10 Tips for a Merry, Sober, and Safe Holiday Season
The holidays aren’t just filled with parties, Santa, and Aunt Betty’s famous fudge. They’re also jam-packed with time-strapped travel, stress, and high expectations. And for those in recovery, the holidays can also come with a stocking full of triggers, including people, places, and events that present both the opportunity and the lure to return to substance misuse.
So while it’s important to prepare for holiday festivities, it’s equally important to establish some holiday-specific recovery and relapse-prevention strategies to ensure the season is both safe and sober as well as merry and bright. Here are 10 tips to help you do just that.
- Plan for success. As they say, a failure to plan is a plan to fail. So literally make a plan for how you’re going to maintain your sobriety. Start by determining which activities, environments, people, etc. might trigger a relapse and either avoid them entirely or determine exactly how you will deal with them. Your strategy might include:
- Limiting your time at triggering events.
- Creating an informal script on how you will answer questions or refuse alcohol and/or other substances.
- Finding a sober friend to attend events with you.
- Attending a sober support meeting or even scheduling a telehealth treatment visit before or after triggering events.
- Practice self-care. Proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep can help you maintain your well-being. So don’t back-burner your self-care practices during the holidays. In fact, given the added stress of the season, make an extra effort to make time for yourself, relieve stress in a healthy manner, and remain mindful.
- Gather the troops. Support is crucial when facing the added stress and substance-use triggers during the holidays. So keep your support team close, figuratively and/or literally, this time of year. This might mean scheduling some outpatient therapy sessions, talking with sponsors, enlisting sober friends to support you, seeking out spiritual counselors, and more.
- Create new traditions. If holiday traditions triggered your substance use in the past, it’s time to make your own new sober traditions. You could make cookies together instead of serving Grandma’s famous eggnog. You might want to have Christmas at home instead of going to visit Uncle Charlie, who tends to pressure guests into “just one glass” of wine. Or you could host a sober affair all your own, where you can create your own recovery traditions. Bottom line: It’s time to redefine your own fun for the holidays.
- Create custom mocktails. You don’t need alcohol to make fun and festive drinks. So try out some mocktail recipies or set up a full mocktail station complete with a mixologist at your next event.
- Serve others. If you’re hyperfocused on your sobriety, consider shifting a little of that attention to serving others. This can involve everything from baking cookies for friends and spending time with elderly neighbors to volunteering at a homeless shelter and walking dogs at the local ASPCA.
- Maintain your routine. Consistent routines help support sobriety while major shakeups can throw you physically and mentally off course. So try to maintain the cornerstones of your daily routines as you navigate the holiday season.
- Stay mindful—and positive. A positive mindset can turn drudgery into enjoyment, just as a negative outlook can turn a festive occasion into the equivalent of a trip to the dentist. So purposefully establish a positive outlook for the holidays. Rather than focusing on what you no longer have—i.e., substance use and addiction—set your sites on the beautiful life of sobriety that’s right there in front of you.
- Exercise. As an important part of self-care, exercise can boost both your physical and mental health. So make time to exercise during the holidays. This can include everything from cutting down a Christmas tree and ice skating at the local pond to simply walking through your neighborhood to check out the holiday décor.
- Set boundaries. Now more than ever it’s important to set boundaries—for yourself, for others, for how you’ll be treated, for what events you’ll attend, for what you’ll eat, for what you’ll drink, and more. While boundaries can help to shape your own behavior, the mere act of setting them forces you to think about the what-if scenarios you’re likely to face during the holidays—and to make a plan to effectively sidestep anything that can challenge your recovery.