Christmas dinners, New Years Eve parties and even religious celebrations can seem to bombard someone who is trying to stay sober during the holiday season. You turn down a glass of red wine at a family dinner and deny yourself a champagne toast at the stroke of midnight to welcome the New Year. But while you’re enjoying yourself and your sober holiday lifestyle, it’s easy to feel alone.
But that’s far from the truth.
Alcohol is the addictive substance of choice in the United States, accounting for 17.6 million people who suffer from alcohol dependency or teeter on the edge of dangerous drinking habits. Next time you’re standing in a crowded home thinking you’re the only one struggling to deny yourself a sip, think again. One out of every 12 adults is doing the same.
Why the Holidays Can Be a Struggle
What should be the most joyous time of the year is sometimes a struggle. There’s the pressure to spend money on extravagant gifts, to spend time with people we don’t always get along with, and to attend parties where most people celebrate with a drink in hand. It can be tough to revisit familiar people or places if some of our problems related to alcohol are rooted deep within us.
There are a few ways to make your first sober holiday less of a struggle:
- Let go of those who don’t support you
The holidays are not a time to hold on to resentment. Don’t allow someone you dislike or have a hard time seeing get in your head. Holding onto grudges can hold us back from making true progress and enjoying what’s supposed to be a time of love and selfless giving.
Before you even put up the Christmas tree or string the lights, try to let go. Look on those around you with love. And if something is standing in the way of your path to staying sober, get rid of it. Don’t let negative thoughts live in your head in the meantime. Clear your mind of the trouble and get ready, because you’re about to enjoy the holidays.
- Don’t stress out
As warmer days turn cold, don’t become stressed as you turn the calendar another month closer to the holiday season. Worrying about challenges that might arise won’t help. Instead, recognize that there might be some issues, and address them before they pop up unexpectedly.
- Surround yourself with likeminded people
If you’re worried about how to stay sober during the holidays, consider getting your group of supportive and sober friends together. Try volunteering at the local Alcoholics Anonymous center, so you can talk to people and provide them with encouragement you too might need during the change in seasons.
By regularly visiting with those who can help us get through the most challenging times, we’re more likely to feel comfortable when they aren’t there. Talk to others who understand and ask for their tips for a sober holiday. When you’re faced with a question on whether to have a drink later in the week, think back on those conversations.
- Find time to help others
Sometimes, the hardest thing about sober celebrations is feeling like you’re alone. It can be difficult to spend time with family or friends when you can’t celebrate in the same ways, so it’s important to take the time to find people you can support. While you’re seeking people who can help you combat your own struggles, be the support system for someone else who has a different problem. Fill your time with positive moments instead of sitting at home, worrying about the next holiday social.
- Realize that no one is perfect
The holidays tend to bombard us with images of what should be – the perfect family, immaculate gifts, happy people celebrating life together, etc. Just because your life isn’t always like that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong. These powerful images can give us a false sense of failure, making use feel like we aren’t meeting the standard of what the holidays should be.
Realistic expectations are important. No celebration will be the picture-perfect example of what a sober holiday should be. Try to be prepared for whatever may come, even if that means your holiday bird burns in the oven or you have trouble putting down the money needed to fulfill your kids’ wish lists.
The nice thing is that you can make the holidays whatever you want them to be. It isn’t about having the money to give the most expensive gifts. It isn’t about getting along with everyone you see. This might be a good year to make the holidays whatever you want them to be about, and start some new traditions.
How to Identify Your Triggers
External triggers that make you want to reach for the bottle during the holiday season can be all around you – even more so during large celebrations. Sometimes those triggers are people in your life, certain times of day or even familiar places.
- Learn what your external triggers are
For the first few weeks of your sober holiday planning, track the times when you’re tempted to have a drink. What makes you feel that way? In the future, when you come up against similar triggers, have a plan for how to respond to them.
If you know you’ll be around someone who sets off your desire for a drink, make sure that alcohol isn’t available — or let someone know in advance that you’re going into a potentially tempting situation. If a certain family member tends to push your buttons, let a sober friend know that you’ll be interacting with that person at a party. Have that person check in, either by sending you a discrete text message or by taking you away for a few moments to speak on the phone.
That friend can remind you of why you’re having a sober holiday and the good things that will follow if you make it through this situation without a drink. Think about that moment when you can step back, look at what you accomplished and feel proud.
- Quiet the internal triggers
Internal triggers are the random thoughts that pop into your mind, making you think that it might be a good time for a drink. Whenever you have the thought, “Just one drink wouldn’t be so bad…” stop yourself right there.
Remind yourself that just one drink usually leads to more. Think of all the work you’ve already accomplished to get to this point, whether you have gone through recovery or rehab or spent time away from your family. You’ve come so far and you have accomplished so much. Remember that every sober day brings your next accomplishment.
