It’s that time of the year again. The most wonderful time of the year. It is the time of year when we get together with our friends and family, hang up lights around our houses, chop down a tree and place it in our living room, or light 8 candles over eight days. Give and receive presents, and be visited by four ghosts who give us grave warnings about what will happen if we don’t change our behavior and stop being greedy. Causing us to become kind and generous, and yes, it was four ghosts; the first ghost was the ghost of Jacob Marley, his old business partner.
Or at least that’s the idealized version of the holidays. The holidays seem less like a cheesy Hallmark movie for most of us. More like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation; side note, I would reference Hannukah movies, too, for inclusion. Still, the only one I can think of is that terrible Adam Sandler movie Eight Crazy Nights, which is sad; there should be good Hannukah movies too.
It’s no secret that the holidays can be a stressful time. Family drama may have been an excuse for us to drink or use, or our drinking and using contributed to family drama, or both. Many of us have other addicts/alcoholics in our families, many of whom have not found their way into the program. For various reasons, some of us have little to no relationship with our families, which can cause stress around the holidays.
But don’t worry, there is hope amongst the potential stress of the holidays. People stay sober through the holidays all the time, and there are ways to make it significantly easier. In this article, we’re going to discuss celebrating the holidays while newly sober.
The Challenges of Being Newly Sober
Even without the specter of holiday stresses, being newly sober is challenging. For so many of us, we centered our lives around our drinking/using. It was our way of escaping our current feelings. When we sober up, we lose our main coping mechanism. We must face emotions and, most importantly, for the holiday season, our family’s disagreements with others.
Meetings are full of people whose addict/alcoholic brains work the same way as yours. The usual recommendation is “90 meetings in 90 days”. Going to 90 in 90 allows you to meet other recovering addicts/alcoholics, build a community around yourself of said recovering addicts/alcoholics, and hear the stories of others and learn how they got sober.
That brings us to the topic of this article: being newly sober during the holidays. There’s no sugar-coating that the holidays are often rough for people new in recovery. For a lot of families, when they celebrate the holidays, alcohol is often present. Potential triggers are all around us, from wine served during dinner to fancy holiday cocktails to eggnog. Speaking of triggers, certain family members can be triggers as well.
Link Between Holidays and Mental Health
There isn’t just anecdotal evidence of holidays’ effect on mental health. Often, the holiday season can be a minefield of triggers for mental health issues. Be depression, anxiety, and others. The stress of getting together with family members, the stress of the change in routines, and the stress of not knowing how to handle everything that comes with the holidays are triggers for the mental health issues that often go hand-in-hand with addiction.
What to expect from your first sober holiday
As mentioned above, there’s no sugar-coating that the holidays can be difficult for people new in recovery. Things to expect include:
Questions of “why are you not drinking”?
There’s a chance someone will offer you a drink, and you’ll have to turn it down, which may lead them to ask, “why?”. Here’s the thing: you don’t have to worry about why you aren’t drinking. Just say, “I’m trying to stay healthy,” which isn’t a lie.
Stressful Interactions (that you can actually handle well)
There’s a reason a common trope of Christmas movies is a dysfunctional family. We can’t choose our families. Be it political disagreements, difficult personalities, or being a Seattle Sounders fan, sometimes we may be tempted to be in conflict with family members. However, it is possible to handle it sober, and you’ll do a better job at handling it.
Actual joy, nostalgia, and happiness
“Feeling our feelings” cuts both ways. The holidays are filled with fun times that we enjoy with a clear mind.
Your family being happy to have you back
As much as we’ve tried to hide our addictions, our family likely knew about them and felt powerless to stop us from destroying our lives. For some of us, our families either cut us off or pushed us away. When we’re present, clean, and sober, our families will be overjoyed to have us back.
See what I did there, going from sad to happy?
Tips for Celebrating Sober
Luckily, for all the challenges, there are ways to get through them that don’t involve drinking, using or having to be visited by a guardian angel who shows you the positive impact you have on everyone’s lives by showing what your hometown would be like if you were never born. Some tips for sober holiday celebrations include:
Make an Exit Plan
Early recovery can be filled with temptations, just to be safe, it is best to have an exit plan if you feel like you may cave into temptation.
Go to a meeting beforehand
Think of it like a recovery pregame. Be surrounded by people whose brain works the same as yours, and who knows what it’s like to go to family events in early recovery. Maybe share the stress you’re having about going to your holiday events. You’ll likely get support and phone numbers to call if you feel like you are going to take a drink.
Keep your phone list handy
Regarding the last tip, don’t hesitate to call someone on your phone list. Don’t worry about bothering them; they literally gave you their phone number so you could call them for support.
Similarly, having a service position in AA makes you feel good because helping people feel good and helping your family during your holiday gatherings can make you feel good. Be it helping with set up, helping them decorate, helping them cook or helping them clean, you’re helping them out, and you can feel good about yourself. A win-win.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Exercise, get a full night’s sleep, and try to eat at least some healthy foods. Pumpkins are technically a fruit, I looked it up, but pumpkin pie doesn’t count as a fruit. Eggs and milk are good sources of protein and calcium, but eggnog is not healthy. Side note, eggnog still tastes delicious without any alcohol in it. Also, pumpkin eggnog exists, and it’s amazing; it literally tastes like you’re drinking pumpkin pie.
Making new traditions
Being sober is a great time to establish new holiday traditions. Some traditions you can create in recovery include:
Host your own sober gathering with people you feel comfortable with
Remember above when I talked about establishing a sober group of friends around yourself by going to meetings? Host a gathering and invite that sober group of friends you’ve built around yourself.
Attend a celebration with your 12-step group
Often, groups will host holiday gatherings. These can be a lot of fun and a great chance to spend time with your sober community.
If you’re looking for local gatherings involving multiple groups, the Alano Club of Portland always hosts Thanksgiving and Christmas events, and trust me; they’re a lot of fun and feature-free food.
Attend Spiritual Services
Try attending Christmas Eve mass, the synagogue to celebrate Hanukkah or other houses of worship for their winter holidays.
December may be a cold month, but warm clothing exists. Even here in Portland, there are plenty of December days when the rain stops, giving you ample time to walk, run, hike, or bike outside.
Find a new recipe and cook a fancy meal at home
Cooking is fun, in my opinion. The winter months are a perfect time to try new recipes. I’m seven years into my program and still try new recipes in December, primarily desserts, because I have a massive sweet tooth. I made eggnog fudge last year, and it turned out pretty good. I’m still wondering what new things I will try to make this year.
Oregon Trail Recovery offers Addiction Therapy Programs and Support During the Holidays
Staying sober during your first holiday season in recovery can be challenging but immensely rewarding. I can tell you for a fact it does get easier.
If you or a loved one are trying to get sober, Oregon Trail Recovery can help. Contact us today to begin your recovery journey and celebrate your future holidays sober.