The holiday season presents many pitfalls for people trying to maintain their sobriety, especially people in early recovery. It can be challenging dealing with complicated family dynamics or coping with loneliness during the holidays, while at the same time trying to stay sober. In addition, many holiday events involve the use of alcohol or drugs, which can be triggering for people in recovery. So, this list offers some helpful tips for staying sober during the holiday season.
5 Ways to Maintain Your Sobriety During the Holidays:
- Attend a Self-help Meeting
For many people, participating in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a vital part of their recovery. During the holidays, such as Thanksgiving, many places that host meetings will have meeting marathons, where they hold meetings every hour on the hour.
There are also other types of self-help groups for people who do not relate to AA or NA. SMART Recovery is a support program for people in recovery from substance use disorders that is less spiritual. It utilizes mental health principles from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) to help people maintain their sobriety.
Another type of support group is Refuge Recovery. This program is based on Buddhist principles. While these are effective alternatives to AA and NA, they are also newer programs and offer fewer meetings.
Now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some meetings may only be on Zoom. This offers some convenience because people can attend meetings from their home, while others prefer being in person because they feel more connected. It is important to check whether the meeting you want to attend is online or in-person before attending.
Bookending is another way for people in recovery to hold themselves accountable during the holidays. This strategy is helpful for people in recovery who will be attending events, such as family gatherings, holiday events for work, or “Friendsgivings,” where alcohol or drugs may be present. It works by the person in recovery checking in with someone from their support network before arriving at the event and again after leaving the event. The support person can be a sponsor, a family member, or a friend that is reliable.
The preferable method for checking in is either calling or Facetiming the support person. While texting can work, a phone call or Facetime call offers an added layer of accountability because the support person can hear the person’s voice or even see where the person is located and what condition they are in.
- Have an Exit Strategy
In addition to Bookending, it is important to have an exit strategy when attending holiday gatherings. Plan how you will get to and from the event. Do not rely on someone to give you a ride home who will be drinking or wants to stay later than you. This will help you avoid being in a situation where you are stuck around people who are drinking and getting intoxicated.
Leaving early can also be a good idea for individuals who are trying to stay sober during the holidays. As holiday gatherings drag on, family members and friends can begin drinking more heavily, which can be triggering for folks who want to maintain their sobriety. In this case, it is helpful to leave early after the meal is over. This can also be a great time to consider attending a self-help meeting.
- Communicate with Family or Friends Beforehand
Discuss with family and friends if alcohol will be present at the holiday gathering. Some clients have told me that they feel awkward and more anxious when their family does not drink because they feel like the spotlight is on them. On the other hand, different clients have said that they prefer to not be around any alcohol during holiday gatherings because it is too triggering for them. Reflect on what you are most comfortable with and communicate that to your family or friends.
Additionally, if you have a sponsor or counselor, discuss strategies for declining drinks at the holiday events. Planning out a response ahead of time can reduce your anxiety when unaware people offer you a drink. It is up to you how much information you share with them at the holiday event, but you must be firm in your response. If people ask questions about why you are not drinking, remember that you are not obligated to explain yourself.
Lastly, it can also be helpful to have a non-alcoholic beverage in hand to avoid people offering you a drink.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Say No and Not Go
If you are invited to an event where alcohol or drugs may be present, and you do not feel comfortable attending, then don’t go. Setting boundaries can be uncomfortable and challenging, especially for people in recovery. However, it is important to know and respect your limits. Your family and friends will prefer that you protect your sobriety rather than put yourself in a situation that might increase the chances of relapsing.
Written By: Sam Donham, LCPC
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