If you’ve recently gone through recovery and are now clean or sober, the holidays may be a worrying time. For many, the holidays don’t represent the happiness and camaraderie of Hallmark cards and Coca Cola commercials, they represent a time when everyone is drinking, parties are going on everywhere, and tensions are high. Caught in between family stress and possibly disapproval and exposure to substances, plus memories of good times and parties, and many addicts begin to experience cravings, are triggered into drinking, and may even begin to romanticize “just one more time”. This can make staying clean and sober extremely difficult, especially if friends and family aren’t supportive.
While staying clean and sober over the holidays may be more difficult than doing so on a typical day, you can make it happen. Spending some time preparing, talking to your friends and family, and making plans for your holiday period are the best ways you can ensure your continued recovery.
Talking with Friends and Family
If your friends and family aren’t already aware of your problems with substance abuse and that you are in recovery, they should be. People will often well-meaningly try to convince you to drink or even use, and they will hand you alcohol. If you aren’t prepared to cope and say no, you have to tell friends and family that. You may be able to ask close friends and family for an alcohol-free party or to keep you away from drugs and alcohol, but this will depend on how supportive they are of you. Discussing your addiction with anyone, even people you trust and love, can be difficult because there is a lot of social stigma surrounding addiction, meaning that most people spend a significant amount of time hiding it. Being honest and open and asking for help will be difficult, but it will help you to stay clean and sober.
This is the very first step toward long-term recovery and healing from an addiction. You must acknowledge that you need treatment, over anything else, to heal and find your true self again. Admittedly, this step of accepting that you need treatment is likely one of the most challenging in any addict’s life. However, we know that it is essential to anyone who hopes to live a long, healthy and happy life.
Utilize A Support Group
Even if you don’t regularly go to a sobriety or self-help group like AA or SMART Recovery, it can be helpful to do so over the holidays. This is especially true if you are traveling, don’t have anywhere to go to celebrate the holidays, or are spending time with people still using or drinking. Most 12-Step groups have chapters around the US, most have guest meetings, and most will have open meetings throughout the holidays so that people can walk in and get support. Having a channel to share what you are feeling and thinking with a group of peers who understand can be greatly beneficial to helping you stay clean and sober. Most people also greatly benefit from the added social accountability offered by support groups, because people are less likely to relapse when held accountable. If you’re already attending a support group, it’s always a good idea to discuss things with your sponsor or your peers and try to plan to have a sober buddy over the holidays.
Maintain Healthy Habits
While many people do nothing and overeat or overextend themselves over the holidays, you shouldn’t do this. It’s important to maintain a healthy balance of sleep, exercise, and a good diet to keep both your mental and physical energy up. For example, HALT or Hungry Angry Lonely Tired describes a series of triggering states that make many people more likely to relapse. You can also make sure that you’re giving yourself enough energy by eating well and eating balanced meals.
Finally, it’s important to exercise, especially if you’re stressed about preparations or your family. Even spending 30 minutes per day walking can boost your mood, which will release endorphins that will help you to fight cravings because they include the same dopamine and serotonin that your brain craves with drugs and alcohol. Of course, you also don’t want to overdo it. Your holidays should be just as enjoyable, and likely more so, as if you were still drinking or using. Plan to have fun, spend a minimal amount of time exercising, and make time for meals and food that enjoy as well.
Have A Strong Support System In Place
Once you’ve come to accept that you need addiction treatment, the next step is to utilize your strong support system. For some addicts, their main support system lies in the hands of their family, or even close friends. Above all, these people are there to cheer you on in your recovery, while providing the love and care you may need during the more challenging times moments. If you don’t have that type of support system, support also lie inside the walls of their treatment center whether it be their therapist, case manager or fellow peers In some cases, both support systems are there. It is important to know that a strong support system is one of the foundations of achieving long-lasting recovery. Having a strong support system in place can help keep a person in treatment accountable, offer help in times of need and lift them up in their choice of healing and finding recovery. Without a support system, many people fall back into their old habits and ways.
Ask for Help
Whether you ask for a sober buddy at group, ask a sibling or a friend to be there for you, or designate someone else as your sober buddy, you should have one if you’re going somewhere with drugs or alcohol. This is important because the added social accountability of having a person who is there with the goal of preventing you from using is often a significant impediment to your wanting to use in the first place. If you do experience cravings, you can always ask them to distract you while the cravings wear off, can ask them to leave with you, or otherwise get help.
Plan to Say No
If you’re going to a party, people will offer you alcohol. The United States has a strong culture of alcohol and people who refuse it are often outsiders. You should expect people to be pushy and possibly even rude about it if you don’t know them, and sometimes if you do know them. Your best option is to rehearse how to say no, come up with ways to say no that work, and either be willing to share your state of recovery or find an excuse not to drink. For example, “I’m pregnant” is an excuse that will always work for women and “I’m the designated driver” will most often work for everyone. Being honest with your friends and family is always a good idea, but you may not be comfortable doing so with strangers at a party.
Planning how to say no also means that you’ll have something to say when you’re surprised with alcohol or when you’re suddenly fighting unexpected cravings.
Plan Your Holidays
Chances are that you’ve spent a lot of your previous holidays drunk or high and might not even remember them that well. Instead of sitting around and possibly glamorizing those old days, you should plan new ways to enjoy yourself and to have fun. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do? Can you go visit relatives? Are there local holiday related events? Can you play games? Sing carols? Volunteer at a soup kitchen? Build crafts? Volunteer in your family kitchen?
There are dozens of ways you can have fun and enjoy yourself with friends and family or on your own, and all without ever touching drugs or alcohol. Planning your holidays will help you to have fun, but it will also prevent you from becoming bored and lonely, which will likely trigger you to crave drugs or alcohol.
Remember Why You’re Clean and Sober
The holidays can be stressful, and it can be difficult to remember why you don’t want to drink or use when you’re constantly being exposed to alcohol. Taking the time to sit down and write out or remember why you want to be clean or sober can help you to keep your thoughts on the right track so that you don’t begin internally glamorizing your own lifestyle. This is important, because it’s often those moments of thinking about how much fun you used to have or that you deserve a break for once after all your hard work that will push you into a relapse. Consider why you went into recovery in the first place. What were your motivations? Has life changed for the better since you got clean and sober? Most people find it very helpful to make a physical list of motivation, which they can refer back to when needed.
The holidays are difficult for anyone going through recovery, but you can do it. If your friends and family are supportive, you may also be able to celebrate a drug and alcohol-free holiday season with them. If not, you should take steps to remind yourself of why you’re clean and sober, to stay in touch with your support network, and to make choices that will keep you in your best mental frame of mind. Finally, there’s no reason why you can’t have fun and stay clean and sober. Plan fun things to do and enjoy your holidays.