and A Christmas Story. My mom adores It’s a Wonderful Life. If the kids are watching, I’m also a big fan of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Rudolph.
What’s your (or your ancestors’) nationality? Look up traditions they have and recreate them. For example, I’m mostly Swedish (with some Hungarian). Every year on Christmas Eve, we have a daughter don the St Lucia wreath-crown and we sing a song and ring bells in all the rooms. It’s weird and fun. My husband still says it’s my family’s “witchcraft chanting thing” (with love, of course).
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Start a tradition that is totally independent of the holiday season. Whatever the hell you want. A big cake on Christmas Eve before bed? Sure. A random act of kindness on Christmas Day? Why not! It doesn’t have to revolve around the Christmas spirit. It will give you something to look forward to next year, which sets you up for success long-term.
New Year’s Eve
Reflect on the year and come up with a list of reasons you’re glad to be sober.
Get crafty and make your own ball to drop at midnight.
If you really want something to toast with, you could make mocktails, have sparkling cider, or even try nonalcoholic champagne. It sounds weird to me, but you never know unless you try, right?
Play board games until midnight.
Write down your resolutions or, put your own spin on things and write down things you’re going to let go of and burn the paper at midnight.
If fireworks are allowed, set some off at midnight!
Do something stupid and childish (but totally legal) like running around the neighborhood banging pots and pans. Be obnoxious, you’re allowed.
Have a Relapse Prevention Plan in Place
You know the annoying saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”? Well, nothing could be more true in this situation.
If you and a therapist haven’t created a relapse prevention plan yet, take it upon yourself to make one. Sit down with a pen and paper (or a computer) and make a plan to protect your sobriety.
You should include:
- Possible triggers (think of as many things as possible)
- How you can avoid those triggers
- If you encounter those triggers anyways, what can you do to take away their power?
- Who will keep you accountable?
- What is your plan for if there are drugs or alcohol present?
- What will you do if you experience cravings?
- List some healthy coping skills you can realistically employ.
Your plan should be extremely personal. You know yourself, your cravings, your triggers, and your personality better than anyone else. You know if it will be feasible to leave the party and meditate for a minute, or if that would even help you.
There is, unfortunately, no “one size fits all” relapse prevention plan that you can just print from the internet. You need to take some time and figure out what might trigger a relapse and what you’ll do instead.
If you have a sober buddy spending the holidays with you (which I highly recommend), you might consider sharing your plan with them, as well as telling them some signs to watch out for. A big tell for me is that I’ll completely zone out and/or isolate. Think of some of your tells and let them know so they can be on the lookout.
To Sum it All Up
The holidays really, truly don’t have to induce a knot of anxiety in the pit of your stomach. You could easily ignore them, treat December 25th and 31st as if they’re any other day. But I personally think it’s healthier (and, honestly, more fun) to create new memories to replace the old ones.
Right now, you might think nothing could beat the wild parties you used to attend on NYE. Or numbing out when you’re forced into family time.
I promise you that there is a better life waiting for you in sobriety. It may take some time to get used to, I won’t argue that. But you’ll get there. One day at a time 😉
Are the holidays hard for you? What’s your plan for staying sober this year? Be sure to share this if you found it helpful, it’d mean the world to me 🙂