Maintaining sobriety during the holidays can feel like walking blindfolded through a field of landmines. Whether you’re navigating holiday parties, family get-togethers, or a simple holiday shopping trip, triggers abound. These pressures aren’t limited to the newly sober. Even addicts with several years of sobriety under their belts will cite the holidays as one of the most challenging and stressful times of the year.
Entering the holidays with a concrete plan in place can save you a great deal of worry and can help keep your commitment to sobriety securely anchored. As you formulate your own holiday “survival plan” consider the following suggestions:
Acknowledge Your Triggers
The only way to plan effectively is to know what threatens your sobriety. Typical holiday triggers include family get-togethers, financial stress of gift-giving, travel, holiday parties, and an increased presence of alcohol in both the personal and professional environment.
Keeping sobriety at the forefront of your priority list will allow you to draw the line socially. If you feel like spending time at your parents’ house or attending the office holiday party will prove too difficult, don’t go. There are tactful ways to bow out of social situations and safeguarding your sobriety is more important than protecting the feelings of others.
If you do brave a holiday get-together, arrive with reinforcements. Take your own drink or immediately pour a non-alcoholic beverage when you get to the gathering. Simply having something in your hand will minimize drink offers from others. Bring a friend or family member that supports your sobriety and can help you navigate unexpected triggers, and fill them in on your exit strategy. There is no sense in remaining at the party if you feel uncomfortable.
Know the Script
It’s difficult to get through the holidays without facing a drink offer or two. Have your response ready so that you aren’t caught off-guard. Some possibilities include: I’m the designated driver tonight, I’m all set (and raise your non-alcoholic beverage in the air), I’m on a health kick, I’m still recovering from last year’s party, or simply-I don’t drink.
Use Your Tools
Whether you are in early sobriety or a seasoned card holder, you have likely accrued some useful strategies. Rather than allowing the holiday season to derail your hard-won progress, view it as an opportunity to flex your ever-strengthening sobriety muscles. The same coping skills, resources, and supports that have carried you this far will serve you well during the pressures of the holiday season.
Start New Traditions
It’s unlikely that any of the gifts you receive this holiday season will top the gift you’ve already given yourself by embracing sobriety. What better than this time of year to celebrate in a new way? Perhaps a toast with your favorite mocktail recipe is in order? Maybe shopping for a special ornament that represents your commitment to clarity could become an annual sojourn? Don’t allow a sense of “missing out” dictate the mood of your holidays. Invent new ways to celebrate!
Focus on the Facts
The holidays are time-limited. Changes in the day-to-day routine do not change who you are or how far you’ve already come in your sobriety journey. You are just as capable of protecting your sobriety as you are at other times of the year. You are not “missing out,” but are, in fact, more fully present for the seasonal experiences around you.
Holiday events don’t have to feel like landmines. Entering the season with a plan in place can make the triggers far less overwhelming. After successfully navigating a few of the season’s challenges, take a moment to celebrate. And as for those hangover-free holiday mornings? Those are the gifts that keep on giving throughout the new year!
Jen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), sobriety coach, former alcohol enthusiast, and writer living in Florida.