Believe it or not, the holiday season is nearly upon us yet again. Whether you’re newly sober or have been sober for some time, the holidays can create a sense of anxiety for those of us in recovery.
This is because alcohol is at the forefront of many celebrations and get togethers during the holidays. As someone who is sober, you may start to wonder how you can possibly avoid it. The truth is, you probably can’t avoid it altogether. So it’s important to have a figurative toolbox when it comes to keeping your sobriety the top priority, but also enjoying yourself over the holidays.
This will be my fifth sober holiday season. Here are a few of the strategies I’ve found to be helpful in staying sober through the holidays.
1. Have a prepared game plan if someone offers you a drink.
The truth is that some people relapse because they haven’t thought through what they will do if they are offered a drink. Instead of having a plan, they panic and take the drink, thinking they had no choice. But you always have a choice. Remember, you can turn down a drink for no reason at all. You do not owe anyone an explanation for your choices. But if you’d feel better telling someone why you aren’t drinking, decide what you’ll say in advance so you are prepared when faced with the situation.
2. Create your own festive, non-alcoholic drink.
For some reason this always really helps me, maybe more than anything else does. I find that if I have something in my hand besides water, I’m not nearly as likely to have a pity party and wish I could drink alcohol. Pinterest is great for finding mocktail recipes, as is the Workit blog. In addition to tasting good, they look fun. People are also more likely to assume you are already drinking, and therefore less likely to offer you a drink and put you in an awkward position.
3. Talk to your family and/or friends before getting together.
If you know what parties you’ll be attending, there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to the people who will be there and letting them you’re no longer drinking. By doing so, you can avoid any potentially awkward situations when people ask why you are not drinking or offer you a drink. If the people you talk to are not receptive or understanding, you may need to reconsider attending the event. There’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes it’s necessary to put your wellbeing and recovery first.
4. Be sure to have people you can reach out to during a get together.
This could be someone else at the gathering who knows you have stopped drinking, or someone you can reach by phone or text. It doesn’t matter as long as you have a support system in line. Sometimes, when you’re feeling tempted to drink, all you need to hear is someone else being the voice of reason. If someone else reminds you of why you’ve stopped drinking, it may resonate more powerfully than you having that conversation with yourself. The people in your life will most likely be more than willing to be this person for you. Just have the confidence to reach out to them when you need to do so.
5. Have an exit strategy.
Worst case scenario, you can always leave the holiday gathering you are at. If you feel your sobriety is being threatened, there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying, “I need to leave.” Just make sure that you have a manner of doing so, such as your own car or public transportation. Being stuck in a scenario you don’t want to be in can endanger your recovery even more than simply being around alcohol.
The holidays don’t have to be a scary, anxiety-ridden times for those of us in recovery. With a little forethought, you can easily enjoy yourself just as much as anyone else. Best of all, you’ll wake up hangover free and be able to remember it all.
Need more holiday coping motivation? Check out this exercise from Workit's program: Holiday Prep Hunker Down.
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Beth Leipholtz is the founder of Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a newspaper reporter and graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292