The holidays can test your sobriety for several reasons.
Issue One: Family
Deck the halls indeed.
For better or worse, your family plays an unrivaled role in your personality. This means that even when you leave your family of origin to create your own life, you take them with you. You take the expectations, doubts, and dreams of others and carry them on your shoulders.
What came first, the family or the substance use problem? It’s not worth debating. Recovery requires self-evaluation. We stop looking to blame others for our behavior and start to focus on personal responsibility. We become accountable for our actions. There’s little use in blaming family.
But, of course, family plays a role.
There is no such thing as a “normal family,” in my opinion. The idea of normalcy is how we believe we should be behaving, never how we actually are. Coming home for the holidays, as so many of us do, can pose a threat to our sobriety. All the old triggers can emerge. You don’t like my career? Have an issue with my spouse? Think I should be visiting more often? More questions than these can be answered with a swig of the bottle or the pop of a pill—or worse.
My suggestion is to own your changes.
You are no longer the person your family thought you were. That is a good thing. Whether or not they accept the changes you have made doesn’t change the fact that your progress is good. Have confidence in your new self.
There is no need to fall into old footsteps. You are too busy setting a new course in your life. If possible, take some time before the holidays to think of the ways your sobriety will be tested. Map out your triggers and the people who tempt you to pull them.
On paper, you can set down your alternative responses. Rather than lashing out in anger, lust, or relapse, what will you say? Write your script and keep it in your back pocket.
Your family will not fully understand the ways you’ve changed. That isn’t good or bad—it’s fact. Don’t let their misunderstanding ruin the person you are working so hard to change.
Problem Two: Idle Time
The holidays are a vacation. Sometimes we can forget that. It can feel like full-time work, but in reality, there will be idle time. If you’re accustomed to the 40-hour work week, there will be large windows of free time that you are not used to navigating sober.
If you’re like me, idle hands are the devil’s plaything.
In my mind, downtime becomes downward-spiral time. I’m better when I’m busy. If I let too much time go with just me-myself-and-I, my thoughts become very convincing.
Then all it takes is a phone call from an old friend. “You back in town? Want to roll a blunt?” Well, I’ve got nothing better to do, you might think.
My suggestion is to not go idle into that good night, my friend.
Is exercise your thing? Do it every morning. Do you go to meetings every day? Go twice each day. Do you like to journal? Write a memoir. Been meaning to get to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Read the whole Millenium series. This might be the only time I’d recommend binge-watching some show on Netflix. Just consider your triggers when you choose viewing material (don’t watch Breaking Bad if you used meth, Euphoria if you used drugs, etc.).
Problem Three: Old Habits Die Hard
(And yes, by the way, Die Hard is the best Christmas movie ever made.)
I’ve read that it takes two months to successfully form a habit.
A football coach gave me that stat. If I wanted to change something in how I play, I had eight weeks to make it involuntary. He was telling me this to focus on my off-season training. Once the season rolled around, I had to worry more about the playbook and game prep. I only had that precious off-season time to change my motor-mechanics, to achieve what is commonly known as “muscle memory.”
My early recovery was filled with developing new muscle memories.
I began to do things like make my bed, eat three square meals, talk about my day, pray, write, meditate. These were all great new habits to create for myself. And, once started, they gradually became easier to do. I have to admit that prayer seemed like an onerous chore until I started praying every day. Then it was as routine as hitting the button to stop my alarm clock. It’s just something I did.
But the holidays throw a wrinkle into your healthier habits and routines.
As sound as we think we’ve become in creating new routines, gathering with family in gone-but-not-forgotten locations, can bring back something more powerful: tradition.
Unlike habits, traditions may only come around once a year. Maybe it’s a hotel-sized bottle of liquor that your siblings always sneak into your stocking, or a yearly splurge on grandpa’s pain medication, or extended trips to the bathroom to alter the chemicals in your brain. I don’t know where your drinking and drugging traditions once took you, but be warned: if you don’t prepare to head them off, they can return with a vengeance.
My suggestion is to create a new tradition.
I have a corny example for you. My longest friend in recovery and I used to exchange gratitude lists every Thanksgiving. We began the tradition at the Oxford House where we lived in our first year sober and then did it every year after that.
I know that some recovery clubhouses offer round-the-clock meetings. Maybe your new tradition could be one of service. What better way to ring in the new year than brewing coffee for a midnight meeting?
New sober traditions are out there. You just have to find them. And if you don’t find any? Peruse the resources here at WorkIt Health or stop by my blog. We’ve got your back.
Problem Four: The Christmas Party.
It’s like Die Hard out there. Only instead of bare feet over glass, it’s a sea of free booze at your feet.
It’s the hap-happiest time of the year, right? Nothing says holidays like a party with your colleagues. Likely it is a gathering that you don’t particularly wish to be at, but show up to in order to get your bonus.
It can be mighty tempting to forget to ask whether the eggnog contains any bourbon.
My suggestion is: don’t go.
I mean it.
If you are newly sober and have kept the same job, the people at work may only know and expect the old you who got rip-roaring drunk and told dirty jokes. They may press for a reason why you’re not drinking. Don’t put yourself through that.
A lesson I had to learn in early recovery is that it doesn’t benefit me or my sobriety to put myself to the test. Testing myself is not good, sober thinking. It’s potentially disastrous thinking, in fact. It’s the old way of thinking when I would hold on to the bar with white knuckles to prove that I could order only one drink. It’s insanity, really.
Have to go?
Have your non-alcoholic drink of choice ready. This goes a long way in heading off offers of alcohol. Bring your own six-pack of Schweppes Ginger Ale. I enjoy having a beverage in my hand at parties. But it doesn’t have to be hard cider.
My celebratory bubbly of choice? Martinelli’s sparkling cider. I highly recommend it.