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There’s No Place Like Sober For The Holidays

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 to create your own life, you take them with you. You take the expectations, the doubts, the dreams of others and carry them on your shoulders.

What came first, the family or the drinking 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 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.

“There is no need to fall into old footsteps. You are too busy setting a new course in your life. ”

My suggestion: 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 it 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 workshop.

Downtime in my mind becomes downward-spiral time. I’m better when I’m busy. If I let too much time go when it is 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.

Solution: don’t 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 don’t make it Breaking Bad if you smoke meth or Weeds if you smoke—well, you get the picture.

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 the 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 playbook and game prep. I only have 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 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 got 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 the creation of new habits.

As sound, as we think we’ve become in creating new routines, gathering around with family in gone-but-not-forgotten locations, can bring back something more powerful: tradition.

“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. ”

Unlike habits, traditions may only come around once a year. Maybe it’s a hotel-sized bottle of liquor that siblings 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: they will return with a vengeance.

Solution: 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 if the eggnog has any bourbon.

Solution: Don’t go. 

I mean it.

If you are newly sober and have kept the same job, the people at work my only know and expect the Tom who gets rip-roaring drunk and tells dirty jokes. They may be pressing Tom as to why he isn’t 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. That’s 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 can only order one drink. It’s insanity, really.

Have to go?

Have your non-alcoholic drink of choice ready. Bring your own six pack of Schweppes Ginger Ale. I enjoy having a drink 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.


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Mark David Goodson is a writer whose debut novel is in the works. He maintains a popular recovery blog called the Miracle of the Mundane, which celebrates the simple sober life. His writing has been featured in The Fix, After Party Magazine, and Recovery Today. An English Teacher by day, he lives with his wife and soon-to-be three children in Maryland.

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