12 Tips to Stay Sober, Grateful & Joyous Over the Holidays!
The holidays without alcohol can seem daunting for some of us – especially those of us in early sobriety. Actually sober holidays can be quite fun if we direct our attention towards people and activities that can help strengthen us on our road to recovery.
Here are a few suggestions which we have found to be helpful during this time of year.
- Plan Ahead. Always take your own vehicle to holiday gatherings so YOU can control your destiny. Also, take a sober companion with you for support and pay close attention to relapse triggers: H.A.L.T: Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired. Arrive early and leave early.
- Make Self Care a Priority. Celebrate the holiday season by taking care of your body, mind, and soul. We cannot be our very best if we are depleted. Give yourself the gift of time for yourself: an acupuncture treatment, a yoga class, time for meditation, and prayer. Proper nutrition and plenty of healthy physical movement will make you feel stronger, both physically and emotionally.
- Increase Support. We can get overwhelmed with the erratic nature of the season, so as you plan each day start with 12-step support as your first priority. This could mean bookending a holiday event with phone calls to someone in recovery before and after the event. Commit to attend a 12-step meeting (or two) each day and inviting a friend to attend with you. Also, if you’re traveling to another city, plan ahead and make sure you attend meetings while there whether in person or via zoom.
- Be mindful of time spent around your relatives – know your limits. We all have our own version of crazy Aunt Mildred who is going to criticize your career choice and make you feel “less than” or Uncle Harry who will insist on you having his famous holiday drink. And even worse, we most likely have strained family relationships that have been simmering for years. This type of stress can lead us to rationalize and convince ourselves we are entitled to a drink. Instead, surround yourself with supportive loved ones that will help you follow the steps to staying clean and sober.
- Have your props ready. When you arrive at a party, immediately get a non-alcoholic beverage and keep it in your hand. Whether it’s sparkling water or soda, others won’t be inclined to push drinks on you constantly. And, the truth of the matter is, people never really notice or pay attention to what’s in your glass.
- Celebrate relationships. As you consider holiday occasions, think about them as a way to make new friendships and perhaps rekindle old relationships with friends. Instead of making the event about drinking and eating as a priority, intentionally make it about “people” and building relationships; go into each occasion looking forward to establishing real connections.
- Eat well. The holidays don’t give us a green light to overindulge. When we stuff ourselves with too much sugar, carbs, & fat-laden foods it makes us feel yucky so be proactive & choose healthy foods that will make you want to celebrate, not feel guilty.
- Service, not self. When we can focus on others, we find more joy and gratitude. So look for ways to think about and serve others. Make a special family recipe and deliver to friends. Donate your time at a homeless shelter, food pantry, or soup kitchen. Spend time with a neighbor who is confined. These spiritual opportunities allow us to spread happiness and cheer to others. Treat it as one of the benefits of staying clean and sober; being able to have a clear mind and body to help others.
- Create new traditions. Celebrate the fact you have reclaimed your life! As you affirm your new self on these festive days, you are choosing to celebrate the new, better, clean and sober life that you have created. This might mean hosting a sober, festive gathering with friends in recovery using safe social distancing due to COVID or via zoom. It may mean volunteering to answer the Hotline. Remember, giving is one of the best things you can do during the holidays.
- Avoid relapse triggers. Of all triggers, the most significant can be emotional triggers. No matter if you are in recovery or not, the holiday season is one of the most stressful times of the year. With some our normal routines being disrupted people can become frustrated and anxious. Also, there’s increased demands from spouses, partners or other family members, and this can put serious stress on your sobriety. This can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, humiliation, embarrassment, anger and depression. The holidays don’t have to be “perfect” and just like previous years. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Saying “no” is perfectly acceptable.
- Make sobriety your top priority. If you think about it, all holiday occasions are optional. If you don’t think the activity is going to be good for your recovery, it’s okay to not participate. You can politely decline the invitation.
- Maintain your spirituality. Our commercial world wants us to believe that joy can come from tinsel, booze, and shopping. It sells us the lie that happiness can be found in these. Instead, focus on the true spirit of the season. Regardless of your faith or spiritual beliefs, the holidays are really about experiencing love – whether by giving or receiving and gratitude. When we focus on this, the other things such as resentment, disappointment, anger, worry & self-loathing show up far less often and cannot find a foothold in our hearts.