The holidays mean different things for all of us. For some of us, it brings fun and joyous nostalgia, including spending time with our extended families, finding a tree, decorating it, buying presents, opening gifts on Christmas morning along with stockings stuffed with candy, and drinking plenty of eggnogs. For some of us, it involves spending time with our families, lighting the menorah, and eating plenty of latkes, Hannukah gelt, and sufganiyot. For all Americans, regardless of religion Thanksgiving is included in the list of holidays, but that only involves eating a lot with our extended families and watching the Detroit Lions lose.
For a lot of us, the holidays also bring lots of stress. Whether worrying about negative family interactions, desperately trying to have the “perfect” holiday family gathering which doesn’t exist, just want to put that out there, or finding out that even though you’ve been raised as an elf at the North Pole, you’re human and you leave Santa’s workshop to meet your real father, a book publisher in New York- the holidays can be a stressful time.
Because of all those challenges, the holidays can be a minefield of potential triggers for addicts and alcoholics. Our disease’s cunning, baffling, and powerful nature makes it important to have a game plan for the holidays when we’re new in recovery. In this article, we’ll discuss tips for getting through the holidays clean and sober.
Possible Triggers During the Holiday Season
As mentioned above, the holiday season can be a minefield for those new in recovery. For a lot of families, holiday gatherings have alcohol present. From wine served before/during/after dinner to eggnog to fancy holiday cocktails, the temptation is all around us at family gatherings. On top of that, our family members can often be triggers. This can range from mean relatives to relatives amid their addictions to relatives with traumatic pasts.
Someone I know from meetings calls the holiday season “the dark triad,” and for some of us, this rings true. For me, the holidays are a happy time. Well, Christmas is, I don’t have a strong opinion about Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Eve is pointless. Even though I like Christmas, the first holiday season I went through in sobriety was a struggle.
This is why it’s important to have a game plan for the holidays when you’re new in recovery. Also, trust me, it gets easier every year.
Tips for Staying Sober During the Holidays
Luckily, with all the triggers surrounding the holiday season, there are ways to get through them. Here are some tips for staying sober during the holiday season:
Lean on your support system
We don’t go about recovery alone. The phone list is there for a reason, as is your sponsor. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your sponsor or anyone on the phone list if you are about to succumb to temptation. Many people on that phone list have been through the same stresses you’ve been through regarding the holidays, including your sponsor.
Meeting makers make it
In meetings, you’re surrounded by people whose addict/alcoholic brains work the same way your addict/alcoholic brain works. They know what it’s like to go through the holidays when you’re new in sobriety. While in the meeting, you can share the stress you’re having, and you’ll get support and possibly phone numbers to call if you feel like you may take a drink. If you must go to a holiday gathering, try attending a meeting beforehand. Think of it like a recovery pregame.
Side note, online meetings are an option if you cannot attend an in-person meeting. There are nearly infinite online meetings worldwide at almost all times of the day.
Attend a celebration with a 12-step support group
Speaking of support groups and meetings, AA or multiple AA groups meet often and host holiday celebrations. These are great opportunities to get to know people in your home group and meet new people in recovery.
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.
This goes for both AA and non-AA people. For AA, get a service position and continue to do it over the holiday season. Answer the phone if someone calls you from AA. Remember those local gatherings I talked about in the previous paragraph? To help set up for those. You’ll get a combo of service work and fellowship, a recovery win-win.
At family gatherings, try to help out as much as you can, whether helping out in the kitchen, which I like to do, helping clean up, helping set up Christmas or Hannukah decorations, etc. You’ll feel good and help out your family members. Another win-win.
Taking care of yourself is also important. Exercise, a whole night’s sleep, and eating healthy are always good suggestions. The third one, eating healthy, is particularly difficult during the holiday season. Turkey, stuffing, prime rib, pumpkin pie, eggnog, homemade fudge, a giant sock filled to the brim with candy, fancy chocolates, pecan pie, bûche de Noel, hot chocolate, chocolate coated double-stuff Oreos, peppermint bark, yes, I have a massive sweet tooth, the list of unhealthy holiday foods goes on and on, and I’m getting hungry now.
Try incorporating some healthy foods into your diet when you’re not at family gatherings. Pumpkin is technically a vegetable, but pumpkin pie is not a vegetable, apparently, carrot cake doesn’t count as a vegetable, either.
Have an exit plan
If all else fails, it is good to have an exit plan. This is a reason to either depart from a gathering entirely or from a situation where you might be very tempted to use it. It can be like saying you have a busy work day tomorrow and have to go to bed. It can be like, “sorry, I’ve got to take this call.” Don’t make it extreme. Saying you have smallpox is not the way to go about this, especially since smallpox has been eradicated since 1978. Make it reasonable and be polite about it.
Avoid situations where you’ll be surrounded by temptation (as much as possible)
There are likely going to be holiday gatherings at places where the temptation to drink is all around you. In those instances, you may want to avoid them if you’re in your first few months of sobriety. This doesn’t mean avoiding family gatherings. This means avoiding gatherings at places like bars and nightclubs if possible. If your company is hosting a holiday party at a brewery, maybe skip the holiday party this year. At some point down the line, you’ll be able to go to those places without the temptation to drink. But while you’re still fresh in recovery, the temptation can be dangerous.
Our families will be overjoyed to have us back when we’re present, clean, and sober over the holidays. There are a lot of opportunities for joy and fellowship over the holidays, and when we’re clean and sober, we can feel those two things.
Oregon Trail Recovery Offers Addiction Therapy Programs and Support During the Holidays
The holidays can be challenging for anyone, especially those new to recovery. But, as with all things in recovery, walking through those challenges is worth it. When we’re sober and in recovery, we can be present for our friends and family. That in itself is a very special gift.
Oregon Trail Recovery can help you attain the gift of recovery. Contact us today to begin your recovery.