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How to Get Through the Holidays When In Recovery

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

Staying sober during the holidays is no easy task.

As if holidays weren’t stressful enough, the added burden if trying to avoid potential relapse triggers is no easy task. Admitting this to yourself is step one. Having a plan in place is step two. We all have those relatives who drive us nuts or know how to push our buttons. If you’re fresh out of an in-patient or outpatient program, you can bet that friends and relatives will know about it and will want to ask questions. If they don’t ask, you’re left wondering if they know about at all or if they have rendered some sort of judgment. None of that matters. What matters is how you go into the holiday festivities. A predetermined plan can mean the difference between a relapse and an enjoyable season.

1. Have Your Plan Ready

Doing some planning around the holidays can help decrease the stress associated with having to get through them without losing one’s sobriety.  First, it is important to talk to close friends and family members who will be attending parties and gatherings with you and ensure that everyone understands what you want them to say to others who may ask why you are not drinking.  There is nothing worse than someone approaching family members asking why you are not partaking in the holiday cheer and your family not knowing what to say, or perhaps telling more information about your situation than you are comfortable sharing.  Having this conversation well ahead of time can spare everyone involved the worry and possible hurt feelings and anger that could occur if we decide to “wing it” with regards to how to handle questions.

2.  Be Accountable

Have someone hold you accountable before and after holiday events.  “Bookending” with a friend, a family member, a therapist or a sponsor can really help put you in the mind frame to hold your boundaries and stay true to your sobriety.  It can also help you feel that you are supported and that you do not have to do this alone!

3.  Have Your Sponsor on Speed Dial

You likely already do, but give your sponsor a call both before any family gathering or party…and after. A little pep talk is a great idea and can’t hurt. Taking things a step further, try bring a recovery friend or sober buddy along with you to parties.  Having a person in the room who knows your situation or, better yet, has gone through it, will greatly increase your strength. Another great tip is always have a non-alcoholic drink in your hand at parties or gatherings – this will help you to avoid having people offer you drinks and/or questioning why you are not drinking. They know that staying sober during the holidays is challenge for you because it was a challenge for them.

4.  Remember to Live Healthy

Practicing self-care, as we’ve learned, means living a healthier life. Hopefully, you’re in a routine of diet, exercise and focus on nutrition. This should continue during the holidays. While others may be overindulging, there is no reason to resort to bad habits. Make sure you are getting proper sleep, following your nutrition plan and exercising. If you’d like a little pick me up, maybe treat yourself to a little mind/body therapy with Yoga, massage or meditation.

5.  Let Go Of Old Traditions and Start New Ones

There’s no better time than after recovery treatment to start new traditions that do not focus around substances  Try to create a new tradition, whether it’s a trip to Hawaii, a weekend in the mountains or a different kind of holiday party. This is the time to find and showoff the new you, so be creative.

6.  Halt Cravings

Always remember the HALT acronym – don’t let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.  Cravings lead to a lack of clarity in judgment. By making sure you’re eating right, getting enough rest and are in the company of a person with whom you’re in a healthy relationship, you can keep an even keel during the holidays.

Reach Out For Help If Temptations Surface

At any point during the holidays, if you start to feel weak, get on the phone with your sponsor.  This is what they’re here, for. Leaning on them should not be a last resort – it should be part of your arsenal of defense mechanisms. The link between stresses and substances is well documented, so being prepared is vital.

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Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country