The holidays are a particularly treacherous time for people who are new to recovery. A variety of triggers rise up during the winter months. Fortunately, most of these triggers can be planned for and, with some self-awareness, avoided, so you can have a sober holiday.

Sober Holiday Planning: Recognizing the Risks

One thing a person can do to ensure they stay sober over the holidays is to recognize the potential triggers they could face before they are in the situation. These may include:

  • Being around alcohol or other drugs
  • Disruptions to recovery meeting attendance
  • Not making time for spiritual work (such as communicating with a higher power or meditating)
  • Spending less time with a sponsor or sober friends
  • Having unrealistic expectations for the holiday
  • Ignoring bodily cues that there is an unmet need
  • Difficult feelings that could emerge around the holidays

Prepare in Advance for a Sober Holiday

Once a person identifies their most likely triggers, they can make a plan to address these as they arise–or to bypass them altogether. A sponsor or other sober friends can give input into what has worked for them, to enjoy a sober holiday. SMART Recovery also has some suggestions for managing the holidays in sobriety:

  • Consider if this is really an event you should attend – What is the event all about? Does it support your recovery? Why do you want to go? Remember that you do not have to say ‘yes’ to an event, no matter who might be offended. Your sobriety matters most.
  • Take a sober friend – Having a buddy with you who doesn’t drink will help you feel less pressure to drink.
  • Ask if any non-alcoholic drinks will be available – Bring your own drinks, if necessary.
  • Have an exit strategy before you arrive – You’ll feel safer knowing that you can leave whenever you need to. If you feel like you need an excuse to leave, say that you need to get up early the next morning. Or, say you have an appointment with a friend.
  • Ensure your vehicle won’t get blocked in – Don’t park in the host’s driveway, where other vehicles could park behind yours.
  • Do not agree to be a designated driver for someone else – This would require you to stay until that person is ready to leave, which could be the entire length of the event.
  • Manage your expectations – Try to be realistic about what this event and the holidays in general will be like this year. Remember that there are many other days in the year that can be spent doing things that make you happy.

Fortifying Your Sobriety

You may decide that a lot of the events you would have attended in the past are not conducive to staying sober right now. There is nothing wrong with deciding to sit out gatherings that aren’t supportive of your recovery; however, it’s a good idea to have a plan for how you will pass the time, so that you don’t feel isolated. The AA Grapevine has some suggestions for keeping yourself occupied, if your old holiday plans are no longer a good fit:

  • Line up extra recovery activities.
  • Host some sober friends for your own gathering.
  • Find out about holiday meetings or events in your recovery group.
  • Spend the extra time with your higher power.
  • Line up some volunteer opportunities.
  • Ask your sponsor for other ideas.

Keep Doing What Works

Now is not the time to disregard a recovery plan that has been working for you. Make it a priority to continue doing the things that have gotten you this far in your sobriety.

  • Stick to your bedtime and diet as much as possible.
  • Keep busy enough that you don’t get lonely, but not so busy that it’s stressful.
  • Continue to attend recovery meetings.
  • Call your sponsor just as you always would.
  • Stay in touch with your spiritual needs.
  • Process difficult feelings around the holidays with a counselor or therapist.

Supporting Loved Ones in Recovery

If you are a friend or family member of a person who is in recovery, you can make your gathering more supportive of their sobriety.

  • Express support for their choice to get sober. They may be getting a lot of peer pressure to relapse, and encouragement may be welcome.
  • Ensure your event is substance-free. Don’t provide alcohol or other drugs, and don’t invite guests who will insist on bringing their own.
  • Make one-on-one time with your friend or family member. Check in to see how they are handling the stress of the holidays.

Don’t forget that there isn’t just one way to celebrate. Keep the old traditions that serve you, but feel free to create new traditions that you can take forward in your sober journey. And remember that Safe Harbor Recovery Center is here to help, whether you need to check in with our alumni group, speak to a counselor, or return to treatment after a relapse.

Are you or someone you know looking for a Virginia substance abuse rehab? For more information about programs at Safe Harbor Recovery Center, Virginia drug and alcohol treatment center, contact us at (888) 932-2304. We are ready to help you make a new beginning.