Be proud of those successes and learn to change your thoughts when they try to tempt you. Instead of letting it trail on, stop yourself. When the thought begins, turn it around. “Just one drink wouldn’t be so bad…Yes, it would. One drink would be terrible. One drink isn’t an option.”
Make Your Own Sober Holiday Traditions
Sometimes, it seems like alcohol is everywhere. It’s in restaurants, bars and grocery stores. It fills the glasses of our friends and family members at nearly every kind of celebration, whether for a promotion, new baby or in most cases, the esteemed holiday party.
Not every happy moment has to be celebrated with a glass of bubbly. One of the great things about the holiday season is that there are plenty of alternatives out there. Instead of waiting for all of your friends to invite you to their next mixer or cocktail party, invite them to your sober celebration of the holidays.
Get involved in religious socials and programs. No matter your faith, many religious groups offer a variety of family-friendly events to participate in during the holiday season. It’s easy to drive through a light display or visit a live Nativity scene. Several churches also offer support programs for people overcoming addiction. Being able to pair your religious practices with your sobriety can often help you feel more secure in the process. Keep in mind that there’s no need to be ashamed of your past or the journey you’re on now.
The spiritual aspects of forgiveness and letting go can be especially healing during the holiday season. If you have practiced religion in the past and want to return or strengthen it, this could be a good time to dive right in.
Distract Yourself in the Quiet Moments
Maybe it’s difficult for you to get through those quiet evenings or weekends at home where you only worry about the next family gathering or work social. If you find yourself struggling with the upcoming holiday festivities, there are plenty of opportunities for you to get involved in other activities during the holidays.
Local charities are usually in need of an extra hand during the holidays when they hand out food, sort clothing or provide support systems to those in need. In fact, if you’d rather spend time in a soup kitchen than around the family dinner table, invite your family to join you. Working together to help others is a great way to bond.
- Visit places you’ve never seen
If you’re looking for more ways to celebrate that deviate from the traditional party, try visiting the places you’ve been meaning to see. The holidays are a great time to catch up on historical tours, museum visits and art shows. Many places offer special hours during the holiday season to welcome guests who are visiting family from out of town. Use this time to take a quieter approach to the holidays as you find sober activities.
- See a show
Maybe a musical production is more up your alley. When was the last time you took the kids to see the Nutcracker? What about inviting your family or co-workers to join a neighborhood caroling group? Familiar holiday traditions and big group gatherings in a sober environment can be a big help in making the holidays feel special. Many of these events also take time during the day, when it’s less likely that alcohol will be present.
- Try a winter sport
Exercise is also a great way to keep your body and mind healthy, and ready to combat stressful situations. Try ice skating, skiing or snow tubing as a way to help you stay sober during the holidays. If the icy temperatures of the outdoors don’t suit your fancy, try joining a new gym. Many classes, such as yoga or meditation, are great ways to focus on your goals.
Have you ever tried Bikram yoga? The practice of meditation in a hot room where you sweat away distractions is challenging, but it’s also a great way to forget about your worries. Use your alone time during exercise to refocus on your goal to find sober ways to celebrate.
Come Up With a Sober Party Game Plan
Parties don’t have to be off the market if you’re trying to stay sober. But if it’s your first sober holiday, it can be more of a challenge — remember to be selective with the events that you attend. It’s not bad to say no to a party that seems to have a heavy focus on alcohol, or where the hosts tend to be those who celebrate with booze.
It’s definitely best to avoid events noted as cocktail parties or ones that will be at a bar. When the point of a party is to drink alcohol, you might find yourself easily tempted to move away from your sobriety. When you’re deciding on whether to attend a holiday party or not, coming up with a game plan can be one of the best ways to avoid stress:
- Bring a friend
If you’re going to a party, it’s a good idea to practice sober holiday planning. Invite a friend who is also going through sober recovery and can be a support to you — or perhaps a loved one who understands your journey through recovery and will help you feel more comfortable. Instead of being nervous meeting new people or having to explain your sobriety, you can rely on your friend to help you feel more confident. The thing to remember is you’re never in this alone.
- Find your signature non-alcoholic drink
It’s also a good idea to provide yourself with distractions. First, find a non-alcoholic drink you enjoy that you can sip on throughout the night. It will help you avoid the repeated question from other partygoers about what you might like to drink.
If you want, you can talk to the host before the party. Give them a heads-up that you’re practicing sobriety so they can plan to have a variety of non-alcoholic drinks on hand. When you get there, remember to serve yourself so someone doesn’t accidentally give you a spiked drink that you didn’t intend on taking. Have a plan of what to say if someone does offer you an alcoholic drink, and don’t be afraid to be assertive. Don’t worry about hurting other people’s feelings. Always keep your personal goals in mind.
