Twelve Tips for Staying Sober Over the Holidays
By: Garrett Higley
For those of us that struggle with substance abuse, the holiday season can be a veritable minefield, filled with triggers and temptations. But, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it can be the most wonderful time of the year – even if you are sober and determined to maintain that gift.
As someone who understands this firsthand, here are my tips to help ensure that your New Year’s resolution isn’t “get sober again.”
I know I am preaching to the choir (of angels) when I remind you that you fought hard to gain your sobriety and it is a gift that many, many suffering individuals never receive. Keep in mind that there is no gift more important to your family and friends, and to yourself, than your ongoing sobriety. Put your sobriety where it belongs…FIRST. Every other holiday obligation is a distant second.
One of the things that I always regret is when I get stuck at a party or a dinner without my own car or a clear exit strategy. This is doubly important during the holiday season when there is more booze and dope abound than there are bad white elephant gifts. Take your own car and don’t be afraid to slip quietly out the back door if your nose starts to itch or you get too thirsty.
I love my family, I really do. And no one can press my buttons the way they can…they installed those buttons and know exactly where to press. If you are in a good place with your family and decide to spend time with them over the holidays, that’s wonderful. However, be realistic about their impact on your mental health and plan for it. That may mean going home for a day, or just for an hour. Set some boundaries early and clearly and stick to them. Remember, adults inform, children explain. You don’t need to justify your plans…even if they want you to.
You know that when you get a handle on one addiction, another is likely to pop up. The holidays are fertile ground for addictive natures to find all sorts of ways to change the way you feel. Whether its food, spending, sex, co-dependency, or any other compulsion, be aware of your susceptibility. Don’t expect to get through the season unscathed, but be honest with yourself and stay aware so things don’t get out of hand.
Remember, you don’t have to go through the holidays alone! If you aren’t plugged in with a recovery group of some sort, now’s the time. We know that connection is the opposite of addiction, so find your tribe, whether it is an aftercare group, a twelve-step group, smart recovery, refuge recovery, or any number of other recovery related support groups, find your network of recovering individuals and plug in!
The holidays are ideally about joy, love, compassion, peace, kindness, generosity, and hope. For most people these concepts get trampled on in the stampede of black Friday and maybe reemerge shortly after Valentine’s Day. However, as alcoholics and addicts, these principles are basic tenets that form the foundation of our recovery. What better way to strengthen our sobriety than to double down and practice these principles throughout the holidays?
Newsflash, the holiday spirit isn’t in the bottom of a bottle of Beam and Wild Turkey hasn’t figured out to fit a Christmas tree into a tumbler. You will see countless commercials marketing the holiday spirit through the consumption of spirits. But it’s just that… Marketing. Avoid the triggering commercials and ads and be vigilant in reminding yourself a bottle or bag doesn’t end in a sleigh ride, it often ends in a ride to the ER.
One of the hardest things I have had to learn how to do as a recovering person is to take care of myself. Somehow that feels selfish and I figure I have been selfish enough in my addiction and don’t deserve to feel good. Nothing could be more untrue. If we want to be able to be of service to others, we must care for ourselves. This is critical during the holidays. Make a plan for self-care and lots of it, stick to it, don’t deviate. You can only transmit what you’ve got.
As we discussed above, your sobriety is the most important thing you have. That means if anything jeopardizes it, anything at all, then don’t do it! Now, to be clear, this is not a suggestion that you bail on all your family and work obligations because you really are not enthusiastic about having to listen to Aunt Helen drone on about her cats. However, if Aunt Helen triggers your childhood trauma, or you just can’t manage any more family, then say just say no.
As a sober person, you suffer from a chronic, deadly illness that requires constant attention to keep at bay. It is a disease that is frequently misunderstood, with a treatment protocol that is even more misunderstood. Friends and family will want you to be sober but may not understand what you must do in order to do that. Only you know what is and isn’t necessary for your sobriety and you don’t have to explain that to anyone. Do what is necessary to remain sober, your life depends on it.
If the holidays are just a no go for you from the middle of November until the first of January, then set sail and don’t look back. I know a number of people that just bow out of the whole holiday process. Go out of town. Stay in town. Find someplace warm. There are lots of ways to not participate in the holiday season and that is absolutely ok!
Find ways to have fun over the holidays. Happy, joyous, and free is a promise that extends to the holiday season too. I didn’t get sober to be unhappy or bored, and when the time of year is particularly challenging it is time to double down on the happy. Find the people, places, and things that bring you joy and dive in!
Garrett Higley is the Director of our Recovery for Business Executives Service at Sage Recovery Villa, our Luxury Rehab Facility just outside of Austin, TX.