- It’s OK to talk about it, if that’s what you want
If you’re not ready to tell people about your alcohol abuse recovery process, don’t feel guilty about telling them that you’re not drinking that night or you’re going to be the designated driver. Most people will be happy you’re taking the safe route and leave it at that. If you’re comfortable sharing your journey — there’s nothing shameful in taking control of your life and caring for yourself – then talk to others when the subject arises. Being honest with people might help make you comfortable.
How to Feel Happy About a Party
Before you even get to the party, imagine yourself having a good time and make sure it happens. Your sober holiday celebrations only have to be difficult if you let them.
- Plan ahead
Come up with some conversation starters. In your mind, you might think it’s blaringly obvious to the people around you that you’re choosing to be sober and that it’s a big deal for you. But most people won’t even notice.
If you steer the conversation in the direction you want it to go in, you won’t ever have to worry about people asking about the drink (or lack thereof) in your hand.
- Pop a sugar-free candy
Sometimes, it’s easy to distract yourself from a party temptation by bringing sugar-free pocket candies. Pop a hard candy in your mouth when you feel yourself getting nervous or worrying about what other people might think. And then forget about it. Move on to another part of the room or change the group of people you might be surrounded by. No matter what’s causing you to have a less than stellar time, find a way to change it.
- Don’t just talk — do something.
If the party seems to be focusing on conversation alone, you could try suggesting a group activity, such as board games. Distractions, especially in group settings where alcohol is easily available, can be an easy way to get your mind off of any temptations that are lingering nearby.
- Plan your exit
It’s a good idea to have an exit strategy. Plan to leave early. Come up with a time in your head when you want to say your goodbyes. If something comes up that makes you uncomfortable or proves to be too much of a temptation, that’s also a cue to head for the door. Leave knowing you were able to enjoy yourself and celebrate the holidays with friends – all while staying sober.
- Recap the next day
Take an inventory of how things went at the party. Could you have planned something different? Would a better strategy work for you? If you find yourself traveling during the holidays, it might be helpful to find a local support group that you can attend to talk about how things went. Whatever the outcome, don’t be discouraged by the little things. If you walked away sober, that alone is something to be proud of.
Focus on the Good Things in Life
Alcohol, like many substances that cause addiction, can take more than one attempt to find sobriety. And if this isn’t your first attempt at enjoying a sober holiday, you’re not alone. Don’t get bogged down by attempts that didn’t work for you in the past.
Instead, sit down and make a list of the good things that are going on in your life right now. Maybe things are going well at work or you’re enjoying a new relationship. Did you recently lose weight or reach another health goal? Are you happy with where you’re living or the people you surround yourself with?
This little brag sheet is a great way to remind yourself that good things are happening all around you. The bad things that creep up in between can be handled. You’re a strong person, and you have already accomplished a lot.
While you’re at it, add to that list that you’re learning how to stay sober during the holidays. Recognize that this could be a tough time and try to combat it head on as an accomplishment in itself. It’s something to be proud of, and your journey should be a rewarding one.
It can be helpful to create visual reminders of your goal to have a sober holiday season. For each event that you successfully get through, reward yourself with a brunch date with a good friend or buy yourself that book you’ve wanted.
It’s important to remind ourselves that accomplishing any step in the process is positive. Even if it’s getting through one more day, learn to appreciate it. Mark the days off on the calendar or make lists of the good things you accomplished.
One more day of living a sober life is one step closer to becoming stronger in your commitment to taking better care of yourself. Be proud of your accomplishments and acknowledge the efforts you put forth each day.
Even when the holidays are over and a new year has started, you can find your own way to celebrate. Talk to your sober friends or sponsors about planning a sober-friendly get-together, whether it’s a pot-luck style dinner or a special activity. Learn new ways to celebrate that don’t involve the temptation of alcohol and make them a regular part of your continued recovery process.
Every day that you can mark off your calendar as another sober success day is worth celebrating. While you relish in the accomplishment of each passing day, remember that they all add up to getting through another sober holiday season.
Put Your Sobriety First
While you enjoy holiday gatherings, it’s important to keep the needs of your body and mind first. Get enough sleep, eat right and exercise. These are suggestions each of us need to keep in mind because they really work. Having a strong body and mind before stepping into a stressful situation is one way of setting yourself up for success.
Recognize when it’s time for you to excuse yourself, or pull someone aside and talk to them about how you’re feeling. It’s good to know your limits. That’s how you can keep yourself healthy and safe.
Have a list of phone numbers, either of a sponsor, good friend or even the Alcoholics Anonymous helpline, so you can call someone when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. If you feel the urge to drink, it’s important to stop what you’re doing and talk to someone before moving on. Address the temptation head on and you’re less likely to fall right into it.
Celebrating a sober holiday is reason enough to be proud of yourself. And don’t forget that no matter how challenging sobriety may seem, you aren’t alone. 12 Keys Best Rehab has plenty of resources and a caring staff to help you get through a sober holiday season. Contact us today to talk to us about long-lasting sobriety.